Happy, Relaxed and engaged

When I first started in the ABA field, I struggled with the bad rap that I had heard of ABA. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in ABA because, as my children tell me repeatedly, I have been doing ABA since before I knew what ABA was! But, as I began my “official” ABA career, I knew that I wanted to ensure the clients had the choice to be a part of their treatment. So how do we do this? 

Well, I looked to Dr. Hanley to give some guidance to create a positive relationship with our clients. 

The first thing we should do is listen to our clients. Learn how they communicate and communicate with them this way. You can learn so many things by sitting back and observing how your client interacts with other people, objects, and interactions. We can determine their likes and dislikes and adjust our practice by listening and being intentional with our practice. 

Next, we can learn by creating an environment that is full of joy. When a client is “happy, relaxed, and engaged” (Hanley, 2021) they will feel safe and in control. When they are safe and in control their ability to learn expands. What are things we do to encourage this environment?

  • We should keep restrictions to a minimum and allow the client to lead the session. 
  • Don’t stand over the client, sit with them. 
  • Be available to the client and be authentic. 
  • Respond authentically to them, react in normal ways and allow your client to lead the way during the session. 
  • Take the cues given, and when they move to the next area, allow them. Take this as your cue to engage them in another activity they enjoy. 
  • Learn from your clients by empowering them. 

Once you have created an environment that is positive you can begin to add the change that will help your client learn. Communicate how transitions will occur. If there is distress or protest, reinforce to them that they will be acknowledged and they will get to return to their happy, relaxed, engaged state before resuming tasks that may be non-preferred. Consistency is important. Continue to repeat the process to demonstrate that they have control over what they will or will not do without becoming escalated in unwanted behaviors. 

Additionally, we will start the role as teacher- we will work towards teaching new skills. The pace of learning will depend on the client. This client-led programming will be ever-changing and adaptable depending on the client. 

So, as I move through my ABA career and work with families and clients, I utilize these principles from Dr. Hanley to really drive my practice. I think about how I would want someone to treat me, or my child, and I work to have an approach to therapy that is positive and welcoming. I hope that other behavioral analysts also look closer at Dr. Hanley’s teachings and adjust their own practice to have a happier, more relaxed approach.

Hanley, Greg. “A Perspective on Today’s ABA from Dr. Hanley.” Practical Functional Assessment, 9 Sept. 2021, https://practicalfunctionalassessment.com/2021/09/09/a-perspective-on-todays-aba-by-dr-greg-hanley/

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