Observable Behavior

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In this lesson, and throughout the course, you will be presented with poll questions. These questions are intended to introduce new material by providing an opportunity to engage the learner. There is no correct answer.

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[icon icon=”bar-chart-o” size=”medium” style=”solid” shape=”square” bg_color=”#1abc9c”][/icon]What did you mean by that?

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When I am at work and I say I am tired, what I typically mean is..

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Making it Behavioral

“Joey has a bad attitude
“Jessica is very smart
“Stephanie is lazy
“Steve is well-behaved

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Have you ever used the adjectives above to describe a person? You may even use them to describe yourself. While most people have generally the same interpretation of these adjectives, they are not very useful at describing behavior. The problem is that they summarize an observer’s impression based on various interactions and contexts.

“You have your work cut out for you with Joey. You’ll soon discover that he has a bad attitude.”

Consider you are a new therapist and you have been assigned Joey as a client. On the first day, Joey’s teacher welcomes you and provides you with the comment above. This comment tells you little about Joey’s actual behavior. It likely tells you more about the teacher’s way of understanding Joey.

“This is Joey. He likes to play tag with peers at recess but does not always follow the rules. This will sometimes lead to fights with peers on the playground.”

Joey’s BCBA used the description above when introducing you to Joey. As a new therapist just meeting Joey for the first time, how might this information be more useful to you than the teacher’s comment about his bad attitude?


[icon icon=”bar-chart-o” size=”medium” style=”solid” shape=”square” bg_color=”#1abc9c”][/icon]Which is a demonstration of the behavior?

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Adam is hyperactive.

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Ways of Speaking

As an RBT, you will come in contact with various professionals. You may have a client with a Psychological Evaluation that you read. In the evaluation there may be terms such as hyperactive, depressed mood, inattentive, oppositional, socially isolated, and so on. These terms mean something to the psychologist who wrote them but have little meaning to your work as a behavior analyst. Furthermore, the diagnosis provided at the end of the evaluation will have great meaning to everyone involved on the treatment team, especially the parents, but only has a limited meaning to behavior analysts.

Jill is an adult with autism.

Suppose Jill is your new client and all you know about her is that she has autism. People with autism share similar characteristics and tendencies but will all behave differently. Knowing that your client has autism will prepare you for some things that you may see, but it does not tell you anything about her strengths or preferences. It is not sufficient information, there is more critical information about the individual that relates to the work you will do with her.

Tommy is curious.

Like psychologists, teachers may also use language that is non-behavioral. A teacher’s description of a student as curious provides you with some information but is not a complete behavioral description.


Focus on Observable

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“I had a fantastic lunch today! The salad I packed was 80% spinach and 20% garbanzo beans. When I put the dressing on, the leaves stayed firm and made a crunch noise when I took a bite.”

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When sending a friendly e-mail, most people would not describe an enjoyable lunch using such technical and specific language. Words like “delicious” or “fantastic” might be more appropriate. You may even use a figure of speech, such as saying your lunch “hit the spot.”  This way of speaking is what we expect in a friendly e-mail, but it is not useful for composing session notes or progress reports as a behavior analyst.

Professional writing, including session notes, data collection, and notes to caregivers, should be written in a specific manner that focuses on observations.

If a client is non-compliant, what does that mean?

When writing session notes, it is important to use the language and way of speaking of a behavior analyst. Rely on observations to describe what happened and avoid using adjectives.

For example, what would lead a therapist to describe a client’s behavior as non-compliant? It may be the case that the client did not respond to many of the therapist’s directions and on two occasions got out of his seat and ran out of the room. Consider the examples below.  Hover (or touch if using a touchscreen) each example of a description that is not observable to view an observable alternative.


 

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