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Habilitation AND Happiness

23 blog avatar 1 Habilitation AND Happiness
Expert Name: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Title: MA, BCBA, COBA
Company Name:  Special Learning, Inc.
Company URL: www.special-learning.com
Short Bio: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Certified Ohio Behavior Analyst. She has experience working with children, adolescents and adults in variety of settings including school, home and mental health facilities.

In each of these environments, she worked closely with parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals to develop and oversee implementation of behavior intervention plans. She has extensive experience mentoring and providing supervision to RBTs, BCBA candidates and behavior analysts. As an Associate Director of Clinical Solutions for Special Learning, she is responsible for creating and presenting educational materials and promoting Special Learning’s mission to positively impact the special needs community. She received her Master’s degree in Special Education/ABA from The Ohio State University. She has been working with in the field of ABA for over ten years.

Habilitation AND Happiness

When asking parents of children with special needs, “What are your goals for your child/teenager?” most of them respond with one or both of the following:

1)    To function in their environment more independently
2)    To be happy

As behavior analysts/clinicians, we can figure out several ways to obtain goal one.  But how often do we target happiness?

Bannerman, Sheldon, Sherman, & Harchick (1990) wrote a moving article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis titled: Balancing the right to habilitation with the right to personal liberties: the rights of people with developmental disabilities to eat too many doughnuts and take a nap. The title alone sparks conversation. I encourage clinicians, parents, and social workers to read this article as it discusses the relation between the right to habilitation and the client’s right to personal liberties.

Targeting behaviors to increase habilitation, such as reading and preparing meals may mean individuals with disabilities are faced with long hours of treatment and high levels of demands. While these goals are imperative for several reasons, I think most of us see the social significance of also targeting happiness. Happiness itself is not a measureable behavior, which may be why research examining happiness is minimal. Dennis Reid, Ph.D., BCBA-D spoke about evidence-based strategies for prompting enjoyment among children with autism.  He discussed his research on measuring indices of happiness and unhappiness (e.g., smiling, laughing, yelling), which are indirect measures but still valid. He encouraged and emphasized the need for prompting enjoyment and recommended strategies for doing so, these included building in a lot of choices throughout the day, smaller teaching sessions with highly preferred activities interspersed, and ways to develop relationships with individuals you are teaching.

It’s important to keep in mind promoting happiness should and can be paired with skill building, personal growth, and maintenance.

Bannerman, D. J., Sheldon, J. B., Sherman, J. A. & Harchik, A. E. (1990). Balancing the right to habilitation with the right to personal liberties: the rights of people with developmental disabilities to eat too many doughnuts and take a nap. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 79-89.

Reid, D. H. (October, 2011). Evidence-Based Strategies for Promoting Enjoyment Among People with Autism at the Virginia Institute of Autism, Charlottesville, VA.

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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
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