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Out with the bad, in with the good

23 blog avatar 1 Out with the bad, in with the good
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.

Out with the bad, in with the good

Do you work with you a student who engages in problem behavior? As you may know, behaviors do not just happen will-nilly, but are the result of other factors (this is also referred to as determinism and is one of the attitudes of science). It’s important to recognize most of those unwanted behaviors have proven functional for the student, so it’s necessary to determine an adaptive behavior that will take the place of the behavior you’re planning to reduce/eliminate from his/her repertoire.

How do you select an alternative behavior/communicative response topography—here are some considerations that were discussed by Tiger, Hanley, and Bruzek (2008):

o    Effort required to engage in the response: The communicative response should be less effortful than problem behavior, at least in the initial stages
o    In topography-based systems, such as sign language, the form of the response differentiates one verbal response from another (i.e., the sign for “play” is different than the sign for “break”).
o    In selection-based systems, such as picture exchanges, the form of each response is identical (e.g., handing someone a picture card) and are differentiated by the stimulus selected. This may present challenges with individuals with disabilities that cannot discriminate because these systems require individuals to scan an array to discriminate between multiple pictorial or textual stimuli
o    The likelihood that others will recognize and respond appropriately to the response (i.e., will novel people understand what the student is trying to communicate?)
o    The consumer’s current behavioral repertoire (i.e., what can he/she already do?)

If you are hoping to reduce severe problem behavior, you might consider consulting a behavior analyst about functional communication training (FCT).  FCT is an antecedent (occurs prior to the behavior) intervention that utilizes differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (like discussed above) to teach appropriate behaviors to compete with unwanted/problem behaviors. It is one of the most common and effective interventions for severe problem behavior (Tiger, Hanley, & Bruzek, 2008).


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd Ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall

Tiger, J. H., Hanley, G. P., & Bruzek, J. (2008). Functional communication training: a review and practical guide. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 1, 16-23.


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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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