A Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) is a professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating individuals (both children and adults) with mental and behavioral problems.
The Role of Behavior Analysts When Treating Autistic Children
The role of a behavior analyst is to observe the behavior of children with autism, develop suitable behavior intervention strategies, and implement them. In addition, analysts also review the medical history of autistic children and consult their parents to ensure they make the right diagnosis. According to Autism Speaks, scientific studies have shown that behavioral intervention can improve communication, social interactions, self-care, and play-based interactions with others.
An Overview of BCBA
A BCBA is an individual who undergoes rigorous training to understand how he/she can use biological and environmental factors to mold human behavior. Some of the behavior modification techniques they use include Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET).
Life can be extremely demanding for the families of an autistic child or adult because of the challenging behaviors associated with the condition. The four behaviors connected to autism that the majority of people find the hardest to deal with are:
• Sleep disruption — people with autism tend to be extremely sensitive, and anything that happens during their day that is slightly upsetting for them will affect their sleep that night.
• Tantrums — autism sufferers have their limits, and being in a situation that they know they can’t cope with, could trigger a tantrum.
• Eating problems — it is a well-known fact that patients with autism, especially children, are picky eaters, and finding out their food likes and dislikes can be extremely overwhelming.
• Aggressiveness towards themselves and others — inability to communicate is a frustrating problem with many autism patients, which can cause them to become aggressive towards others, or even injure themselves in some way.
While many families want to care for their loved one themselves, dealing with the above problems and more every day, is not only exhausting but do eventually take their toll on the entire family. It is at these times that the services of a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst or BCBA should be arranged, to help everyone in the family cope with this trying medical condition.
How Can a BCBA Help?
A Board Certificate Behavioral Analyst is trained to deal with all aspects of autism. Having an expert on hand who can give you guidance and the best possible advice for coping with the hardships of autism, already provides an enormous amount of relief for the rest of the family. They can, for instance, help you with the following:
Early diagnosis and action — until recently, doctors had a “wait and see” attitude regarding autism. These days, however, experts suggest that early detection of any form of autism allows action to be taken quickly, which usually creates the most positive outcome. As the condition affects everyone differently, programs are created to treat each case accordingly.
Classic or severe autism — a Board Certificate Behavioral Analyst has all the skills and experience needed to deal with even the most severe cases of autism. Treatment is adapted to suit each patient’s individual needs, even those with the most intense difficulties, in order to help them develop, improve, and continue to grow in a positive manner. Children, teenagers, as well as adults suffering from classic or severe autism, are unable to function well with everyday activities, talk very seldom, and do not react to instructions or requests from others. Classic or severe autism also tends to create very clear mobility problems.
A BCBA can also do a lot to help those who have noticed signs that their autistic family member is capable of doing a lot more than the conclusions indicated by previous assessments.
Providing the correct Treatment for those with severe or Classic Autism, experts have discovered over the years, that the more severe the case of autism, the more often the incorrect the assumptions are as to the individuals intelligence and his/her capabilities.
Most autism treatment programs are developed to deal with only the more common problems associated with the condition but are very rarely suited for individuals with the more severe issues. Therefore, patients with the more severe cases of autism very often don’t do too well in these programs, not because they aren’t capable of making progress, but because the programs aren’t created for their specific needs.
A BCBA has all the necessary training and expertise to properly evaluate all forms of autism and design a program to suit each individual need, thus allowing the patient to achieve his/her full potential.
To attain BCBA certification, an individual must undergo years of training and eventually pass a board certified exam. Unlike other medical professions, behavioral analyst trainees must have graduated from accredited universities with Masters Degrees in relevant fields including engineering, education, behavior analysis, human services, and medicine. All BCBA training applicants must have graduated from institutions accredited by reputable organizations. During training, behavior analysts must complete at least 1,500 hours of supervised fieldwork and other course requirements that vary depending on the training program syllabus. While undertaking fieldwork, BCBA trainees can be supervised only by qualified and certified BCBAs who are neither their relatives nor subordinates. A typical BCBA curriculum consists of the following subjects:
• Behavioral consultation
• Introduction to applied behavior analysis
• Functional analysis and treatment of challenging behavior
• Behavioral intervention in autism spectrum disorders
• Positive behavioral support in autism
• Legal and ethical issues in professional practice
• Ethical issues in behavior analysis
• Behavior analysis principles
After this, trainees must take and pass a board certified exam as well as renew their certificates every two years. Moreover, BCBAs are required to abide by a strict ethics code and enroll in continuous education programs to ensure they can adequately handle behavior cases involving children.
Behavior Intervention Timeline
In most cases, autistic children spend about 25 to 40 hours weekly attending behavioral modification programs that can continue for up to three years. A study published by the Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism found that young children diagnosed with autism require a minimum of 25 hours per week of intensive behavioral intervention for 12 months. Another study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that autistic children who completed 40 hours of behavioral intervention over a two-year period achieved major developmental milestones without problems. Consistent with these guidelines, your child’s behavior analyst will set a suitable treatment timeline based on factors such as the severity of autism symptoms and age.
Behavior Intervention Elements
Although behavior modification experts use different treatment models, they usually contain some or all of the following elements:
1. Antecedent manipulation
Antecedent manipulation is a technique aimed at modifying the behavior exhibited by autistic children via alteration of events that trigger certain behavioral responses. An analyst can achieve this goal by using behavior manipulation strategies like incorporating special interests, behavioral momentum, and prompt/fading.
2. Selectively ignoring inappropriate behavior
Since children with autism can be disruptive and uncooperative, BCBAs strive to ignore inappropriate behavior selectively. This approach is effective when dealing with children who throw tantrums to gain the attention of others or disrupt the attention of fellow students.
3. Activity reinforcement
This element refers to encouraging autistic children to perform less desirable activities before preferred ones. By doing so, behavior analysts cultivate the desire to adopt desirable behaviors and shun undesirable habits.
4. Consequence manipulation
Simply put, this element revolves around manipulating the events that occur after an autistic child exhibits desired or undesired behavior. In this case, consequences may be positive, negative, or unbiased (neither positive nor negative). For example, praising a child reinforces acceptable behavior.
5. Functional behavior assessment
This refers to identifying the environmental factors that influence disruptive behavior and developing an appropriate modification plan. During the assessment period, a BCBA professional records metrics such as how many times a child exhibits positive/negative behavior and how he/she responds to correction or commands.
6. Peer mediation
In some US schools, behavior analysts modify the behavior of autistic children via peer mediation. This means teaching non-autistic children how to resolve conflicts that involve autistic children in a way that de-escalates confrontation.
7. Visual cues
Behavior experts use visual cues to help autistic children complete learning tasks. These cues should be simple to avoid confusing the target audience. Remember, autistic children typically do not view and interpret the surrounding environment in the same way as allistic children. A good example of a visual cue is pointing to an object, a marker, or a person.
8. Token economy reward system
A behavior analyst can use a token economy reward system to encourage autistic children to perform certain tasks or exhibit desirable traits. For instance, a child that completes an assigned task successfully and on time could earn a reward or a treat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends enrolling autistic children in a behavior intervention program as early as possible. The Board Certified Behavioral Analysts in charge of such programs use different strategies to modify the behavior of such children. Such strategies may include using antecedent manipulation, selectively ignoring inappropriate behavior, consequence manipulation, visual cues, activity reinforcement, peer mediation, token economy reward system, and functional behavior assessment to enforce behavior change.
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