Working with People with Autism
Autism is neurological disorder that affects social interaction. People with autism may also engage in restricted or repetitive behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, the likelihood of a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) grew 20% between 2006 and 2008. In 2008, the CDC reported nationally one child in 88 would likely be diagnosed with a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The diagnosis rate for boys is one in 54 and one in 252 for girls.
There is no Medical Test for ASD and there is no Cure
People with autism are diagnosed based on their symptoms and behavioral restrictions. Treatment is concentrated on alleviating the symptoms of ASD by changing and improving the child’s developmental and educational gains through early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI). Behavior analysts work with individuals with autism to teach them new skills and to decrease problematic behavior. The Florida Tech programs in applied behavior analysis train students to work with individuals with autism in a variety of settings including homes, schools, and clinics. Florida Tech students work with individuals with autism on pre-academic and academic skills, social skills, problem behavior such as self-injury and stereotypy, and problems with feeding.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) employs methods based on the scientific principles of behavior to teach new, socially significant skills and expand upon existing behavioral repertoires. When working with people with intellectual disabilities, ABA focuses on teaching new skills by breaking each skill into very small, discrete, and measurable tasks. Every skill an individual does not demonstrate, from simple skills such as making eye contact to complex behaviors like socially interacting with peers or making a meal independently, is broken down into multiple smaller tasks. Then each of those tasks is taught by first presenting a specific cue or instruction that initiates the response. This could be a verbal instruction or something in the environment that specifies what response should be emitted by the individual. Second, the individual is prompted to emit the correct or desired response. Prompts are temporary and are meant to be faded as quickly as possible. Prompts can range from visual cues or signals to physically guiding the individual to perform the desired action. Finally, a relevant consequence is delivered contingent on the individual’s response. ABA focuses on the use of positive reinforcement to increase appropriate responding; thus, the focus is on providing preferred stimuli (toys, social attention, etc.) for appropriate responding rather than punishing incorrect or inappropriate responses.
What do Behavior Analysts do when working with people with intellectual disabilities
It is important to note that a high priority goal of ABA when working with people with intellectual disabilities is to make learning fun by pairing learning with positive reinforcers. Another characteristic of ABA when it is applied to working with people with intellectual disabilities is the large number of learning opportunities implemented throughout a teaching session. Teaching trials may be repeated hundreds or even thousands of times throughout the day, and often each response is measured and evaluated to determine whether the individual is making progress toward his or her specific learning objectives. The data are then graphed to allow for a visual “picture” of the individual’s progress. Graphing these data enables the behavior analyst to adjust goals and teaching procedures if the individual is not making desired progress. Finally, to ensure the maintenance and generalization of new skills when working with people with intellectual disabilities, teaching trials are often initially taught in a very structured and discrete manner using what is called Discrete-Trial Training. Once the individual demonstrates acquisition of the emerging skill, it is the introduced and practiced in less structured and more naturalistic environments. It is important to note that ABA is not the only approach to working with people with intellectual disabilities. Working with people with intellectual disabilities is just one area in which ABA has been shown to produce socially significant results. For more information on ABA as a treatment for autism and other intellectual disabilities, please visit The Scott Center for Autism Treatment’s website.
One area of faculty interest in the behavior analysis graduate programs at the Floridaorida Institute of Technology (Florida Tech) is functional behavioral assessment, which is the process of identifying the environmental events that support problem behavior. A functional behavioral assessment often includes informant, descriptive, and experimental methods of identifying the function or “reason” a behavior problem occurs. Behavior problems may serve a variety of functions including access to attention, access to preferred items, and escape from demands. Once a function has been identified, a treatment based on the results of the assessment is developed and implemented to decrease the problem behavior.
Florida Tech faculty Involvement in the Assessment and Treatment of Behavior Problems
Assessments can be conducted in a variety of settings including clinics, homes, schools, and hospitals. Assessments have been found to be useful with a variety of populations including individuals with autism, people with intellectual disabilities, children with attention deficit disorder, typically developing children, and individuals with psychotic disorders. Florida Tech behavior analysis faculty members are experts in behavioral assessment and intervention. Florida Tech students have opportunities to work with faculty members to conduct assessments. Faculty members also supervise the implementation of an assessment-based treatment.
The Florida Institute of Technology (Florida Tech) offers a degree in organizational behavior management (OBM). OBM is the application of behavioral principles to solve problems in organizational settings. Organizational behavior management is applied like traditional industrial / organizational (I/O) psychology, but is behavioral rather than cognitive or eclectic. It is analytic in that it relies on the systematic manipulation of environmental events and on directly measuring and graphing behavior (rather than reliance on written tests and interviews for assessment and evaluation). It is technological in that it precisely describes procedures in such a way that others can replicate them.
What do OBM Practitioners Do?
Graduates may apply and enroll in the Ph.D. program in I/O psychology, combine the OBM degree with an MBA, or seek a Ph.D. in behavior analysis. The degree in OBM provides coursework and experience for those who plan to work as performance management or OBM consultants in business, industry, government and human service organizations. Graduates will be prepared to work in a variety of organizations helping management with training and staff development, improving staff performance, staff productivity and behavioral safety, reducing absenteeism and direct-line supervision of employees. With a degree in OBM from the Florida Institute of Technology, the opportunities are endless!