Thursday, January 7, 2016

A smart schoolboy says Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is bad to him and his friends.

[Editorial note: This post is copied and pasted word for word from a recent social media dialogue I had with the mother of a boy who was maltreated by the school program that goes by the name Positive Behavior Support (PBS) or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). I made her name anonymous. In this blog I have often described PBS, in theory, as the gentle breakaway sister profession from highly unethical Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I still like PBS theory, somewhat, as I give it a "C" and I give "pure ABA theory and practice" a bold red "F." How is PBS in practice? Well the jury is still hearing the evidence, so to speak, but the first witnesses, the Mom and her teacher-bullied son, the plaintiffs, strike a big opening blow to the PBS defense. Who do I want to hear from most over ABA and PBS? Well read this post, please. To the mom of the boy who opposes PBS: You are a loving mom, a true parent advocate who actually listens to her child. Please tell him he is also a natural leader, a true peer advocate for his bullied friends, bullied by their PBS teachers, indeed, no less! Natural leaders often develop into incredible emergent leaders later on in life!]

This blogger asked Mom (anon) to let her son speak to him about how he feels about PBS.

Mom: Good question. I asked my kid. He thinks, "It's stupid, the rewards are dumb, the practices are boring and I should skip all the practices and read instead, and those stupid tickets are annoying. They don't mean anything to me." I then asked if it helped other kids who have trouble making the better choices. His reply, "No way. Not a bit. Some kids make it a challenge to see who can earn the least tickets each semester."

Dave: Thank you so much. May I anonymously quote your son on my blog and would you want to be anonymous as his Mom providing me his quote? Umm, this sounds more like lousy, linear-only ABC ABA than the full range of linear and nonlinear behavior supports that LaVigna teaches.* In following LaVigna, for example, your son's behaviors should be viewed as communications and respected as such, from how I read the PBS co-founder's theory. We have already seen that what passes for ABA is not always pure ABA. Perhaps the same holds true for PBS, of which I admit I know much less than I know ABA.

Dave: Oh ... like a slow race at gym class. For fun, the non-athletes play: Whoever gets across the finish line last wins! Clever kids in your son's school.

Mom: Quote away, Dave Jersey! Clever kids who know they have no chance in hell of ever earning enough tickets to get to the big reward. It's their way of rebelling against stupidity.


See Lavigna and Donnellan (1986). Alternatives to Punishment, first three chapters. "ABC ABA" is the typical Antecedent Behavior Consequence linear approach used throughout ABA. Linear methods look at the obviously apparent, easily-observable, immediate environmental precursors and consequential environmental stimuli that occur in the same milieu where the responses emerge. Linear-only ABA disregards the contributions of the contemporary of behavior science founder B. F. Skinner, behavior ethicist Israel Goldiamond. Goldiamond explained how many variables impinge on a currently seen response, an entire history of variables that are not immediately apparent. So LaVigna and Donnellan (1986) followed Goldiamond with their groundbreaking PBS "Old Testament. To illustrate exactly how linear and nonlinear PBS theory is different from linear-only ABA, consider this:

Problem behavior: Homeless man's aggressive begging.

ABA linear-only solutions: Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible (DRI) behavior: Put a guitar in his hands and a money bucket in front of him. Get him a city entertainer permit to perform on the street. He can't aggressively beg while playing guitar for money. If DRI doesn't work, try other linear reinforcement approaches. If they don't work, punish the beggar. Send him to jail even or "effectively treat him," so they say, with extremely painful electric skin shock, which is common ABA at its worst, electric shock pain, remote controls, electrodes, which is heavily supported and entirely allowed in the complete ABA professional community. Do not give him what he wants immediately after he is begging, as this would (in ABA, technically) reinforce his "problem behavior of social importance" and make the begging happen more often (so they would claim, as it seems to me).

PBS theory linear and nonlinear behavior supports solutions: Do not punish. It is unnecessary and therefore unethical to punish. Do the ABA-style linear reinforcement procedures. Also, do give the man what he wants and needs a little while after he aggressively begs, but not immediately afterwards, in order to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Lead him to Alcoholics Anonymous if drinking causes him problems. Get him job skills, interview skills, etc. Get him a decent home. Provide him with other behavior intervention and supports as needed.

Reward and Consent solutions: Do PBS, but only with the consent of the man. If he wants to run his own life without PBS, then leave him alone. If he allows them to speak to him, then let him listen to the the PBS persons as they explain how they can perhaps help him. Then let him tell them exactly how they may help him. He can hire and fire them all until he finds one that he (and his peer advocates who assist him) decide will serve him. He alone is the boss. They work for him. (They also need to tell him and lead him to other non-PBS, non-ABA professional solutions, occupational therapy, music therapy, etc.)

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.