A New Year’s Resolution


Happy 2015, everyone! Although it can be fun to celebrate the new year, I am not always super excited around this time of year. Here are a few reasons why…

  1. Christmas is over
  2. Football is almost over
  3. Tax season is coming
  4. I will write the wrong date on paperwork for the next 3 months

Anyhow, there are lots of exciting things about starting fresh, making positive changes, and all that jazz – which is what the beginning of a new year often gets us thinking about. Like most people, I’m typically centering these thoughts around my personal life but THIS year seems to be different.

Why? Well, it all started with watching the news. I happened to tune in during a story about a doctor in Naperville, IL. According to news sources, she was known nationally for treating individuals with autism. I believe I may have even known families who pursued this doctor, as her name sounded extremely familiar. The story was about how her license was placed on probation after allegedly providing “medically unwarranted treatment that may potentially result in permanent disabling injuries.” Sadly, this is a story that is told all too often.

What always makes my heart break the most is knowing that the families who fall victim to these scenarios truly want to help their children and are willing to do anything it takes to do just that. Although we typically think about those qualities as being good & honorable, they can also be especially dangerous given the number of providers in the autism community that feed off of them. In other words, there ARE doctors and other, typically well-respected professionals who are not in business to help, but to make money. It may take a lot of questions and research to identify them, but the worst thing you can do is make assumptions about the soundness of their recommendations before doing any research (or simply based on their credentials).

To get back to my original point, I knew after hearing this story that my resolutions were going to be less about personal achievements and more about helping families that I work with have the right perspective so that they can better advocate for their children. Although this is something that I always try to do, there is so much more that needs to be done. To start, I want to give you a couple of ideas to consider…

First, remember that all services providers (doctors, psychiatrists, behavior analysts, counselors, etc.) are HUMAN! Why is this important? Because being human means that we don’t always have the answer. It also means that there is some possibility that we haven’t done our research because we are lazy (but don’t like to admit it) or that we are simply “followers” and continue to do things because it’s what we were taught to do. Unfortunately, it also means that there is some possibility that all we begin to think about is what is going to get us the most clients and income for our own business or family – without considering what’s at stake for others. I can tell you from my own experiences that the nicest people can fall into all of these categories, which directly affects the soundness of their services. The outcome can be disastrous…

Second, consider what things would be like if there was a quick cure for autism that simply required a particular medical procedure. Wouldn’t the effects of this type of discovery be dramatic??? For one, you would know because other well-established therapies, such as ABA, would no longer be growing exponentially. Also, more than a handful of doctors would be providing it and more funding streams would be covering it. You may immediately think, “All types of therapy were ‘born’ at some point – what if this one turns out to be the best?” This is a good point; however, if there is little yet known about whether something is effective, there may also be little known about whether it is dangerous. Aren’t we just as responsible to protect our children from harm as we are to find them the resources they need? Furthermore, if we disregard/minimize proven treatments for those that may not be effective at all (or even dangerous), isn’t that also doing our children a disservice? Wouldn’t it be most beneficial to re-allocate resources if/when other treatments are actually proven effective?

I know this process can be unbelievably overwhelming for families, but checking your perspective is a great place to start. There is so much to learn about what questions to ask and what to look for when deciding on the type of treatments to pursue/continue. If you want more information on this topic, I’d encourage you to visit the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (http://www.asatonline.org/) – an organization whose primary goal is to educate people on evidence-based treatments for autism. Even if you are seeking treatment for other disabilities, you may still find resources on this site that will help you have the right perspective throughout your search.

I think I’m off to a good start to my new year’s resolution – now if only Auburn could win the 2015 national championship 🙂



We’re Almost There!


It was October 7th, 2012…a Sunday. Why Stephanie decided to reinforce my ridiculous idea to run a full marathon with basically ZERO bits of running experience in life thus far, I do not know. What was even more surprising was that she did this after just finishing the same year-long process herself! Anyway, there we were…running the Chicago Marathon for Team World Vision…and we (literally) ran across the poster that summed up our feelings & thoughts exactly. It said, “Punch anyone who says you’re almost there.” As you can see, we connected so much to this poster that we decided to sacrifice our awesome positions in the race to take a quick photo. It was just too awesome to pass up!

Now, fast forward to 2014…Stephanie and I began training for a half marathon. As SOON as I made this decision, I thought to myself, “Why in the world are you doing this!?!?!?” Let me just clarify…I do not have a runner physique, I do not enjoy running very much, and I’m not all that good at it. So, why?? As I wrapped my head around this question, I began to realize that, for me, there is something very reinforcing about meeting big, long-term goals. There was honestly nothing like crossing that marathon finish line back in 2012. That second of my life was one of the best examples of delayed gratification that I may ever personally experience. But that can’t be it, right? The fact is, training for an entire year at something that you aren’t good at and don’t like to do is a LOT of response effort. So you’d think there must be other, more immediate reinforcers along the way, right? For me, one of those reinforcers was seeing my donation money rise each week & knowing it was going to an amazing cause. The one I want to talk about the most, though, is the invaluable bond that grows between two people who run the race together.

Don’t get me wrong, there were probably many days that one of us was oh so annoyed with the other. Whether it was because they wanted to run too fast, too far without stopping, or even at all…no joke. Regardless of our words or actions, there was something about the comradery of working towards a common cause/long-term goal that was constantly reinforcing my hard work. I truly believe that God places particular people in our lives that are a perfect match for each of us in this way.

The race that Stephanie and I ran 2 years ago is, in many respects, similar to the race that we have been running since 2011. I’ll call that race the “FOC” race. Never did I think the FOC race would be as long and tiring as it has been. Looking back, it definitely wasn’t a race that I could have run with just anyone. And even though we haven’t quite contacted the “BIG” reinforcer that we’ve been waiting on for so long, the ongoing reinforcement of comradery with a business partner that was hand-picked for me is more than enough to keep running. I can even say that, “We’re almost there!!!” without a single flinch. 🙂


“Play nice in the sandbox”

AS0000114FD07 Children, in park and adventure playgroundThese kids seem to be playing nicely together, right? And that’s what we expect of them, isn’t it? If they weren’t playing nicely together, the parents would be hovering to make sure everyone stayed happy and unharmed by flying sand or toys. We, as adults, are often told to figuratively “play nice in the sandbox,” typically when discussing heated topics or collaborating across disciplines. But I always feel the need to ask the question, “Do I really have to?” And, better yet, “Is it really helpful?”

Personally, I think the short answer to both of those questions is, “No.” In general, the notion of “playing nice in the sandbox” is flawed fundamentally. It is based on the premise that this “getting along” ideal is both necessary and helpful in all situations. But what we fail to recognize is the dangers in this type of thinking…this all or nothing thinking.

We live in a world where, if you disagree with someone, you are immediately labeled as (and shunned for being) “hateful” or “anti-_____” or “closed minded,” and the whole world learns of such “truths” about you as a person. There in lies the problem: disagreement is NOT, in any sense of the word, judgement. Our society’s need to be politically correct and accepting of every idea anyone ever had is, in my view, leading to the degradation of critical thinking and healthy debate leading to progress. Don’t get me wrong, people have value (as fellow human beings) independent of their agreement or disagreement with others and deserve to be treated as such. That, in no way, suggests that we must tread so carefully as to not ruffle any feathers. Being kind and loving towards other people does not preclude me from having strong opinions and sharing them (in respectful ways) and advocating for what I believe is best. It also means that others can (and should do the same) with people yielding their misplaced focus or trust when needed.

Let me give you an example from the life of a behavior analyst…I’ll even borrow from our previous posting on sensory diets:

Let’s pretend I’m a behavior analyst (well I suppose that isn’t a hypothetical) who is doing an assessment for a student who runs away from the classroom, and I learn it is happening to both escape work and access preferred sensory activities. I also notice that the frequency of running away increased dramatically after the first time an adult played with him in the sensory room. If someone were to suggest that this behavior was a result of a sensory need during difficult academic tasks and that he should be allowed to continue accessing the sensory room under these situations, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that that was directly observed to make the situation worse.

But, truth be told, the notion of “playing nice in the sandbox,” and the proponents of its universal value, would suggest that the best response would be to say, “Sure, we can definitely incorporate such a sensory diet in the midst of those tasks. I can definitely see how that is something he really needs.” Wait…hold on a second…didn’t I just say that this response already resulted in an increase in running away?! It seems to me, then, that that particular response is neither helpful nor necessary. It might help to make everyone feel included, but it certainly would be expected to help the student.

On the other hand, consider the following response: “I see how it might seem like he ‘needs’ these breaks because he is running off so frequently, but the data show that this pattern is actually leading to increases in running away. I would be more inclined to teach him a more appropriate way to request these breaks and to better tolerate longer periods of difficult work while removing access to the ‘fun stuff’ accessed by running away.” People would suggest (and I’ve experienced it personally) that I would not be “playing nice in the sandbox” because I simply “dismissed” another’s suggestion. But what I know about this 2nd response is that it was polite but clear regarding my position and offered an intervention that is more likely to result in a positive change for the student.

And, again, here is the problem: disagreement does not equal judgement, even though society tells us it does. I’m not judging that suggestion; I’m simply offering an explanation why, scientifically, we wouldn’t expect it to be effective and offering another option.

I work daily to build positive relationships with people that may or may not have the same beliefs and training and passions that I do, but I don’t believe that the only way to do that is to avoid ruffling feathers at all costs. It is only through being challenged on our beliefs and actions that we can learn to understand them, defend them, and change them (when necessary). Without being challenged, we go through life as lemmings, willing to follow each other off a cliff when there is a route to safety.

Personally, I would rather be shown why I am wrong and have the chance to be better than always be told I’m right while sacrificing my very being in the process. So the next time you feel pressured to “play nice in the sandbox,” resist the urge and exercise the practice of respectful honesty instead.


Not According to Plan

Ok, everyone; I was charged with writing an opening post for For Love of ABA & Football, to introduce you all to myself (Stephanie) and Liz and the idea behind our new blog. But, for those of you who don’t know me, I am a HUGE Denver Broncos fan and am feeling slightly less-than-chipper this morning. For the non-football fans out there…that’s because they lost a horribly painful game (in the Super Bowl, no less) last night. Let’s just say, their game did NOT go according to plan! And, thus, neither did my Sunday night.

But I digress…well, sort of…Liz and I did not decide to start a blog for Footsteps of Change simply so we could rant about disappointing football games; but we did envision a place for us to share our thoughts on ABA, the state of our field and the work being done, and our love for the families we serve, as well as our own personal passions (which, needless to say, include football!). We are both blessed beyond what we could have imagined to be able to run Footsteps in the way we know to be best and to be able to work with each other and the wonderful families and professionals we have already come to know in the life of our young company.

As entrepreneurs and behavior analysts, Liz and I have seen that things do not always go according to plan…and that’s OK. (Anyone who has known me for more than a few years knows how hard it is for me to say that deviation from “well laid plans” is ok, because I am/was a planner!) But I think there is something inherently optimistic and maybe a little naive to the reality of limitations in both of those titles that has led us to where we are and will carry us through to a greatness we might not even yet see. If we’re being honest, though, where we see our plans not quite playing out as originally envisioned, we are building something even greater and full of joy and passion than we would have had otherwise.

Now, don’t get me wrong…last night’s football game not going according to plan is NOT one of those things that I see working out for the best in the long run. That truly was a let down for me and probably a massive disappointment to the Denver players and coaches…that one simply needs to be chalked up to a failure to be learned from. In our real lives–you know, the ones where we are behavior analysts and friends and supporters to our clients and loved ones (as opposed to the fantasy lives of being personally involved in the success/failure of our respective favorite football teams)–we’re learning to love to see things go not according to plan and we’re thrilled for what the future brings for us (in work, life, and in football)!