• Complicated Behaviors

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 11/30/2021

    Over the summer we had the opportunity to take a little cruise around Lake Michigan on the Friends Good Will, a replica historic topsail sloop. (Big sailboat) A few times before we left the dock my five year old asked me questions about what would happen if the ship sank. I told him everything would be  fine. He accepted this answer and we docked.  While we were on the boat he was ALL OVER the place.  He seemed like he was having fun but it was really difficult to manage him and I had a real concern he was going to go over the edge. As he ducked and dodged around the boat I found myself struggling not to be that mom who loses her cool in front of everyone. My husband asked what I thought was going on with our son. I said it could be that he was anxious about being on the boat, it could be because he was hungry since it was lunch time (aka HANGRY), or it could have been overstimulating being on the boat, OR he was tired because we had been camping.... Then my husband said something that changed my entire perspective. He said (drum roll please….) IT COULD BE ALL OF IT.  Now, I imagine you are thinking this is obvious and wondering why I thought this was a big deal. The thing is, I have a tendency to oversimplify behavior challenges to help me focus on the solution. When I am dealing with an issue I want to break it down into as small of chunks as I can so that I can tackle each variable to find an answer.  Try the simplest solution first then go from there. It helps me from getting overwhelmed by it all. 


    Doing FBAs forces me to consider one main function but it is sometimes necessary to consider multiple functions. The PENT site refers to common functions using an actorym S.E.A.T. 

    Sensory: Sensory input or experiences to the individual that feel good or relieving to the student. (i.e., ‘looks good’, ‘taste good’, ‘feels good’, ‘smells good’, ‘sounds good’).

    Escape(avoid): certain people, demands, settings, noises, aversive stimuli.

    Attention: From peer(s), adults. Attention can be positive attention or negative attention.

    Tangible: Access to an item or activity (i.e., food, toys, electronics, and other tangible items)”


    Behaviors can be complex but it does not mean we are helpless to find replacement behaviors or strategies or collect the misbehavior.  We can systematically tackle each issue but choose to focus one at a time to keep it manageable.  For my son, I told him we were going to have lunch as soon as we got off the boat (check one issue). I let him know the boat was safe and there were life jackets if anything went wrong (check one issue).  I pointed out that he could still see the land and had him focus on one thing (check one issue). I sat with him and talked to him about what was exciting on the ship… And I didn’t lose him over the edge.

    There are times where a FBA, functional behavior analysis, will not give us the answers we need. FBAs are based on the understanding of ABA. The idea that a function of a behavior results in an outcome that can be changed by adjusting the variables and identifying a replacement behavior.  But, according to PENT, “It is not best practice to conduct an FBA if the target behavior is not observable and it does not make sense to modify the behavior's definition so that it is observable.” (https://www.pent.ca.gov/bi/about/fba-faq.aspx)  They give the example; 

    “If you're faced with an unobservable behavior like ‘feeling sad’ and want to stay in a behavioral framework by only focusing on addressing observable behaviors, then change your behavior's definition to something observable: ‘feeling sad’ becomes ‘cries and lays head on desk.’ However, if the goal is to address the cognitive components of ‘being sad’ (i.e., thoughts and feelings), then you should not do an FBA. FBA is rooted in the principles of applied behavior analysis, which exclusively targets observable behaviors. FBA is one tool in our large educational and social/emotional toolbox. It serves a very specific purpose, and sometimes it will not be the most appropriate choice.” (https://www.pent.ca.gov/bi/about/fba-faq.aspx

    Considering my son on the boat, if he was really feeling anxious about the boat sinking, or being out on the water, I could address symptoms of the anxiety but the root cause of his anxiety would not be something the FBA would identify.  He would need a different type of intervention to address WHY being on a boat spiked the anxiety resulting in his behavior. Luckily for me, his issues were minor and with a little TLC we were able to make it back to the dock just fine.  It was an important reminder to me that human behavior can be complex and requires commission and understanding above all else. 


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

    Comments (0)
  • How are you doing?

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 9/29/2021 11:55:00 PM

    It is inevitable, everyday someone will see me, smile, and say, “how are you?” Now, I know the acceptable response is something along the line of, “I am doing well, how are you?” (By the way, did you know there is a whole debate on if “I am good” is an acceptable answer??) I know this because I have TAUGHT THIS! 

    I used to work at a school for 7th-12th graders. We had a young man who was turning 18 and in turmoil over this new transition. When I would see him in the hallway at school I would say, “Good morning! How are you?” and he would begin a monolog, “Ugh you have no idea! My mom and I got in a fight last night because I told her once I turn 18 I am out the door and she had the nerve to tell me I needed to stay until I had a job! I told her that I didn’t need a job to leave and she said I needed a job to pay for rent! Can you believe her? I told her....” And this would go on for about 10 minutes. He didn’t even pause to breathe, which I found to be incredibly interesting. I would stand there silently and watch him gradually turn red. I hypothesized reasons for this, wondering if it was because he was getting angrier as he talked or if he just needed to take a breath. The great thing about this school is we had three AMAZING therapists who willingly had these conversations with him daily. So, we set a meeting with him and I explained that when someone is just passing by, the term “how are you” becomes a greeting, not the start of a therapy session. We had him watch a video on the internet on identifying the social cues for when someone is greeting you versus prompting you to engage in a personal conversation. We talked about the time and place for having personal conversations. It was not appropriate to share all of your personal life in front of all of the other students and staff.  Private topics were for private sessions with the therapist.  I also made sure to set time aside periodically to invite him to come talk to me, over a cup of coffee, and just give him some one on one “adult” conversation, with the occasional prompt to breathe.  Everything was peachy.  

    Now, fast forward to today. I am walking down the hall, or pick up the phone and someone says it, “Hi, how are you today?” And I stumble because I WANT to say, “I am doing great, how are you?” I know they want me to say that, I want me to say that. But what comes out is something like, “ehhhhh, I am… okay… how are you?” Or I just skip the answer and say, “It is so good to see you, how are you?” But really, honestly, I am not feeling great. I don’t really have anything substantial to complain about, just a general feeling of not feeling like I normally do. Don’t get me wrong, I can always find something to complain about, but my issues are not really more than what I am used to dealing with. 

    In conversation someone brought up work being done around people dealing with the grief of the ongoing pandemic.  It got me thinking, when I think of grief I associate it with losing a person. As I processed the idea of grief over the pandemic I started doing some research (it is one of my favorite coping strategies). I found a LOT of information on grief. One article that stood out to me was on HelpGuide.org. The authors cited many reasons for grief, all around losing something: a relationship, jobs, income, family members, pets, dreams, health, feeling of safety, your home… You can even feel grief for other people, like grieving someone else being ill. (“Coping with Grief and Loss” Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: August 2021)  It was interesting reading this article because I could see how I have gone through the stages of grief and experienced the symptoms. Once I applied the idea of grief to my current reality things started clicking in place for me a bit. 

    (The only thing I didn’t like about the article was the part about myths. They give a great list of myths that are associated with grief, like ignoring your feelings does not make them go away faster. This goes against another one of my favorite coping strategies: IGNORE THE PROBLEM UNTIL IT GOES AWAY!)

    Regardless of my own personal issues, identifying that I could be processing grief helps me identify why I might be experiencing that “BLAH” feeling. In the article Smith, Robinson and Segal, share the grieving process:  (with my comments included!) 

    Acknowledge your pain. I got this, no more denial!!! 

    Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. My “meh” response when someone asks me  how my day is going… 

    Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you. I may want some extra ice cream tonight. 

    Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you. Yeah, I should probably get around to making an appointment to talk to someone about my feelings. I might avoid this one a little longer… 

    Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically. See ice cream above, then treadmill and/or a nap. 

    Recognize the difference between grief and depression.  I will have to do more research on this!!!!

    The articles cover the why, the how, stages, steps, understanding… they have it all. They even shared an Emotional Intelligence Toolkit! (I love a good toolkit) 

    My BIGGEST takeaway from all of this was: I am not in this alone. I have good reason to feel this way and there is NOTHING wrong with me (notice the denial). There are many ways to get help, people to talk to, hotlines to call (Crisis Call Center at 775-784-8090), support groups to join, articles to read… We got this, and when we don’t, it is okay to ask for help. 



    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director


    Comments (2)