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  • Scott

The Conference Effect

I just had a great time at the Hoosier Association for Behavior Analysis annual conference. For the first time in several years, I wasn’t presenting and just enjoyed the talks. There is something about just listening to what others in the field are doing that is satisfying to the soul. Well, the soul of a behavior analyst anyway.

Some people go to reinforce what they already know and how they feel about the field. And that’s fine. There is a lot of “rah rah” you can get from conferences. Although not expressly stated, I think that is an underlying function of conferences across all domains. However, because I am involved in teaching behavior analysis, I don’t need that same reinforcement. My reinforcement comes from teaching. I go to find new ideas. My research on video prompting came from a previous conference presentation. A quick conversation with the presenter after the talk led to my doctoral degree and career in academia.

Now I look to see how the field is expanding outside the realm of autism and disabilities. Two things stood out for me at this conference. My friend, Nick Green from BehaviorFit, gave a talk on how his journey to help people be more active. His standing initiative has been personally influential to me as I use my standing desk at work. Nick and I have a long friendship and I am pleased to see him following his passion and making a difference. If you are interested in his work on improving activity and healthy lifestyles, please check out his site at

A second thing that interested me was the social media presence at the conference. Matt Cicoria of Behavioral Podcasts did a live podcast from the conference with Dr. Matt Normand and Ryan O’Donnell of The Daily BA was taking pictures and video throughout both the podcast and the conference. It was encouraging to see the dissemination of our field in ways that make it more accessible to the general public. Often, what we do is published in texts and journal articles and is put in words that aren’t necessarily applicable or understood by lay persons.

But the biggest “aha” moment for me was a part of the introductory keynote from Dr. Matt Normand. His topic was that behavior analysis needs to expand beyond just autism and disabilities. In it, he had a single slide that resonated with me. It was about behavioral gerontology. My oldest daughter is in school to become a nurse and is working in an assisted living facility during her studies. So, this slide kind of hit home a bit. Now, my daughter wants to do neonatal care when she graduates, and the current job is just for experience. But I thought about her and how behavior analysis can make her job easier by teaching skills to the patients.

It was a bit surprising to me that I found this so interesting. My general research interests are in teaching academic subjects to learners with more severe intellectual disability. So, the fact I was thinking about working with geriatric populations was foreign to me. But it makes some sense. ABA isn’t restricted to use with kids with autism or disabilities. The science of behavior is universal and should be applied to all situations. Skinner’s Walden Two is a great treatise on that idea. And the best way to expand our field is to start tackling problems outside autism. As our population ages, we can begin to focus on helping maintain skills and teach new ones that come up with lifestyle restrictions. I’ll be thinking about this more as I settle into my research agenda.

More to come…

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