Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #221
CE Offered: BACB
Diversity submission Stress, Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression: Hidden Factors Underlying Behavior Problems
Sunday, May 30, 2021
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Area: CBM/EDC; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Jeannie A. Golden (East Carolina University)
CE Instructor: Jeannie A. Golden, Ph.D.

Behavior analysts often fail to realize that there may be hidden factors underlying behavior problems. By not identifying those hidden factors, behavior analysts may be overlooking important establishing operations that may make reinforcers more salient and result in increases in problem behaviors. In school-aged children, behaviors may include tantrums, off-task, noncompliance, and verbal and physical aggression. In college students, behavior problems include skipping classes, not completing assignments, not participating, not paying attention, and not studying. While behavior analysts may admit that people experience stress, trauma (sudden loss, abuse, racial trauma), anxiety and depression, behavior analysts may not believe that they have the skills to identify these hidden factors because they are not directly observable in the present environment. However, often there are important antecedents to problem behaviors that may have occurred in a different environment or time period and may be part of their learning history. This symposium will provide strategies for identifying each of these factors and provide examples of how to incorporate these factors to develop more effective behavior programs.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): behavior problems, distal antecedents, establishing operations, trauma
Target Audience:

Behavior analysts, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, teachers who are able to define and give examples of basic behavioral principles: positive and negative reinforcement, punishment, motivating operations, discriminative stimuli

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: 1. describe how to identify the pain and hurt associated with trauma in children with aberrant behavior and help those children cope with those feelings 2. describe how to identify anxiety and anger in school-aged children and ways to help those children cope with those feelings 3. describe how to identify depression and anxiety in college students and ways to help those students cope with those feelings
Diversity submission 

Removing the Mask: Discovering and Altering the Function of Aberrant Behavior

JEANNIE A. GOLDEN (East Carolina University)

Early abuse and neglect can teach children to engage in functional survival behaviors. Living in a chaotic environment, with intermittent reinforcement for aberrant behavior, unpredictable aversive stimuli, deprivation of attention, care and comfort, and discriminative stimuli for punishment of expression of emotions, can create the setting conditions for unattached, callous and unemotional behaviors. The emotional and physical hurt and pain from maltreatment are so severe that they become an establishing operation for escaping negative emotions, making its reinforcement value more salient and stronger. By blocking or numbing the pain, sadness and/or anxiety so they cannot feel these emotions, children can be negatively reinforced and thus more likely to continue blocking those emotions. When they start to feel anxiety, pain or hurt, or even sad, guilty or ashamed, they escape those feeling by blocking them or becoming numb. Often what survives are anger and rage expressed in the form of aggressive behavior. This presentation will address ways for behavior analysts to discover these blocked emotions in children exhibiting behavior problems and assist children in acknowledging, experiencing, and coping with these negative emotions.

Diversity submission 

Underlying Trauma: The Invisible Elephant in the Classroom

PAULA FLANDERS (Raleigh Montessori School)

Underlying trauma can be an invisible elephant in a classroom. By the age of 12, many adolescents have lived through brain-altering traumatic events, which impact their perception of people, places, and situations. Science tells us that our brain changes with each experience we face. From birth to adolescence children are absorbing everything in their environment. Children forced to deal with daily traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, and abandonment can present with problematic behaviors in the school setting. Behaviors related to underlying trauma can present as withdrawal, verbal aggression, physical aggression, anxiety, and disruptive outbursts. As behavior analysts, we need to discern whether these behaviors are related to underlying trauma, lack of parental guidance, or a disability. Making this determination will be necessary to develop a trusting and effective working relationship with the student. Identifying if behaviors are rooted in sadness, fear, or shame related to underlying traumatic events, allows adults to address the problem with a broader perspective and in a manner that will prevent escalation. Addressing students who are combative or reclusive requires tactical approaches created with all variables in mind, even when they are not observable and occurred in the past.

Diversity submission 

Covert Mission: Identifying and Alleviating Trauma-Based Behaviors in College Students

ALBEE MENDOZA (Wesley College)

In a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (2012), anxiety is the most reported concern among college students followed by depression and relationship problems. In a more recent study (2020), college students are reporting even more stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. This presentation is relevant as more and more college students experience poor mental health due to the pandemic and the measures to protect against the virus (i.e., shelter-in-place restrictions, online learning vs. in-person learning). Trauma may occur as loved ones are being impacted by COVID-19. College educators and counselors may be the first line responders to notice problem behaviors and recommend strategies for prevention and intervention. As such, this presentation will inform audience members of ways to identify problem behaviors, develop operational definitions, gather indirect and direct information, and collect data in higher education settings. This presentation has the potential impact of assisting college educators and counselors in having difficult conversations with students/clients and utilizing applied behavior analysis to identify and alleviate trauma-based behaviors.




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