Amanda Breed is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) with Patterson Behavior Services. In this role, she works directly with children to teach new skills and reduce challenging behaviors.
Amanda has been an RBT for 2 years and is currently studying to become a Behavior Analyst. She completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is completing her graduate coursework at George Mason University. She is also interested in using her skills to understand and improve animal behavior! We asked her a few questions about her background and what it is like to work in the field.
How did you find ABA? Was there anything in particular that drew you to the field?
When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do after college. I knew I was very interested in both human and animal behavior but didn’t want to be a psychiatrist or veterinarian. I worked with kids when I lived abroad in Vietnam and absolutely loved teaching so I decided to pursue a degree in the teaching field.
I started my masters in teaching and almost immediately knew that I was in the wrong field. A few years ago, my mom became involved with in the early stages of start-up company that created assistive technology programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. Through her connections, I learned about ABA. I met with a couple ABA professionals and one in particular really influenced my decision to get into the field. The thing that drew me to ABA the most was initially that it can be applied to different fields. In ABA, you can work with children, adults, and even animals. ABA was the first field I found that encompassed both of my passions, working with children and with animals.
Do you remember your first client? What did she teach you?
I worked with a young child who had autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome. I was very intimidated at first because she did not speak, and I was nervous that my actions wouldn’t improve her life. Although there are no quick fixes, my first client taught me how impactful ABA intervention can be. She taught me a lot about patience and how much inner strength these children have.
At first, my client solely relied on assistive technology and gestures to communicate. I worked with her every day of the week for months and she gradually began communicate through vocalizations and eventually through short sentences.
Tell us about a challenging behavior you have encountered on the job. How did you handle it?
There are a couple of challenging behaviors I have encountered- tantrums and physical aggression. I think the tantrum behavior was a bit harder for me to adjust to, since there is a natural instinct to want to comfort a child in distress. However, when a child is throwing a tantrum because they want something or don’t want to do something, comforting them may make challenging behavior worse in the future. Instead, I learned to wait until the child calms down before offering a preferred item.
What do you think is your main strength on the job?
I think my main strength is patience and communication. Understanding ABA is a gradual process, A lot of the theories behind it are new concepts or concepts we have to relearn. I have had to change the way I think about a lot of things I learned while getting my psychology degree. If both the parent and the professional are on the same page and communicate well, the results of ABA can be incredibly beneficial. I am currently pursuing certification as a Behavior Analyst, and have learned that ABA practices are continuously changing and improving.
If we did a preference assessment for you, which reinforcers would we find?
I am a very food-motivated person, so I think some of my main reinforcers would be nachos or peanut butter M&Ms. Other reinforcing activities could also be going for a walk with my dog or having some time to play music.
Have you ever created a behavior intervention plan for yourself? How did it go?
I have created a behavior intervention plan for myself with sleeping habits in college. I have had occasional bouts of insomnia throughout my life and as an adult I was trying to find ways to create a healthier night-time routine. As a teenager, I relied on television or other technology in order to fall asleep. I did some research on ways to create healthy bedtime habits and changed my routine.
I had to meditate or do a mindfulness exercise for at least 30 minutes and then was rewarded with 30 minutes of television. If I did not do the mindfulness exercise, I couldn’t watch television. I made my roommate hold me accountable too. It definitely helped my mental health during my bedtime routine, and I was eventually able fall asleep without watching television at all. It went well during college and I had a more restful sleep. Unfortunately, I lost the habit when I graduated.
Can you share a favorite book, article, or video about ABA?
Observing Animal Behavior by Marian Dawkins is my favorite book about ABA. It discusses the implementation of behavioral plans for animals.
There are some misunderstandings about what ABA is and how ABA therapy works. What is something you wish everyone understood about what you do?
I think the biggest misunderstanding about ABA is that it is a cure for autism. There are organizations that still use the term “cure” in relation to ABA therapy. ABA is not a cure, but rather a way to build adaptive behaviors, improve independence, and decrease challenging behaviors.