Leaning into Behavior DIR Style

By Stephanie Peters, MS, OTR/L, ICDL Newsletter
In Floortime, we advocate for a strategy called “following your child’s lead” as a way of entering a child’s world and a way to create a shared experience. This is all well and good if a child is playing with something relatable (sure, I’d love to craft!) and age-appropriate (how cute is it that they love Mickey Mouse!), but what happens when your child is self-absorbed and only wants to watch you-tube, or has to have something a certain way? How do we follow a child’s lead when they are doing something we don’t really want to encourage?

In “The Whole-Brain Child”, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson talked about a strategy they coined “connect and redirect”. The authors advocate that in the face of an escalating tantrum, make space to engage with your child to understand their perspective before trying to shape the “behavior”, or their actions. By connecting first, finding regulation and shared attention (FEDCs 1 and 2) you are supporting your child’s ability to stay regulated and think logically, rather than what’s referred to as “flipping your lid” where your emotions take control and spill over.

I found this line of reasoning particularly powerful in reframing how I engage my clients with neurodiversities while they are exhibiting what is often labeled as a “behavior”. As a Floortimer, I perceive this observable behavior as communication. By wondering “what is this behavior telling me?”, you will open up a whole new level of trust and understanding that will enable greater gains and a stronger relationship than by reacting with “How can I control or eliminate this unacceptable behavior?

”This past year, I worked with a child who let me know he had to have his obstacle in a particular way via a huge and aggressive meltdown when I would try to add or change a component. My first reaction was to dig my heels in and think “I NEED to teach him to be flexible, and if I give in, I will only be reinforcing that if he acts this way, he can get whatever he wants.” With the help of my reflective practice, I was able to see this would teach him that he was spending one hour a week with someone he couldn’t trust, would not listen to him or be able to understand him. By leaning into the behavior, I was able to make space to wonder “Why is this so important to him?”, and “What else could happen if I help him feel like I will listen to him when there is something important to him worth communicating?” It turns out, a whole lot.

By digging a little deeper, I was able to see that the necessity to have an obstacle course always be the same was the result of challenges with praxis/motor planning and sensory processing, which created limits with his ability to easily navigate and feel safe in his world. Instead of trying to prove that I could take back control by waiting for his aggression to dissipate (which didn’t, by the way), I started responding with “Oh this isn’t right! Let’s put it back” which earned me a double glance and eventually his ability to use words to let me know “No thank you!” when I had an idea he didn’t like. Gradually, once he learned that I would listen to and respect his voice, I was able to introduce new ideas that he would say “yes” to. By connecting first, I was then able to challenge him because he felt safe, understood, and trusting in his relationship.

The next time your child is being “behavioral”, create an opportunity for yourself to wonder the why behind it. See if you can cultivate more back and forth interactions in your aim to understand why something is so important to them. Does it have to be your way? What could the benefits be if we lean into what our child is telling us they need, and finding a way to communicate “I hear you, I see you, and I am here to help you feel safe and capable in your world”. Dr. Greenspan said it best with “There is no greater feeling than being understood.”

Family planning and Sleep Expert, Aaron and Joelle Hill

Curious Minds would like to welcome it’s newest collaborators, husband and wife team Aaron and Joelle Hill. Aaron earned his Masters from Royal Rhodes University, has vast experience in the fields of Autism and Community Living. Aaron currently works with Edward Jones as a Financial Advisor and expert in family planning specializing in families with differently abled children. Joelle is certified Sleep Consultant with and extensive background as a Social Worker and Infant Development Program Consultant. Joelle can help families who are struggling with sleep which underlies their ability to be the best and strongest family unit they can be. Please contact us for more information about their services.

Aaron will be hosting a webinar on Registered Disability Savings Plans coming soon. Joelle regularly hosts webinars on Sleep issues and strategies. Stay tuned for dates and times.

PLAY Project is here!

Join Blair as one of the first and only PLAY Project providers in Western Canada! Learn how to PLAY with your autistic child. Learn how to meet your child where he/she is at, connect, find the FUN and PLAY using Dr. Rick Salomon’s research based parent mediated coaching model for families of Autistic children!

Blair is currently accepting new clients for PLAY using the TelePLAY model locally in BC as well as distance in Canada and internationally.

Call or email to set up your free initial Zoom or phone consult!


US Government Reports that ABA Doesn’t Work

In the largest review of ABA/EIBI Therapy effectiveness in history, The Department of Defense reported to Congress on Oct 25, 2019 about Comprehensive Autism Care. Findings stated that after 1 year of ABA treatment 76% of those with autism had no change in symptoms and 9% WORSENED by more than 1 standard deviation. This reaffirms Navy Capt. Edward Simmer, chief clinical officer of the Tricare Health Plan, statement in November 2018 that the effectiveness of applied behavioral techniques for autism remains unproven. Year after year, the data says the same thing.

Read the report.TRICARE Autism ReportDownload

The Department of Defense updated the report in 2020. The new report concluded that “the changes are small and may not be clinically significant” Read the report here https://altteaching.org/update-us-government-reports-aba-doesnt-work/

To understand some of the reasoning why ABA does not work, please read the peer reviewed research https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311908.2019.1641258

The failure of the Functional Behavior Assessment also leads to misinformed treatment of Self Injurious Behaviors in autism. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311908.2019.1682766

Behaviourism is Dead, how do we tell the Autism parents? Only An Ancient Science Can Save Your Child…!?!?!

Or so they tell us.

As soon as an autistic child is diagnosed, doctors bombard the parents with frightening forecasts and gloomy outlooks.

The only thing that can save their child from a lifetime of friendlessness and unemployment is the “gold standard for autism treatment” – Behaviorism.

Sometimes it is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy. Other times it is called Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) or just Behavioral Intervention.

Either way, it is commonly touted as the only truly effective and science-based treatment for autism.

It makes no sense to try to train children out of a neurodevelopmental condition. It makes no sense to engage in methods which have long ago been proven to be detrimental to child development, like adult-directed play or extrinsic reward systems. 

After all, the child is already developmentally delayed. It seems like we should be focusing on methods shown to promote development, not ones proven to hinder it.

Applied Behavior Analysis treats itself like a scientific cult. It uses terms like “evidence based” and “science-based” as though the last fifty years of psychology and neurology threw science to the wind. 

Even ABA’s scientific methods are out of date.

Behavior analysis keeps publishing more and more studies confirming that yes, rewarding behaviors usually increases their frequency and yes, punishing behaviors tends to decrease their frequency.

We’ve known that since 1938 but whatever, I guess they still aren’t completely sure.

Maybe they don’t thing B.F. Skinner thoroughly covered this subject already, or they aren’t sure if autistic kids are as smart as Skinner’s pigeons.

In a day and age where a reliable evidence-base requires successfully replicated trials with large subject numbers and control groups, ABA journals continue to publish case studies, as if they don’t realize that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”

Many ABA journal articles puzzle and ponder over behavior which is perfectly understandable to anyone who has education in modern sciences.

Like this study, which tried an unusual method of stopping dogs from jumping up, and discovered that it was slightly effective.

Never mind that this problem is so simple to solve that I can do it in ten minutes without so much as touching the dog. It’s one of my favourite party tricks when I meet new clients – right up there with getting their three-month-old puppy to ignore steak on a plate. 

It’s clear from the text of this study that Dunning-Kruger is in full effect. In the introduction, the researchers express surprise that ABA techniques are not used more often by dog trainers, considering how similar our two fields are.

In response to that, I refer to my entire body of work on NeuroClastic, not to mention their very own study which wasted an impressive amount of time trying to find a “function” for a behavior which is very well understood already.

A more dramatic example, though, is this article.

They performed a functional analysis on a dog who guards his food to find out why he did it.

…But we already know why dogs do this. We also know what to do about it.  

I don’t need to perform a functional analysis to tell someone why their dog is guarding its food. I already know the causes of this behavior because I know the ethology (science of natural behavior) of dogs.

Why am I so Anxious, Irritable and Depressed during COVID-19?

Are you wondering why you are experiencing a high level of anxiety? Why you feel on edge a lot of the time? Is it harder to concentrate on work? Are you having trouble getting out of bed? Are you irritable with your significant other or your children?

I’d like to validate you. It makes sense that you are feeling these ways.

Under normal circumstances we spend a lot of our day in a regulated state that allows us to stay in the pre-frontal cortex of our brain. We can speak nicely to our kids and spouses, make thoughtful and rational decisions, stay connected to our bodies, experience compassion for ourselves and others, and feel pretty poised. Being in this part of the brain helps us to feel like “ourselves.” We may feel creative, productive, present, alive, content, rested.

However, there are some circumstances that trigger an alarm in our brain. That’s when the threat part of the brain takes over. This part of the brain becomes activated in cases of:

  1.  physical threat,
  2.  emotional threat,
  3.  the unknown, and
  4.  incongruency (mixed messages).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been experiencing all 4 of the above situations. We are under threat from a virus that is physically dangerous. We may we working in unsafe environments. We may be looking after ill family. We are at risk of losing our jobs. We may be stuck in a small space with a significant other, or conversely, may be very isolated with not enough human contact. We don’t know what is going to happen or when it will end. We may be receiving messages from our government or our bosses or teachers that change as new information becomes available. No wonder our brains are acting as if we are under threat!

The good news is that under threat the brain gives us superpowers. These are the same powers that historically were needed to survive a war or battle. The same skills we needed to shoot a gun, dodge rocks falling down on our heads, and escape grenades. Superpowers such as fast reaction times and hypervigilence, tension in our muscles, readiness, being on edge at any moment.

Some of us have less of these fight/flee reactions and more freeze ones. We stay put, we numb out, we go to sleep.

Great, thank you brains for prepping us for danger!

Well, why is the brain giving us these superpowers right now, you may be asking, when we are just at home trying to rest or homeschool our kids or work. I’m safe at home, why do I need these threat responses?

Well, the brain likes to be ready. It casts a large net over anything that remotely resembles a threat and will treat it as such until it can be can be proven otherwise. If we see a “snake” we go into threat response until we can get a closer look and confirm it’s not a snake and just a garden hose.

So yes, you are normal!

It makes sense why even though you are laid off and at home with “lots of free time” that, no, you are not able to do your best creative work.

It makes sense why you are not feeling rested and able to enjoy each day to the fullest.

It makes sense why are are feeling tense.

Your brain is smart. It knows you are not on vacation. It knows you’re at home under threat.


Please go easy on yourselves.

The more you can get understanding and compassion for why you are responding the way you are, the more your brain will understand that you are currently ok-ish. The superpowers will ease up. We don’t want them to go away completely but we do need them to ease up enough so that we can sleep. And work. And play. And find hobbies that fulfill us. And find ways to get human support in a safe, socially distant way.

Many counsellors are trained in trauma and understand the brain’s responses to threat. People with previous trauma histories may have harder times moving out of threat mode. I hope you are able to access help to find ways to feel normal enough in this abnormal time. Feel free to contact me to book an appointment if you are struggling during this time.

Stay safe,


Natalie Hansen, Registered Clinical Counsellor



RDI is an Effective Virtual Approach during Covid

Today as we look at the new reality of family, work and education, we are all looking for ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones, keep our bubbles small but also to find balance with helping our children grow and learn. RDI is an extremely effective “virtual” therapeutic approach to empower and educate parents as well as provide a comprehensive developmental road map for growth.  Next week, I will paint a picture of what virtual work looks like to further support you in your journey.  For now, if you are feeling anxious and uncertain, know that you are not alone and RDI has been an effective virtual model from it’s inception. Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about the program.

U.S. Dept. Of Education: ABA Not Enough For Autism Treatment.

U.S. Dept. Of Education: ABA Not Enough For Autism Treatment.

TOPICS: Aba Therapy, Autism Treatment, Department Of Education, Special Ed, Speech Language Pathology


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

Dr. Melody Musgrove, Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), within the U.S. Department of Education, recently sent a letter to state officials expressing “concerns within the field” of special education. Specifically, OSEP received reports that treatments for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are overly focused on ABA therapy. She noted that “programs may be including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists exclusively without including, or considering input from, speech language pathologists and other professionals who provide different types of specific therapies that are appropriate for children with ASD.”

She specifically cited sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which outline several domains of child functioning to be assessed, including cognitive, physical, social, emotional, adaptive, and communication skills, in addition to intelligence testing and various medical or physiological assessments.

Dr. Musgrove concluded her letter by noting that “ABA therapy is just one methodology used to address the needs of children with ASD” and cautioned that services should be “made based on the unique needs of each individual child with a disability.”

There are many facets to this issue. For example, from an academic perspective behavior analysts would be quick to note that individualized treatment is the distinguishing feature of their approach, and that behavior analysis can address all of the domains discussed above.

However, on a practical level, the issue is more complex. For one, the primary aim of Dr. Musgrove’s letter was to ensure treatment plans adhere to legal practices, and the legal framework – IDEA – rightly recognizes that “behavior” itself is an interdisciplinary subject-matter. No one science has a monopoly on it.

For related reading on this topic, check out a recent article by bSci21 Contributing Writer Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA, in which she suggested behavior analysts should increase their efforts to learn from other sciences.

Let us know what you think about Dr. Musgrove’s letter in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles, and free monthly issues, directly to your inbox.

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New Research: RDI’s Effect on the Severity of Autism

Congratulations to RDI Certified Consultant, Dr. Jessica Hobson and her co-authors Peter Hobson, Nicole Beurkens and Laura Tarveron on their newly published research article.

The Relation between Severity of Autism and Caregiver-Child Interaction: a Study in the Context of Relationship Development Intervention was published this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

The article is the culmination of a seven-year study that examined the relationship between parent-child interactions and the severity of autism in the children studied. The researchers focused on children and parents involved in Relationship Development Intervention and determined that there was improvement in the severity of autism that was specifically related to the quality of parent-child interactions.

Read more here!


I wonder why he does that?

Is Dr Ed Tronick describing ASD or Chronic Stress?

The chronic experience of failure without
recovery has a catastrophic result:

1. [Unavailability] The infant establishes a self-directed style of avoidance behavior. (i.e. turning away, escaping, becoming perceptually unavailable) to control negative affect.
2. [Fearful responding] Avoiding potential negative affect becomes the infant’s primary goal and preempts other possible goals
3. [Loss of trust] With accumulation of failure, the infant develops a representation of himself as ineffective and of the caretaker as unreliable.
4. [Indiscriminate defensiveness] To the extent that these self-directed regulatory behaviours are successful in controlling the negative affect, the infant begins to deploy them automatically, inflexibly and indiscriminately.
5. [Pre-empting opportunities] Pathological behaviours develop which preclude the anticipated experience of negative affect, even in situations where it might not occur.

Dr. Edward Tronick, Harvard