CalABA 2018

A couple weeks ago, I attended the 2018 Annual Western Regional Conference hosted by the California Association for Behavior Analysis (CalABA). This was my first time attending – first time attending a professional conference and first time ever in California! Lots of firsts this weekend (I also had In-n-Out Burger for the first time. So worth the hype). The conference was held in Santa Clara. It was nice to get out of the Portland rain and spend a couple days in the sunshine.



Thursday night, I checked in ahead of time at the convention center. I’m so glad I checked in the night before the conference started. There were no lines and I was able to obtain my badge quickly. CalABA also had an app that allowed you to make an agenda and make it easy to see which sessions you were interested in. There was a message board on the app for both general posts and posts specific to your session. The session message board came in handy when I missed something the presenter said, like their contact information!


Friday morning started off with the Presidential Welcome and first keynote presentation of the weekend by Dr. William Heward. I very much enjoyed listening to Dr. Heward as he showed us videos tracking the progress of a client over the years and making parallels between baseball and working in this field. The next session of the day was a symposium, Outside the Box: Novel Approaches to Reducing Challenging Behavior in Individuals with Autism. Three presenters discussed considerations when implementing extinction, a case study on sensory diets* effectiveness at reducing stereotypy, and evaluating the effectiveness of non-contingent access to music to reduce stereotypy. While little new information was presented, it was a good reminder to take parent’s behavior and emotions into consideration when implementing extinction. We will explore this further in a future post.


In the afternoon on Friday, I attended a panel discussion, Does Normalization for Dinner Mean Resentment for Dessert? Perspectives on Ethical Treatment of People with Autism. This was one of my favorites from this conference. A parent with a child with ASD, a psychologist, and a BCBA discussed how people with ASD view ABA, representation of ASD in media, and considerations to take when working with a client. I recently attended an event held by Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) School of Public Health talking about neurodiversity and rethinking how people perceive autism. These two events really seemed to work together to answer some questions I’ve been having about how to provide effective and ethical treatment for my clients. I’ve been striving to step more outside of the cut and dry assessment tools to focus on goals that are important to the family and clients themselves.

Saturday morning set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The keynote presenter was Dr. Dick Malott and was supposed to be about rule governed behavior. I am still processing the events that occurred that morning and debating how I want to tackle this issue. We’ll save that for another day. If you want to know our thoughts and want to see a post about this, please leave us a comment below.

My first session of the day was a panel discussion, Autism Prevalence in the Transgender Population: A Review of Current Research and Implications for ABA Providers. I can not say enough good things about this session. Sarah Trautman-Eslinger, President of CalABA, led the panel. According to the presentation, those on the spectrum are “7x more likely to express gender variance compared to their neuro-typical peers”. It’s incredibly important we are being mindful of gender bias and taking the families wishes into consideration when developing programming. Another important note from this presentation is to refer out when you’re not experienced working with a population you’re unfamiliar with, just as you would for a behavior you lack exposure to. CalABA will be developing a guide for appropriate referrals and resources when working with the transgender population. I was so energized and excited by this discussion. I can’t wait to help this community flourish, find their voice, and gain independence just as with all my clients!


I ended my first CalABA experience with an invited presentation from Corey Stocco, Understanding and Treating Lying. This was an entertaining presentation and a nice way to end the weekend. The main takeaways from this presentation 1. There is little to no research in lying 2. We may need to re-evaluate how we talk to small children about lying. Honesty is punished at a young age. So often, parents will see their small child clearly doing something they aren’t supposed to and will ask a question about what they see (i.e., Marker is all over the wall and the child’s body. Parent asks, “who colored on the wall?”. Child says, “I don’t know!”). Instead of presenting the opportunity to lie, tell the child what you see and deliver the consequence. This eliminates the opportunity to punish telling the truth.


Next up – ABAI! Who’s going? What session are you most excited to attend? Most importantly, how close is In-n-Out Burger to the venue?


*Sensory diets are not an evidence based practice. The researcher was also working with an occupational therapist to determine the effectiveness for the client. They did not find a significant difference in the individual’s engagement in stereotypy when using a sensory diet.