How Siblings Of Children With Autism Can Help Improve Behaviors

When I first came across this study, “Behavioral Training for Siblings of Autistic Children,” I was immediately hesitant. There’s something about the idea of sibling-as-therapist that makes me cringe a little bit. When I work with the families of children with autism, the hope is that the siblings of the child with autism still have a childhood without being pushed into the role of caregiver. And I also want the child with autism to have independence and feel like an individual who is heard, which may be more challenging if their siblings are issuing demands just as a parent or teacher would. But as I read the study, I realized that the work they completed had incredible social significance.

In the study, there were three pairs of siblings. The ages of the children with autism ranged from 5 years old to 8 years old. The ages of the siblings ranged from 8 years old to 13 years old. The researchers trained each sibling of a child with autism how to teach basic skills, such as discriminating between different coins, identifying common objects, and spelling short words. As part of this training, the researchers showed videos of one-on-one sessions in which these skills were taught, utilizing techniques such as reinforcement, shaping, and chaining. What the researchers did next was the part that really stood out to me: they discussed with the siblings how to use these techniques in other environments. Finally, the researchers observed the sibling working with their brother/sister with autism and provided coaching on the techniques.

It should be noted here that the goal of the study was not to have the siblings become the teacher of basic skills. Instead, it was to provide a foundation of skills in behavioral techniques for the sibling to use in other settings with the hope of overall improvement in the behaviors of the child with autism. The researchers demonstrated that, after training, the siblings were able to effectively use prompts, reinforcement, and discrete trials to effectively teach new skills. But, perhaps the most meaningful aspects of the study were the changes reported by both siblings and parents. The researchers provide a table showing comments about the sibling with autism before and after the training. One of the most striking comments after the training was, “He gets along better if I know how to ask him” (p. 136). Parents reported that they were pleased with the results and found the training beneficial.

This study provides excellent evidence that structured training for siblings has real potential for making life a little easier for the whole family. The idea isn’t that they become the therapist, but instead that knowledge truly is power.

REFERENCES

Schriebman, L., O’Neill, R.E. & Koegel, R.L. (1983). Behavioral training for siblings of autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 16(2), 129-138.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges

ABA Journal Club #2: A Response from Dr. Amanda Kelly

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. 

Read this month’s discussion questions here!

It is important in our field to maintain an open conversation about ethics. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code outlines how behavior analysts are expected to conduct themselves, but sometimes situations are not so black and white. And as the world changes, so do the expectations for ethical conduct. In recent years, issues related to social media have been especially relevant. This month, I’ve selected the following article which addresses the special concerns that come up with the use of social media.


The article reviews the codes of ethics for other professions. Why is this valuable for us to do as a profession? Did you learn anything surprising or interesting form this portion of the article?

Any profession runs the risk of becoming too insular if we are not actively pushing ourselves to learn about others and the places where we overlap and intersect. It was interesting to see the parallels, as well as the vast differences, in the ethical codes across professions. It is important to look at the publication dates of each professions ethical code. Codes which were published earlier did not reference social media, for example. This could simply be a reflection of the prevalence of such platforms at the time the codes were written. Some codes were significantly shorter than others and others were substantially longer. The ethical code for Behavior Analysts, as created by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) was more elaborate and offered more detail than other professional code of ethics, which were reviewed for the original article. In some ways, it is not surprising given that behavior analysts as scientists and practitioners pride ourselves on being detail-driven; offering clear, observable and measurable operational definitions for the interventions we design, and the behaviors we measure, and aim to change. It is also important to note that our own ethical code was based on codes and ethical guidance issued by other professions. As noted on the BACB website:

In the original version of the Guidelines for Professional Conduct for Behavior Analysts, the authors acknowledged ethics codes from the following organizations: American Anthropological Association, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, California Association for Behavior Analysis, Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of School Psychologists, and Texas Association for Behavior Analysis. We acknowledge and thank these professional organizations that have provided substantial guidance and clear models from which the Code has evolved.

“A search on an internet search engine for information related to a procedure or scientific concept may yield results as to what that procedure or concept is. The same search on a social media outlet may yield results as to whether or not that procedure or concept should be used (p. 47.) Discuss this difference.

As human beings we are influenced by the opinions of others. This is not specific to behavior analysts, though we are also no exception. The difference between an inquiry in an online journal search engine and a social media platform, is scientific journals will yield factual information, whereas an inquiry on a social media platform is likely to result in access to the opinions and impressions of others. When investigating punishment procedures for example on research platforms, one will find information about procedures, which lead to a reduction in a behavior. That same search on a social media platform may result in a discussion about the potential harmful effects of punishment and condemnation against the use of all punishment procedures. That is not to say that opinions and perspectives of others do not matter, they certainly do. The point here is that opinions are opinions, and an opinion is no replacement for an objective investigation.

Behavior analysts and others interested in the topic may turn to social media to get answers to their questions due to the low response effort involved and the speed of reinforcement. How can we decrease response effort and increase reinforcement for referring to the scientific literature to answer our questions?

Information needs to be accessible for people to come into contact with it. ResearchGate is an excellent way for the scientific community to disseminate their findings to the larger community. On this free site, authors can either public post or privately host publications they have written, without being in violation of any copyright laws. Definitely check it out, if you have not already. You will find access to all of my previous publications, as well as the work of many amazing professionals, at your fingertips, without any paywalls.

This is also where social media can really help disseminate science. There are ways to produce scientifically-sound tidbits of information, which can then be shared in online social media platforms. To those who are creating content, include citations, references, and links to the original publication in your posts. For consumers, be critical of the information that is being provided to you, look for the original source. Some professional organizations (Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis [JABA]) are encouraging authors to create short videos (e.g., YouTube) and to host live discussions (e.g., Facebook Live) about their research. Once you are drawn in, read the publications referenced in the posts. You can also consider reaching out to the researcher. If that is something which interests you, social media has given us access to one another like never before. Consider using social media sites to connect with others, who might have otherwise been inaccessible to you. We are no longer limited by snail mail, geographic barriers, or even time zones. The online world allows us to share information in real-time, or at least much more quickly than in the past. We have a fantastic opportunity, possibly even a responsibility, to use this to our advantage.

The authors provide suggestions for how behavior analysts should behave on social media. Are there any suggestions you might add? Are there ways you can increase the likelihood of other behavior analysts following these suggestions?

Behave like your mother is watching (she probably is). Think of potential employers, clients, and colleagues and what they may think. When we engage online we open ourselves up to a larger audience, which is both exciting and anxiety provoking, when you really think about it. It can be exhausting to have to be “professionally appropriate” in what feels like a personal space. There are certainly protections you can put in place: creating a separate professional page, using privacy features, avoid “friending” co-workers, employees, and clients, etc. However, the best piece of information I can give is to think of the online world as one large coffee shop. Would you speak the things you type? Would you say it the same way? Could your words be misunderstood? Have you actively listened, or was it a one-side soliloquy?


Amanda N. Kelly, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA obtained her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, her masters of science in Behavioral Education, and her doctorate in Behavior Analysis. Dr. Kelly has experience working as a paraprofessional, a licensed teacher, a school counselor, and behavior analyst. Over the past two decades, Dr. Kelly has worked in-home settings, public and private schools, residential placements, and community settings for children and adolescents who have social-emotional, cognitive, or behavioral needs.

Dr. Kelly has been recognized for her dissemination and advocacy efforts. In 2012, she was awarded the “Jerry Shook Practitioner of the Year” from the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy (BABAT) and in 2015, she accepted the “Advocacy Group of the Year” award from Autism Speaks, on behalf of the Hawai’i Association for Behavior Analysis (HABA). In 2016, Dr. Kelly became the first behavior analyst licensed in the state of Hawai’i. Dr. Kelly has served on numerous boards and committees and is currently serving as Legislative Chair for the HABA board and as Secretary on the board of the Hawai’i Disability Rights Center (HDRC).

Dr. Kelly’s dedication and commitment in improving access to educational and medical services has resulted in numerous invited speaking engagements throughout the world, including talks in Canada, Japan, London, and and the Philippines. In addition to her expertise helping families and schools, Dr. Kelly’s interests in behavior analysis extend to dissemination, organizational management, public policy, and sustainable behavior change.

ABA Journal Club #2: Ethics and Social Media

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

Head to our Facebook page to join the discussion and let us know your thoughts!

It is important in our field to maintain an open conversation about ethics. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code outlines how behavior analysts are expected to conduct themselves, but sometimes situations are not so black and white. And as the world changes, so do the expectations for ethical conduct. In recent years, issues related to social media have been especially relevant. This month, I’ve selected the following article which addresses the special concerns that come up with the use of social media.

O’Leary, P. N., Miller, M. M., Olive, M. L., & Kelly, A. N. (2017). Blurred lines: Ethical implications of social media for behavior analysts. Behavior Analysis in Practice10(1), 45-51 .


  1. The article reviews the codes of ethics for other professions. Why is this valuable for us to do as a profession? Did you learn anything surprising or interesting form this portion of the article?
  1. Since this article was written, our field has a new Professional and Ethical Compliance Code. How does this code differ from the previously used Guidelines for Responsible Conduct? What aspects of the code directly apply to ethical situations related to social media?
  1. “A search on an internet search engine for information related to a procedure or scientific concept may yield results as to what that procedure or concept is. The same search on a social media outlet may yield results as to whether or not that procedure or concept should be used (p. 47.) Discuss this difference.
  1. Behavior analysts and others interested in the topic may turn to social media to get answers to their questions due to the low response effort involved and the speed of reinforcement. How can we decrease response effort and increase reinforcement for referring to the scientific literature to answer our questions?
  1. The authors provide suggestions for how behavior analysts should behave on social media. Are there any suggestions you might add? Are there ways you can increase the likelihood of other behavior analysts following these suggestions?
  1. Consider your own behavior on social media. Based on recommendations from the article, what is one change you can make to increase your own ethical behavior in this context?

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.