ABAI 2024: Exploring Communication and Behaviours that Challenge in the UK

ABAI 2024: Exploring Communication and Behaviours that Challenge in the UK

Meet Sarah, our Clinical Director, as she takes us on an adventure into the world of ABAI conferences and symposiums! Ever wondered what goes on in these gatherings? Join us as we chat with Sarah about her upcoming trip to Philadelphia and Skybound’s symposium titled “ABA Interventions to Facilitate Communication in Individuals with Complex Needs in the UK”. This is especially relevant to older children and teenagers in the UK with behaviours that challenge.

So firstly, what is a symposium and how does the symposium work?

Well, that is a good question! A symposium in the ABAI conference structure is a session where multiple papers discuss a similar theme, facilitated by a discussant who leads discussions on the papers’ significance and potential future research directions. It’s the longest section of the conference day, typically featuring around three or four presentations and a discussant. This format allows for more in-depth exploration of topics. For instance, in our symposium, we’re examining how, in the UK, we handle complex cases using interdisciplinary approaches, particularly focusing on communication in individuals with multiple needs. We’ll be presenting four papers that look at this subject from various angles. The chosen discussant, Lina Slim, is actually both a Speech and Language therapist and BCBA, so brings expertise from both fields to tie the discussions together effectively. It’s great that we’ve got her as our discussant. Whilst we have presented previously at ABAI, this is our first symposium, so we’re really excited about it.

What will you be discussing and why is it important to share it?

Alright, so what we’re discussing highlights a big difference in how behaviour analysis is delivered in the UK compared to the US. Unlike in the States, where there’s extensive early intervention, in the UK, it often takes a long time for individuals to receive diagnosis and support. By the time they do, they’re often dealing with complex needs and challenging behaviours, especially in communication. This lack of early intervention means they’ve missed out on crucial skill-building opportunities and access to the community. As a result, they’ve developed patterns of behaviour to communicate their needs, which can be challenging to address.

In the first paper, Risca sets the scene by looking at ABA services in the UK and highlighting unique cultural and societal considerations for successful programmes.

We’re then sharing three case studies that shed light on specific complex challenges and successes. Sophie will evaluate the impact of modified TalkTools to facilitate speech in minimally verbal children with developmental disabilities.  Mine involves unpacking ingrained challenging behaviours to focus on functional communication. Another, presented by Jodie, is about starting communication interventions afresh with a teenager who has never received formal communication support.

It’s crucial to share these stories because they represent the often overlooked population of individuals with complex needs who haven’t had early intervention. These types of case study rarely show up in the research and interventions have to be delivered in a different way than we would at an early intervention stage. The aim is to offer hope and insight to other behaviour analysts facing similar challenges, emphasising that despite the difficulties, progress is possible through persistent effort and tailored interventions.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your contribution to the symposium?

I hope attendees will take away a message of hope for overlooked individuals in society. Despite the daunting challenges, like those faced by the clients I’ve worked with, perseverance and tailored interventions can make a difference. It’s about finding the function of behaviours, teaching alternative communication methods, and building tolerance. Even when it seems impossible, chipping away at these core principles can lead to meaningful progress over time. It’s a lesson in perseverance and adaptation, emphasising that there is indeed hope for those facing complex obstacles.

Have you been to ABAI before? 


How many times have you been?

Oh goodness, I can’t remember exactly, but a few, maybe 3.

What is ABAI like?

ABAI is really great, it’s awesome. You have jam-packed days filled with talks, presentations, symposiums, posters, and events where you meet professionals from various fields. It’s eye-opening because you get exposed to different specialties and ideas beyond your everyday work. Moving from one topic to another can be a bit overwhelming, but I take lots of notes to bring back ideas for my clients and potential research avenues. I spend a lot of time reviewing my notes when I get back and applying new ideas to my work. Plus, they often share materials and references, sparking new reading lists. It’s like a brain shake, shaking you out of your routine and prompting you to think differently about your work. It’s a chance to step back and consider new approaches and ideas for your clients. It’s brilliant.

What have you learned at previous conferences?

At previous conferences, one big takeaway was the apprenticeship model. It shifted our hiring approach at Skybound. Instead of recruiting for specific roles, we now pair up master’s level individuals with behaviour analysts as apprentices. This maximises efficiency while allowing them to learn the trade and culture of our organisation. It’s been a significant change that has reshaped our entire structure.

Is there anything you’re really looking forward to? Have you decided what presentations you’re going to?

I haven’t fully decided on specific presentations yet, but I’m particularly interested in sessions focused on incorporating more staff training, teaching staff resilience, and supporting staff development. I’m also keeping an eye out for presentations on brain injury, as it’s an area that’s often overlooked but important. ABAI conferences offer a breadth of topics, so I’m excited to explore various sessions that align with my interests. I haven’t delved into the schedule in detail yet, but I have my list of things to look out for.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about attending ABAI conferences that we haven’t covered yet?

Oh, definitely! One big aspect is the networking opportunities. You get to see who specialises in what, which can be incredibly helpful for future reference. You can connect with them later if you encounter a similar case or situation. Plus, after all the talks are done, you get to mingle and chat with other behaviour analysts from all over the world. It’s a fantastic chance to learn from each other and see what everyone is up to. Despite living just a few miles apart back home, you often meet people from your own country that you’ve never encountered before. It’s a great way to build connections and stay updated on the latest developments in the field.

How does your involvement in this symposium align with Skybound’s values?

Well, one of our core values at Skybound is sharing knowledge. For a long time, we’ve been working with complex clients who are often overlooked and rejected from many schools and services. We believe we have valuable insights to share about working with these clients and integrating them into the community. In the past, we’ve been focused on tackling problems head-on without considering how our experiences could benefit others. However, in recent years, we’ve recognized the importance of sharing our knowledge and skills to not only benefit ourselves but also to support others and spark discussions for further improvement. Sharing knowledge and skills is crucial in our involvement in this symposium.

Finally, how can we find out more about your particular case study?

Our next Skybound blog will be a special feature looking at my case study and how we were able to help an individual with severe self-injuring behaviour by introducing functional communication skills.

Thanks Sarah, only 6 weeks or so to go! 

I know, I can’t wait!

You can read all of our ABAI symposium abstracts here.

If you’d like to know more about our services for older children and young adults with complex needs click here.

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