Thoughts & Rants of a Behavior Scientist

Exploring the Dynamics of Addressing Behavior Challenges in Schools with Dr. Merrill Winston

October 11, 2023 Dr. Paul "Paulie" Gavoni Season 1 Episode 26
Thoughts & Rants of a Behavior Scientist
Exploring the Dynamics of Addressing Behavior Challenges in Schools with Dr. Merrill Winston
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Dive headfirst into the intriguing world of behavior analysis with my good friend, Dr. Merrill Winston. In this fascinating discussion, we challenge the norms of traditional functional analysis in education, shedding light on the holistic aspects of behavior challenges. Anchored in the teachings of field pioneers like Brian Iwata and Hank Pennypacker, our conversation unearths the need for a deeper understanding and more probing questions about behavior.

We delve into the issue of extreme reactions stemming from the aversive stimuli of everyday life. How can we better manage these situations? How can aversives build resilience and help achieve goals? Dr. Winston expertly guides us through these complex waters, highlighting the dynamic nature of behavior problems and the impact of varying reinforcement types from adults and peers.

We also touch on the essential role of behavior analysts in successful outcomes and the quest for meaningful behavior change. As we wade through the challenges of inclusion, we take a hard look at an ecological approach to behavior problems. We examine issues around curriculum, teaching, and repertoire problems, along with the complexities of punishment. We wrap up with practical tips on managing conflicts and maintaining balance in meetings.

If you'd like to find out more about Dr. Winston or connect with him, check out his website, Winston Behavioral Solutions

Also, be sure to check out the Stone Soup Conference. Dr. Winston, Anika Costa, and a stellar lineup of behavior analysts will be presenting on a range of topics!

And finally, if you are a behavioral consultant in school districts and you find yourself struggling with making a positive difference, check out The Behavioral Toolbox, the first online course of its kind that's bringing Organizational Behavior Management to behavioral consulting in education!

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The Behavioral Toolbox 

Be sure to subscribe to Dr. Paulie's Heart & Science YouTube channel for a variety of content related to behavior science and bringing out the best in yourself and others. 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the thoughts and rants of a behavior scientist show Hosted by Wall Street Journal in USA Today. Best-selling author, dr Pauley. Okay, thanks for joining me on the thoughts and rants of a behavior scientist podcast. I'm your host, dr Pauley. I'm here with one of my favorite guys in the whole wide world, dr Merrill Winston. What's up, my brother?

Speaker 2:

Hey, feeling is mutual, pauley, how you doing.

Speaker 1:

I'm good man, I'm good. I'm sorry I didn't get to hear your talk. A couple weeks ago they they'd lined us up at the same time and yeah, and they've, and, and you know, we're gonna be talking, we're gonna be doing a talk together and in a week and a half at the stone soup conference, and they'd line us up again at the same time. So I'm not gonna get to hear your talk.

Speaker 2:

And no, it was multi-track.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, there's two. There's two going on, unless you know, but anyways, what? What you're a nick and I are doing a talk on A tough talks about. You know, when you've got to meet with somebody if they're having some performance challenges, so I'm really looking forward to that. It's next. It's a week from Friday. What's your talk about?

Speaker 2:

my talk is gonna be about Behavior analysis, looking at mental illness, and the title of that talk is it isn't what you got, it's what you do, and so I'll be. I'll be taking people through the way that I. I conceptualize mental health problems as a behavior analyst so that I can work with others.

Speaker 1:

Right, man, I'll probably have to. I never, man. I mean, I do podcasts, I do my own videos. I never come back. I don't listen anybody else's podcast and almost I don't watch videos. Man, I'm like this, I guess my time, man, but I want you, I really want to hear your stuff. It's always so great, but anyway, anybody that's Turing in, hey, come check us out a week from Friday, so it should be. You know we get some cool things off, or I know there's some others other stellar presenters out there that are in the stone soup lineup. So I actually asked Meryl to come on today to talk about how he deals with behavior challenges. A lot of times I'm out in a school district and my my focus is zoomed out. I look at things through systems and organizational behavior management lens and they say, hey, you know, in Everly We've got this kid that da, da, da, da, da. I'm like and it's always the most challenging kid and like you need Meryl Winston. You know Dr Meryl Winston is the guy for this. I'm not the guy for that. We're on opposite ends of the. You know, in the polls here, although it's all science, it's just how we apply it. So I thought I'd love to hear about how you go about your business, you know. So that's what we're here for sure.

Speaker 2:

Well, this, this, the approach that I take, is a little bit different than some. It probably has commonalities, because I think, after a while, people figure out things that are real and they figure out ways to conceptualize problems that are more fruitful. So I wrote a book back in 2012 called adventures in special education, and it came from my experience Working in special education in the Palm Beach County school system. However, everything I talk about and the way I organize it, it's for everybody. It's not just for kids in school, but the all the examples and things like that were school-based. But the way that, you know, I view things is broader than a traditional functional analysis, which is very important, and Brian Iwata, who passed recently, he gave us, he gave us something that, like, we could never repay. You know, and Even though, what, what? The way I view things, it goes a bit beyond the functional analysis. I, I believe you know Jim Johnston used to say this thing. I mean, he didn't invent the phrase, but he liked it and I do too, and that is we we have. We can see as far as we do, because we're standing on the shoulders of giants, and Brian Iwata and recently also Hank Penny Packer were two of those giants whose shoulders we continue to stand on. And so everything I do here and what I propose to people, it's not to say, oh, don't do the functional analysis, that's old, that's not, that's not true at all. The functional analysis is really good for getting a good start on finding out what are we dealing with here in a basic sense. But every anyone who's done one can also know sometimes they come up goose eggs, sometimes they come up every function and then where are you? And so they're. What I'm proposing is that there there's just the functional analysis does not contain bad questions. It's just, in my opinion, they're not enough. They're not enough questions and there's certain kinds of issues that the functional analysis was never intended to get at. So the way that I look at things is in terms of problems, and you know we used to have a criticism in the field, we probably still do, and in some sense, in some senses it's a valid criticism, and that used to be by traditional psychologists and they'd say, well, behavior analysis. Yet you know you have all the data and you have this and it comes from experimental and all those kinds of things. But One of the problems in behavior analysis is that you guys are only treating the symptom. You're only treating the symptom, you're not getting at the Underlying causes. And my point is that, well, I don't know if they're underlying causes, but there there are other causes that sometimes we are not aware of or don't concern ourselves with, and so my whole feeling is that sometimes that is a valid criticism. If you're just saying, let's just find a procedure that's good for getting rid of allotment, well, maybe you could, and maybe you could come up with a simple, powerful procedure that stopped it. It doesn't mean you understand the allotment completely. And even if you did a functional analysis and you say, well, we're thinking is alloping to access tangibles, you know, even that is not a complete analysis. Okay, you know, aren't there tangibles in the room? What kinds of tangibles? Why is he only want to access those? Why aren't the things he wants to access in the room? All those other kinds of questions. And one of my points is that there's all kinds of ways to analyze behavior, not just the ways that are codified in people's assessment tools not in mine, not in anybody else's. I made my own tool as well. That's not the only way to look at things. That's not correct and everything else is wrong. It's another way to look at things, taking different perspectives, but anyway, back to the initial one Can I apologize on?

Speaker 1:

yeah, I'd like to, paul. Yeah, so I, of course, from organization behavior management we look at like performance chaining, and up the chain, I think about like man, I can't look at that child's behavior without zooming out and also looking at, of course, the teachers behavior and the the educator support behavior, that this student, that the school leader behavior, district leader behavior, there are these medic contingencies and all these other variables that are impacting the performance. But all those people down the chain, how do we even get this point in the first place? So you know what you're saying. You know is like, yeah, man, this is the way business should be, but it's not no, it isn't.

Speaker 2:

I was just thinking about that earlier today. You know, like what you and Anika and Matt do, these things are necessary because, like any analysis I do of an individual child, that's going to require people to do specific things in a specific way. That won't happen if there isn't a system of management to support it. You know it, I know it, and anybody who's been in school settings know it, and not just for schools, anywhere there is. Poor management Doesn't make for the best behavior analysis Period. You know, is it possible? And have I seen pockets of excellence in a school, in a classroom, where one teacher really had their act together and they were awesome and the classroom was run well? Yeah, but that's the exception, that's not the norm. You know that. I know that.

Speaker 1:

Everybody points to that, so she's doing it. Well, it's one person.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, right, right, I've seen. You know there are pockets of excellence everywhere, but if there's only one pocket of excellence in a sea of darkness, it's not enough, you know, and so this is part of the problem. So you know, what I like to say to people is that, regarding analyzing behavior, is that I know behavior is our thing, but when someone says, okay, what's the problem, well, he's got really bad headbanging. Okay, that's not the problem. The headbanging is never the problem, never, never. It is a serious problem that must be solved. That has occurred because of another set of interrelated problems, and many times we don't identify all the problems. And it's not that you have to identify every single relevant problem. You may never be able to, but you do have to be able to identify enough problems that can be worked on reasonably, right, because or as many as you can reasonably that can be solved, because the more problems you identify and solve, the faster, the more durable, the more generalizable is going to be your behavior change, you know. And so the whole idea is that, yeah, the SIV is a problem. Yeah, the aggression is a problem Nobody's saying it isn't, but it's the end result of another set of interrelated problems, and this was one of our criticisms, more so for methodological behaviorism, when you just ran in and started throwing reinforcers and punishers at people. And if you throw big enough reinforcers and punishers you'll get behavior change very often right. But it's not very elegant, it's not very sophisticated and it doesn't mean you really understand what's going on in the person's world, and it's also oftentimes not generalizable. Right, right as well. So I just and we can just chat about each one briefly but I identified and this is again, this is arbitrary, it's not based on research or anything like that. It's just another way of looking at things.

Speaker 1:

Well, you've had some pretty deep experience, merrill. You know what I mean. Just because you know I mean it's based on my experience. It's just not research.

Speaker 2:

It's based on clinical experience. But the areas, they're about eight areas. So they're problems with reinforcers, problems with versives, problems with chronic versus intermittent behavior, which is the presentation I do, problems with adults, problems with peers, repertoire problems, teaching and curriculum problems and problems with punishment Not that punishment is a problem and doesn't work, but just like reinforcement it goes wrong 700 ways. And that's kind of the way I organized it and the reason I said that is that some of these things transcend function. So, as an example, sometimes the problem is not identifying what's maintaining the behavior. The problem is that what's maintaining the behavior is really bad for the person and everyone else. That is like signs of damage. You like to make people cry, you like to hurt people's feelings, you like to see things destroyed. So in that case, like making the teacher cry by insulting him, by insulting her which I'm thinking of that because I know a really good teacher who eventually became a behavioral analyst and she just lost it one day and broke down crying because everybody has their limit and it involved a kid who cursed at her pretty badly and at some point she just couldn't manage it anymore. But anyway, as an example, the problem there is gee, I don't know what's maintaining the behavior. That's not the problem. The problem is what's maintaining the behavior shouldn't be that is, we're making a judgment call as members of society, saying we are collectively saying, if you love to make people hurt, that's not a good thing. Like we're saying that to kids at school, like bullying. Bullying is all about signs of damage. So the problem in understanding bullying is not gee, what's the function of the bullying? It's to produce signs of damage. But the problem is not we don't understand the function. The problem is how do we get this person that is accustomed to and seeks signs of damage? How do we get them to switch over to signs of joy, like hey, that's a cool shirt man. Ah, thanks, we're telling a joke and making somebody laugh or helping somebody who's then appreciative and says, hey, thanks, nobody else helped me. Those are more like signs of joy, signs of happiness, and a lot of the individuals we work with, their behavior is not very controlled by those things. So, as an example, if you say to them hey, buddy, great job getting this done, many students will immediately become inappropriate. And the reason is that's not one of their reinforcers. And the real problem is we don't understand what's maintaining their behavior. The real problem is we know what's maintaining their behavior. We don't know how to get it to stop doing it. We don't know how to get them to switch from this kind of social reinforcer to this kind of social reinforcer, and the functional analysis doesn't help us in that. It helps us in other things right, but it doesn't help us recognize those issues and it doesn't help us figure out what to do with those issues, just like the functional analysis doesn't really help you figure out exactly what replacement behavior to teach. That's and people fall down on that a lot Because it can be difficult depending on the context. But that was that's some examples. Other examples of problems with reinforcement are just it's being used improperly with the person Limited reinforcers. Like we've all worked with individuals, there's only really one thing they want. They only want trampoline, and trampoline is not always available. But that's a that would be a category of problem with reinforcers. What's the problem? He's only got one. You know, like one main one, right, that you can use. Well, that's kind of a problem, right, as opposed to somebody who enjoys a variety of things and will work for a variety of things. Right, that's much easier, right? So, point being, there are some problems that are problems just with reinforcement and they're kind of okay with other things. They have an odd reinforcer as an example, right, they have one that's maybe dangerous, like kids that like to play with fire. Well, there's nothing wrong with playing, but the particular thing you're playing with is kind of a problem, right. So that would be, you know, and what's the behavior maintained by? Well, access to positive reinforcement, but what's the problem? The positive reinforcer is watching things burn. So this as an example. So this that's kind of clinically where I'm at with what are the problems, right, and that's why I say this is not meant to replace a functional analysis, but it's meant to perhaps augment one Other problem area. Did you want to say anything or ask a question, paulie?

Speaker 1:

Because you're making perfect sense, man. You're right on this stuff, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Another problem and I say this a lot and this is actually probably about, I don't know, just spitballing, but like 80% of our problems, these are problems with aversive stimuli, like so much because you do crisis management, like I did for so many years, in addition to classroom management. But so many problems with the people that we work with comes down to their response to what are common aversive events. Okay, we ran out of orange juice, there's no more cookies. Okay, the movie got canceled. Everyday disappointments for us that make us go man, it makes somebody else destroy the classroom, so. But here's what they have in common they're both aversive. The difference is a lot of the folks we work with they don't cope with aversive stimulation very well at all, and I don't mean like super nasty events being screamed at, being beaten. So what I'm talking about? I'm talking about everyday inconveniences and things that you and I would just say, man, I was so pissed off yesterday. Well, that's all we get. That's all we get. We just get pissed off and we move on. We don't break expensive things, we don't get into fights with people, we don't try and hurt people, right? These are the differences and so a lot of the problems that our students and clients are having. They don't cope with aversives very well at all. Okay, go ahead.

Speaker 1:

So if you were to go in there and in lieu of doing a functional analysis, but even if you did a functional analysis and they say, well, here's the issue, under these conditions, here's what's going on, and you solved the problem there. But it seems like you'd really need to focus on some sort of pivotal behavior, maybe self-management, right, or you need that to generalize to other versus.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and all probability so a lot of and I'm working with a lot of them these days, it seems. But a lot of kids they have what anybody might call a hair trigger, and that is they'll escalate to a high level of physiological arousal very quickly over what you and I would say is basically nothing. In other words, they are crying over spilled milk. Not only they're not crying, they're usually beating somebody up or destroying something, but it is. I'll give you a perfect example. The other day the story was related to me of a client. They ended up getting taken because of a series of poor decisions, but they ended up getting taken away by the police in Hancox. You know what the whole thing started with? Another girl at the school kicked his football and he had a problem with that. Nobody cursed him out, nobody stole his money, nobody tried to attack him. Someone kicked his football and so the thing is well, nobody likes people messing with their stuff.

Speaker 1:

But are you going to ask? Are you going to?

Speaker 2:

escalate to the point that law enforcement has to be called. So you know, this is kind of a perfect example of a problem with the versus and is it a problem with self-control behavior? A lot of times, yeah it is People don't know what to do when they become upset. Or perhaps they know what to do, but especially if they're higher functioning and have good language, they may know what to do. But what's easy, convenient and familiar is going into a rage over anything. It gets reinforced, you know, causes a lot of disruption, and so it may be a combination of poor self-control, but also it may be reinforcement of aberrant behavior, where, when you scream enough and have a fit, things happen.

Speaker 1:

Right, it does right. Yeah, I think I copped this from you. You said, like you know, when people are escaping things, they're not escaping into the black hole.

Speaker 2:

Right, something else is going on. That's actually yeah, but I got that from McGreevy, from Pat McGreevy, you know. He said they're not escaping to nothing, they're not just sitting there and thank God I don't have to do anything anymore just sit there. They almost always begin to do something else. Try to access some other reinforcer. That used to be Pat's argument, for sometimes, instead of teaching break, you're better off teaching, asking for an alternate activity because they're going to end up doing it anyway. Oh yeah, they're not going to take that break and go out and smoke a cigarette. You know, like people working all day that kind of a thing. But that would be. That category is problems with the verses, and most of that category is people not dealing well with very common verses and you have to teach them how to Right. Another problem is sometimes where especially with people who might be related, oppositional, defiant or antisocial that sometimes what happens is and I think teachers don't have enough appreciation for this there's a whole category of problems that falls under this heading. What should be aversive to you isn't. Now, if you're going to be a member of society, certain things need to be aversive to you, because if the things that are aversive to most members of society are not to you, you're going to end up in jail. Okay, because the things that we all worry about, they don't worry about. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Goodfellas, but I just saw it the other day. Joe Pesci's in it, right, and Joe Pesci asks a guy do you know? who I am and he's like, well, yeah, I know, and he goes. No, you don't, I'm the guy that doesn't care about going to jail. And what Joe Pesci was saying is the things that are aversive to everyone else, that everybody else is afraid of doing and getting caught, they are not aversive to me. And what he was intimating is you need to be worried because I will mess you up like nobody's business and I'll do it in public and I don't care if I get arrested. And so what Joe Pesci was kind of saying is your aversives are not mine and because of that you need to be very worried, right, but this is extremely true if you look at criminal behavior. Right, they don't want to go to jail, but the thought of it is not as aversive as it is to you and I. They're willing to, they're willing to risk it, right.

Speaker 1:

And like how about school?

Speaker 2:

suspensions. Pauly, think back when you were a young man, little kid, I don't know about you, this is my joke. I never got suspended. And you know why? Because if I had got suspended, I wouldn't have gone home, I would have gone to find a new family. Okay, I wouldn't have been able to face my father. I wouldn't have been. I mean, he wouldn't have beat me, but he would have screamed at me and he would have been extremely unhappy and it would have been very, very aversive. Okay, I never got suspended. The kids that I work with today, they're not worried about being suspended and a lot of the ones are not worried. How is this going to affect my application to the university where I want to go?

Speaker 1:

Right, they're not worried about that either.

Speaker 2:

That's not aversive to them either. Neither is getting an F sometimes, right. So if you one of the problems and this is why it's a problem with aversives, in a manner of speaking, that is, if people don't value what you value, what is aversive to you won't be aversive to them. So if the teacher, as an example, values academic success, that's why he or she became a teacher. They want to produce academic success in their students, right? And failure to them the teachers is aversive, but a failure to the student him or herself if failure to them is not aversive, you have a mismatch of motivations again, right, I desperately want you to succeed and for you to fail is aversive to me. And then, from my point of view as a student, I am not worried about grades and see, that's kind of part of the problem is that getting an F for a good student will send them into a tailspin. For a straight A student, getting a B will send them into a tailspin because they're so sensitive to academic aversives and failure and a poor grade and things like that. And some people love to perform and love to achieve, others are more motivated by fear of failure and for many of us it's a mix of these things right, but people are different on this and for some things maybe you do want to achieve and some things maybe you only do them like statistics in graduate school. I didn't do it because I loved it. I worked at it because of fear of failure and getting kicked out of graduate school. But the thing is no one can tell me, merrill, you should love statistics, right? Or just like no one can tell the kid you should fear failure. And then the kid suddenly fears failure. So that's another problem with aversives, people that have different values from us. They often have different reinforcers and different aversives and it creates this mismatch because we're like, hey, straighten up, or suspension, and then from the kid's point of view it's like I don't get your threat. This is not a problem for me.

Speaker 1:

Right, it's the Disney syndrome, yeah.

Speaker 2:

You know, yeah, so it's right from the ditch to Disney, right. So that is kind of a problem where you know people have to learn to respond to. You know typical kinds of aversives. Like a successful person would, we all encounter them.

Speaker 1:

I wonder how you think it's shaped up. I mean, there's a couple of obvious ways, but how much of is that? They become desensitized to the verse, whatever it was aversive at one time.

Speaker 2:

It might have been aversive, or after enough failure you might just stop trying and not worry about it.

Speaker 1:

And yeah, like, when I do, I'm not going to get it. And then how much of it is that the reinforcement was a power enough to drive their to pull their behavior towards it.

Speaker 2:

And it's probably a combination of. The thing is, yes, you do need reinforcement, but in the real world, okay, there are aversives and they enter into all of our contingencies of aversives are. Our laws are based on aversives, and so the thing is you can say you don't agree with it, but you still have to abide by it, and it's the way things are working. I don't know how it is for you, polly, but I don't get a check from the government for every month that I don't murder somebody.

Speaker 1:

Okay, but if I do murder?

Speaker 2:

somebody, the punishment hammer will fall quickly, okay, but there is no. You know, polly, there is capital punishment in our government, but there is no capital reinforcement. This you can be certain of you know, and it's just it's interesting, man, this discussion.

Speaker 1:

I don't want to derail our conversation here, but just came to my mind. I think, about a number of number of adolescents that are struggling now and I wonder when it's the number seems to be so large. When I speak to other people, including my own son, you know, I look back and what could I do? More or less or differently, you know, and I wonder how much of it is that we've become kind of like a helicopter society, right, and meaning that when we were younger and you know, like my mom would send me out and you know I'm not saying it's the right thing to do, but it seemed right at the time like be, be home when the streetlights are on. I lived in rough neighborhood, man, and so I made a lot of mistakes and I fell and I got hurt and all this stuff. But I developed resiliency along the way, right by, you know, by overcoming those aversives and you know, I think that's an important, you know, piece of the puzzle. I think, you know, because just thinking about people listening here and saying, well, they shouldn't have to tolerate aversives, well, I think that's a problem, you know, because they're just part of life.

Speaker 2:

You're absolutely correct. Aversives are part of life. Don't confuse aversives. Can we curse on here? Yeah, Don't confuse aversives with being an asshole to somebody, okay, or being cruel. They're not the same thing. If you're being cruel to somebody, by its very nature there's usually all kinds of aversives in it. But there's all kinds of aversives in all kinds of things we do with people our own children, in our relationships, in society in general, and you have to be able to navigate them. The other thing that I tell parents is regarding aversives is we're not talking about you should suck it up and be able to tolerate terrible things, no, but you should be able to tolerate common things. And the other thing is if you want students to achieve and I'm using that word specifically not finish their math, but if you want students, your clients, to make achievements, okay, then they are going to have to suffer some aversives, because it's not an achievement if you don't suffer in some manner. Suffering doesn't mean pain necessarily, Although it might. If you're doing an exercise program or you're learning martial arts or you're training for a marathon, suffering might mean pain right.

Speaker 1:

I would argue that the more suffering you go through I don't want to over generalize this, but to accomplish something, the bigger the accomplishment it feels. The important is to me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, the issue is for everybody listening, you're going to suffer, you're going to be subjected to aversive stimulation. The question is is it undue suffering, is it intentional suffering or is it unintentional? Unintentional suffering is kind of nobody planned it. You made somebody upset and they screamed at you okay, and that's unintentional suffering. Intentional suffering is saying I'm going to go work out, I haven't worked out in a while and man, I'm going to be really sore tomorrow. I probably won't even be able to get out of bed. Okay, but that's intentional suffering. It's all suffering. Okay, but intentional suffering levels us up. Now, suffering endlessly without achieving beats the human down. Okay, and a lot of children experience that as well. So, suffering by itself, needless suffering, stupid suffering, cruel suffering a lot of people are experiencing that, but just like regular suffering, with support from someone who's been through that. Hey, I know the math is hard, gosh, I remember I hated it, but you can get through it. I'm going to teach you a couple of tricks, okay, and you help them through their suffering and then they achieve and they feel great about it. Yeah, and then they're able to tolerate other kinds of typical suffering and inconvenience and stuff like that.

Speaker 1:

That's the resiliency piece of it.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah it is, and kids especially are quite resilient. But again, people shouldn't misconstrue. A lot of people when they hear the word aversive they think automatically nasty. No, aversive can be the mildest, tiniest irritate. Your tag in the back of your shirt. If you cut it out, it was by definition aversive. It just wasn't painful or horrific, but it's aversive. So we have to remember not to attach baggage to these words when talking about them. The other areas just kind of quickly and aversives and reinforcers by themselves, are very large areas to cover Would be problems with chronic versus intermittent behavior, and the reason I split them up is because very often when something's happening 200 times a day, it is very different fundamentally in nature than something that's happening once every two weeks, okay. And so I split them up in different categories as different kinds of problems. Like a kid that bangs his head in every single environment multiple times per hour would be chronic. That's a different sort of problem. It usually has a different kind of a context. As an example, most of the higher functioning kiddos that you'll work with who may be getting a fight sometimes right, they don't get into a fight 87 times a day, okay Typically developing individuals who have behavior problems, but no particular diagnosis or delay. They tend to have problems that are less frequent and more intense, like we do, and so usually the problems we have are not super high frequency, some of them are. Just because you can talk well doesn't mean you don't have high frequency behavior problems. Some of those problems are talking just too much or the wrong things, and it is a high frequency, but things like aggression, getting into fights, stuff like that usually are at a lower frequency for those folks. But anyway, there are different categories of problems, because one of the big things is that if somebody's only doing something once a week like tearing up the classroom, but only once a week, it means the motivator, the MO, is only there once a week. And then the question is why Someone who's misbehaving all day long has needs that are going on all day long that aren't being addressed. If all their needs were addressed, they wouldn't need to misbehave, they would just kind of sit there and be happy. But anyway, that's another kind of two ways of looking at problems, and the only reason for making up these arbitrary categories like chronic and intermittent is just so we can start looking in different areas and starting to rule out some things, someone who only does their behavior once a week, it's likely not a communication thing. Communication things, behavior problems that serve to communicate. They're usually communicating all day long because they have problems all day long and they use their behavior problems the same way we do when I talk. So anyway, that's the way. I split that up Other problems, a problem with adults or a problem with peers. And the only reason I split that up that I got from classrooms as well because I'd find some for a lot of kids. Maybe you knew some of them with other children. They have non-stop behavior problems With an adult that they like reasonably zero and you've known some of these kids. And one of the issues is the adult is competent socially and not mean, and if the kid makes some social missteps the adult handles it gracefully. If a child makes some social missteps around another child, they will destroy them. They're not as gracious as the adult and a lot of the kids feel safer with the adult. They like the adult sense of humor, they prefer to talk with the adults and they may even be a little bit more sophisticated and don't like talking to their peers. But the thing is, if you know that it never happens with adults and it's always with peers, then it's likely not something that just cuts across everything Like oh, they do it for attention. Well, if they never do it with you, even when you don't give attention to what's going on? So a lot of times these issues are things like the adults don't. The adults give me more reinforcers and reverses and the kids mostly give me a versus. In other cases I've heard of just as many where I'll ask them this just to steer the conversation. I'll just say, and if they can answer me instantly, I'm usually fairly confident that they know what they're talking about. But I'll say does it happen only with peers, only with adults or equally with both? And sometimes they'll instantly go oh, only with peers. And to me that rules out all kinds of problems and rules in all kinds of other things, Because what it means is they clearly don't need their problem behavior to get along with grownups. They only need it with the other kids. And then that suggests there's something about the way the other kids are behaving towards them or the way they're behaving towards the other kids because they're histories. But anyway, it's just a way to get people thinking of broad areas where people are competent, where there's no problems, and other areas where there are problems. And of course, sometimes like if the individual has almost no language, the problem almost always happens with everybody. Other reasons that sometimes problems only happen with adults is that their peers don't block their access to reinforcement, that is, the peers don't tell them what they can't do and the peers don't deliver demands. That's the adult. So sometimes it's an adult focus problem or the supervisor focused problem, the authority figure focused problem, Because the authority figure all day long is telling me what I can't have and is telling me what I need to do, and both of those are sources of aversive stimulation. So, anyway, that's. The only reason I split it up that way is to point to possible problem areas with interaction.

Speaker 1:

Well, so now we've got a. I mean you've really broadened the scope here. When you look at that lens man, it brings a lot of things to the table and just shows you the complexities of human behavior and the complexities of being like a good consultant, being a good behavior analyst. When you go into these situations, how would somebody take this information and put it into their own repertoire, because it makes sense? It seems like this should be going on already, right, first and foremost, that we're looking at these variables.

Speaker 2:

It's a way that I look at things just, and here's the reason why I want more treatment options. I want to have more angles to approach the problem right. I don't want to just go down this one road. I want to look at the problem from underneath and from the side, and from on top and from way back and close up. When you take all those views and put them together, you have a much better idea of what's happening. In the grand scheme of things. How does this person fit into the world, into their world specifically? The other problems are repertoire problems. This is here's as an example for somebody who is quote high-functioning, great language working on grade level. There can be repertoire problems, but they're usually sophisticated ones, like sophisticated social interaction, things they haven't figured out, sophisticated ways of asserting yourself, like being assertive instead of aggressive. That's pretty sophisticated. Many adults don't know the difference. There may be repertoire problems, but there's not repertoire problems in terms of oh, they can't do almost anything. We're talking about people who can do almost everything that a typically developing person can do with, maybe a few problems here or there. Other individuals their problems are so big because their repertoire is so small, it's so restricted, and then they have giant repertoire as a behavior problems CB.

Speaker 1:

I mean, if that's not in place, I suppose everything else is going to be like without having the skills, you're dead in the water, right?

Speaker 2:

AC Pretty much. Then you're just left with these behavior management strategies If you're not looking at and saying, okay, what don't they know how to do and how is that impacting this behavior problem? Everything doesn't impact it equally. A simple thing, like for kids that do property destruction or other misbehaviors, to get staff to come over those same kids. Very often they don't have a summoning response which is just like this or come here or anything like that. They don't have that but they learn to do is misbehave and the adult comes closer. That's a repertoire problem that if that's not addressed the problem will never go away because they have no other way to make people coming over to you. And getting people to come over to you to approach you without you having to approach them, it's kind of a big deal. Kids learn that very early. They learn to stay where they are and make somebody appear. A lot of our clients without language. They don't know how to do that and that's absolutely a repertoire problem. It's like gaping holes in all kinds of areas.

Speaker 1:

What about the behavior analyst repertoire? Problems with going in there and supporting this stuff, Because we have a lot of new people in the field. I was learning on the job and I don't ever think that was that great in the area. I remember we had to call you in and I'm still calling you in. It's not the man. What are the key things? It's just a lot.

Speaker 2:

It is a lot. Here's what I think the key things are. The way that I do it is to not be in a rush. I know there are contingencies operating on behavior analysts. This program has to be done by this. It has to be written by this time. Medicaid has to look at this and the insurance company has to review that. I understand there's all these medic contingencies going on, but by the same token, if you're in a rush to judgment, to stick something in a function box, you're likely going to miss a bunch of things.

Speaker 1:

You're going through so much. Our OBM approach is the course that you've got to get the information up front man. You've got to build relationships with people. You've got to establish yourself as a reinforcer. Those fundamental initial steps are huge if you're going to put them in these instances.

Speaker 2:

Again, we don't fix the person. We say it all the time and we forget about it. We don't fix the person, we fix the environment. Yet when we go into the classroom, what do we ask to do? Are we asked to fix the environment? No, we're asked to fix that kid. Then they point to them. They're not saying when you go to the classroom, they don't go Polly, could you please fix all of this? They go. I want you to fix this, it's a leaky pipe.

Speaker 1:

If I go back and look at everything that you laid out there and this is what Anika and I hang our hat on when we go out and look in the schools really these behavior plans and all the approaches, we're looking at the main thing that needs to be fixed. If we're going to call it a fix and I don't want to insult anybody really are the adults in that classroom, the adults in that school. All those things that we're talking about means the adults are going to have to do something more or less or differently than they're doing right now If they're going to get any sort of sustainable change in that learner's behavior, because Merrill's not going to be there for the whole time. You're going to come in, you're going to make some recommendations, you're going to dip.

Speaker 2:

And the thing is you can exactly, you can put this like any behavior and now an analytic tool, which is all this is. It's just a way of conceptualizing stuff. You can apply this problem approach to the teachers to the staff problems with reinforcers. Here's an example For some of them, their reinforcer is not creating meaningful behavior change. Their reinforcer is a quiet classroom and so the thing is that's a problem with reinforcers. You don't have the same one I have. It could even be problems with the versives. Okay, what's aversive to the teacher may not be aversive to me, right, you know so. Like a kid curses at me, that's not really aversive to me, like punching is, but not cursing. It may be aversive to the teacher and then you can't say teacher, you're wrong, because cursing is aversive to you and because of your learning history, cursing upsets you. They're not wrong, but it is a problem with different reinforcers and aversives. We're not blaming people and we don't blame the student either for having reinforcers that we don't agree with or aversives that we think are unusual, or not responding properly to the same aversives we do. Right, the children are not bad for doing this, but it's a bad problem.

Speaker 1:

Yeah Right, this is really an important piece, I think. Again, sliding into my world now and Anika's, when we go into these classrooms where, like you already said it, we call it behavior myopia, but, like everybody's, you know, they take their behavioral lens off when they look at everything else. Instead of that student, I'm looking at everybody in that environment as a learner. And what do they need to do more or less differently? What are their reinforcers? We at your point, what are their aversives? We need to understand that stuff because, again, we're going to need change in their behavior. We're going to get changed in the behavior of that learner, anything that's sustainable, and we forget about that stuff.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean it's kind of what some people call an ecological analysis, Like as an example. I am repeatedly. It must be the power of our science, but I am amazed when I see a kid in with behavior problems in the midst of many other children with behavior problems and that kid still gets better. That to me is amazing that that ever happens because of the we're not taking, the we're not doing an ecological approach and looking at the kid's social environment and saying, look, this environment promotes and maintains their worst behavior. It's like the Boys Town model and Pat Freiman would talk about it. They don't take a troubled teen from an inner city and bring them to the middle of nowhere and place them in the midst living with other children with severe problems. They place them with a family with kids who have begun to get over their problems and fall in line with the values of Boys Town. They have perfect role models and they have nobody modeling inappropriate behavior and they have lots of models of appropriate behavior and they can see people being successful and getting privileges. That's a very different environment to place someone in than place them in an environment with people that have behavior that match theirs. That whole model is insane to me, but I think things develop that way because of resource issues. We have this teacher and she teaches these kinds of kids, so they're all going to be with her. It's not an argument to say every child with misbehavior should be placed in an included classroom, and that's actually another area of problems. That's part of the book. That's one of the bonus problems. Problems with inclusion. It's not that inclusion is bad or a bad concept or can't be done properly. It's that it's so often done improperly to the detriment of the child and those around them. That's more the problem. But there are many benefits of inclusion. One is the one I just touched on. You have a lot of good role models and there's nobody modeling bad stuff. I think people really underestimate the importance of that. A lot of times the teacher is like I don't want them bothering the other children. It's just like I understand that. But by the same token, being around these children who have well-developed repertoires and are socially appropriate, that could be one of the best things to help this kid get better. Of course, simply being around well-behaved children won't do it. It's not osmosis but the point being there isn't multiple examples of problem behavior and these children likely won't engage with them the same way another child will, who has a short fuse and a lot of problem behavior.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I've seen this happen. I know that you have time and time again where a kid gets sent to a self-contained class and their behaviors get worse. Man, because they have a lot of great role models in there for challenging behavior. People are like, well, what should we do? I'm like, well, number one, I don't think the kid should have been in there in the first place. But to your point though and you were the first, I remember you laid out a model a while back. I'm not sure where you got it from if it was your model about, and you actually did a talk on inclusion, delusion, seclusion, and you gave some very practical advice for when somebody should be included and when they shouldn't. I'm like this is great, because everybody was like inclusion is the right thing to do all the time. Well, hold on, and it's rule following.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's the blind rule of following, and yeah, there are situations where the child won't really benefit at all, and then there are, and it will actually cause more disruption and problems, and then there are situations where the child will benefit tremendously. There just need to be certain supports in place and certain proper attitudes of all the concerned parties, and that's actually well. I talked about repertoire problems. One of the other ones we got like 10 minutes one was teaching in curriculum problems, which you recognize and that's more like it's either you're working on the wrong thing and that's contributing to these behavior problems, because it's too difficult, you don't make, you make too many errors and you're missing some key components, and also it's not functional for you, you, the learner, you don't know where it's going, you have no idea, and the example would be a nonverbal child being asked to learn to write their name, which is absurd. It is. It's absurd, it's the best thing I can call it and a waste of time and it makes children angry.

Speaker 1:

It's like asking me to do calculus F, you man.

Speaker 2:

Right, it's like me teaching you how to write Chinese characters and you're not interested in any Asian culture at all and you're not traveling to China.

Speaker 1:

And you're like Merrill. Why do I?

Speaker 2:

have to write these characters and I'm like shut up Paulie, and just draw that thing that looks like a TV on a stand with things coming off, but I don't know what it means, it doesn't matter, Trust me, just draw it. Okay, Well, this is what you're doing with a child with no language teaching them to write their name. You can't tell them how cool it is to put their name on their art and to write their name on their thing so that other people can't take it, which is not really true, but anyway, it's a lie that we tell children, if you put your name on it, no one could take it. But the thing is you can't even do that with someone with no language to motivate them to want to write their name. So that would be an example of a curriculum problem. A teaching problem just means not having the basics of teaching error correction, prompting, fading, shaping, reinforcement, stuff like that you know the basics. The other thing was problem with punishment, and all I say on that in the book is that what I always say is that punishment is not a bad thing, it's part of society. Again, you don't get a check for not murdering people, but if you murder someone, they're going to dole out the punishers. It's just the way the world works. It's the way all societies work, you might say. I think they shouldn't be that way. That's fine, run for Congress, but the rest of us have to live in this world for now, which has buku punishment and whether or not it's effective doesn't even matter for the people who use it. It's that you're going to have to deal with it. I'm not saying that the punishment used by society is effective. In many instances it's not. In some instances it is, but without it, chaos, no speed limits, no speeding tickets for speed limits. Do you have any idea what the mortality rate would be If, just suddenly, I just want people to appreciate a simple punisher like a speeding ticket. Right, whether it's effective or not, it's intended to decrease behavior. Imagine for a moment if you would an America where there is no speed limit and you can't get any ticket for speeding. Do you have any idea what the fatalities would be like. I'd be afraid to be on the road. It would be like Mad Max.

Speaker 1:

Well, you're actually pulling into one of the points I make when I'm talking about the importance of systems and the same thing. Imagine a cop pulling over people and giving them the car accidents all the time. You're giving people tickets all the time and you're sending them back to driving school. You're spending license, sending something to jail. Then when you zoom out, you're like wait a second. There's no rules on the road right. There's no lines, there's no green light, yellow light, red light. There's no system that generate, rule, govern behavior and bring behavior under stimulus control. We're blaming the performers and not taking a look at the system.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure, yeah, how clear is it what the speed limit is? How often are the signs posted? They do a lot of things like this. Now they put up the sign Everybody hates them that tells you the current posted speed and your speed. You don't get a ticket, but you feel guilty as hell for setting it off. Yeah, but that's to assist with this kind of problem. The other areas of the book were just like the last four things and I'll just listen when I'm going to them but they were problems with diagnoses. Not that the diagnoses are necessarily a bad thing, but they can create a number of problems. I list some of the problems that they generate and I list some of the uses that diagnostic labels have. Talk about problems with inclusion. It's not always a great idea. Sometimes it's fantastic, but to say everyone should be in an included classroom because that's a rule that everybody should follow, that's absolute nonsense and not in the child's best interest and very often not in the best interest of the other children. Every child has to be taken individually, looked at how the match of where you're going to place them, how they're going to function, what kind of skills they have, what kind of supports they're going to have. And the last one this is the one that you and Anika met with problems with the players. Problems with the players, because that's where you come up at the very top level. And I'll use the quote from Don Bayer. And he said and I just keep finding it more and more true. It sounds overly simplistic, but there's so much truth to it. He says all things being equal, when all the grownups are in agreement, the kid tends to get better, like sometimes, even if they agree on the wrong thing, it's at least consistent. You know everybody's doing the same wrong thing. Good, job.

Speaker 1:

So you know at least, you have some management right. You like predictability, man, if everyone's doing the same wrong thing perfectly.

Speaker 2:

At least the management's good, you know. So I mean, you know there's consistency in staff, so, and you can just fix that by saying look, you're getting everybody to do the same thing. Great, they're just doing the wrong thing. I'd like you to get everybody to do this same thing, right, and then you just plug it in right. But that's not usually the case where, oh my god, this management system is absolutely perfect, you just happen to be doing the wrong thing right, that's not usually what it is, is it? Oh man? I mean, that would be the best case.

Speaker 1:

Well, merrill, I want to thank you, man, for coming on here. Brother, and I know you are just such a wealth of knowledge and you know, again, you're the first person I want to call when there's some you know big behavior challenges going on. I know you've helped a lot of school districts and organizations avoid lawsuits. You know you've helped a lot of kids, you know from from preventing them from being restrained, and you know achieving their goals and having a quality of life and quality of learning. If people want to reach out to you, man, if they need your services, how do they get in touch with you?

Speaker 2:

Oh, thanks for asking. They can go to the website, which is winstonbehavioralsolutionscom on one word, a very long word, winstonbehavioralsolutionscom and it's very easy there to schedule time with me. Anyone can schedule a free 20-minute Zoom meeting to talk about a presentation you might like, or just to discuss a case to see if I can help with it, and after that people can just they can buy my brain by the hour if they. If they like. It's very I'm very accessible. It's very easy to get an appointment with me. You can schedule it yourself.

Speaker 1:

Man, I love you coming into meetings and like, did you get to have I write people that you just had? You could balance these meetings and these are the IP meetings where you got an angry parent, you got an angry administrator, angry teacher, and you would just bring them all together under what I would call shared values. Right, when you would make practical, just common sense of them, explaining things, and everybody would kind of calm down, man, it would move things in a real great direction. So if you guys are having challenges out there like that and there's lots of that going on around the country, man Merrill's your guy.

Speaker 2:

Well, thank you very much, Paul, I appreciate it. Yeah, brother.

Speaker 1:

I appreciate you coming on, man. Thanks a lot, man. I'll see you next week at Stone Soup.

Speaker 2:

Yes, sir, I will, and I hope everybody attends and put on a great conference and it's for a great cause.

Analyzing Behavior and Behavior Challenges
Issues With Aversive Stimuli in Values
Understanding Suffering and Behavior Problems
Addressing Repertoire Problems in Behavior Analysis
Inclusion and Behavior/Curriculum Problems
Balancing Meetings and Resolving Conflicts