Every week in my graduate program, I’m tasked with completing online video content which culminates in an exam at the end of each week. It takes most of my weekend to complete the material so I will be able to focus the rest of the week on practicum work with clients, supervision and further study time. But folks, the video content is honestly some of my favorite hours spent because it is in the quiet of these moments that I hear Jesus speaking the most.

My first thought ~ I could listen to Dr. Patrick McGreevy talk for hours.

My second thought ~ His testimony brings tears to my eyes.

My third thought ~ This is the stuff Jesus is made of right here.

Dr. McGreevy was in the middle of stressing the importance of not responding (other than physical management if necessary) during disruptive, problematic or dangerous behaviors to self or others that can often be seen while teaching alternative more functional behavior. This would include not providing reactions such as directing attention to the person or allowing their ability to leave the situation.

This task of strengthening across the verbal operants is a super fancy term for teaching God given needs inherent in every living human person on earth. Because it is teaching a repertoire that allows us to fully and meaningfully connect with others including God. Without this repertoire or with lower functioning areas of this repertoire, we can exhibit a lot of inner or outward pain displaced as ugly hurtful behavior.

Behavior as believable to the person in their reasons for doing it as breathing is to staying alive. Yet along with it, a persisting void in the human heart.

You know what Dr. McGreevy said about this kind of behavior? Do not respond with attention but do not allow the person to get away from the more functional task either. Why is this so important? Because enough people have let them. Dr. McGreevy challenged those of us serious about behavior analysis to understand the urgency of staying the course. He used the words ~ Person up.

His strong words immediately took me back to my introductory coursework on ethics. Ethics…quite a loaded word right? I don’t know about you but I’m certainly not without human fault in the area of ethical perfection. As far as I’m concerned the only human who lived with perfect ethical conduct was Jesus. It is why Behavior Analysts have ethical guidelines a mile long because “person-ing” up can not cross the lines of other relationship.

Stopping the cycle means a person needs a human connection who will not leave. Only then can we ever begin to develop connection on progressively higher levels. Friends, this is why knowing Jesus is so important.

Person-ing up is to exemplify the character of Jesus and that is gigantic responsibility. For the purposes of my work, it is also the responsibility of a behavior analyst.

Testimony from Dr. McGreevy:

A boy he worked with named Stephen was in and out of special education programs who exhibited dangerous problem behavior when being taught to interact with others. Stephen had a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. In the past the boy was left alone, allowed to stop activities with others or in some cases moved to an entirely different school setting when his behavior had become so dangerous that getting away from him seemed the only viable option. Dr. McGreevy worked with Stephen over the course of some time, not allowing him to escape the alternative functional tasks. In some cases it meant starting again the next day but the same task began again exactly as it had been before. Sometimes physical restraint was necessary when Stephen’s behavior was so dangerous it was harmful for those involved. The process was always the same, the alternative task did not go away and the dangerous behavior did not make it go away.

Over time, Stephen made so much progress that he was placed in a general education setting with his peers. Stephen would come back to visit Dr. McGreevy at times and on this particular day that Stephen visited he was working with a younger boy who also had behavioral challenges. As a matter of fact during this particular visit and in that particular moment Dr. McGreevy was holding the boy from attempting to stab peers around him with a pencil. Stephen approached the classroom and asked if he could talk with the boy. He didn’t ask to let him go from the restraint but simply asked if he could talk to him while he remained held. After having permission, Stephen kneeled down next to the boy and offered a statement. His advice…you can stop doing this now because he isn’t going any where.

What happens when children like Stephen become adults with dangerous behavior and unlearned connection? At best, protective equipment and/or numerous psychotropic medications. At worst, behaviors ending in death.

This is deeply important stuff. A void in human connection can and will create pain even a small child can recognize on some degree. In its absence we see destructive behavior in its place.

Because God created our hearts for connection.

There are days my job requires the very most of this truth and it is the reason why behavior analysts do this work. Last week one of my young learners did something similar to Stephen when instructed to do a task. She stood up from the chair, walked over to me, grabbed the top of my head with both hands and twisted her fingers around my hair. With hair in tote she pulled me up out of the seat laughing during the entire episode. If it weren’t for her BCBA in the room for supervision I would have needed more help. Once my head was released from the grab she continued to climb the partition up the wall to get to the exit. After a few minutes of scaling the partition she climbed down and tried to grab my head again. These attempts continued among other self-sensory alarming behaviors. All the while no reaction from us even during the most dangerous of the aggressive behavior which thankfully stabilized and physical restraint as was the case in the Stephen testimony was not necessary.

This momentarily delayed the task with behavior that has reliably gotten her out of situations because enough people have left her alone. In Applied Behavior Analysis, the alternative task may be delayed but it is presented again in its original form no matter how many times it takes to get there.

This is the same child who will throw herself on my lap and sit there in my arms asking for a hug so many moments of the day. At times it pushes me to the limits of my own humanness and every where in between.

It is where the magic lives. 💗

Love by Grace,