Akron ABA therapists

Why Our Akron ABA Therapists Say “Expected/Unexpected” vs. “Good/Bad”

As Akron ABA therapists, we recognize that words matter. The language we use when working with children on the autism spectrum is important and should be carefully considered. When we’re talking about social communication and behavior, we’re careful not to use words like “good” or “bad.” We also tend to shy away from terms like “appropriate” or “inappropriate.” Instead, we opt for words like, “expected” and “unexpected.” We might also use, “effective” and “ineffective.”

Why is this important? Because at the heart of it, behaviors themselves are generally neither “good” nor “bad.” Their appropriateness or whether they are a “problem” directly relates to the social construct of the situation. A behavior that’s perfectly “good” in one situation is wholly “bad” in another. It’s fine to yell and run and play at a birthday party, but not so much in school.

Further, social norms can shift and change constantly – based on the culture, the community, and even the age of the person. Additionally, focusing on the “good” or “bad” of a behavior tends to center neurotypical people, as opposed to prioritizing or even considering the needs and well-being of neurodivergent people. People on the autism spectrum have developed some of their own social norms (these aren’t universal of course, but often include things like acceptance of openly stimming and eye contact avoidance, etc.). Too often, these norms get wrongly overlooked or ignored entirely in discussions about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

We also need to be mindful of the fact that there can be negative connotations associated with a therapist from a different socioeconomic/cultural/racial/religious background from the child’s establishing the standard for what’s “appropriate.”

Lastly, when we talk about behavior in terms of being “inappropriate,” it implies disappointment, upset, a scolding. But the goal for our Akron ABA therapists is not to admonish, but rather to redirect, to teach, to help them find a more effective way to get what they need or want.

As applied behavior analysts, we know this gets complicated for adults. It can be very puzzling for a child who struggles with social communication. So instead of saying “good” and “bad,” we frame behaviors as, “expected” or “unexpected” for the situation. We see behavior as a form of communication. And we want the kids we’re working with to learn to recognize their own needs and then effectively advocate for themselves. So we ask whether certain behaviors are “effective” in helping them to meet their needs in a given situation. If it is “ineffective,” then our goal is to try to teach replacement behavior that’s actually effective.

Ultimately, we want to encourage kids to be “social learners.” There won’t always be someone over their shoulder to tell them whether a certain action is going to be effective/ineffective or expected/unexpected for the situation. So we aim to teach them how to analyze social situations and think critically so they can make informed choices about what to do (or not do).

Being socially competent isn’t really something that we as humans just learn because we memorized a list of social skills. Rather, we learn to pay attention to what’s happening, interpret what we’re seeing/hearing/experiencing, and then problem-solve to determine our social responses. Neurotypical kids usually pick up on this without having to be expressly told that’s what they’re doing. But for children with autism, ADHD, behavioral diagnoses, and pragmatic language challenges, these skillsets often need to be broken down into more manageable pieces and mastered one-by-one. We help them figure out the “hidden social expectations” of a given situation by pausing to consider the who, the where, and the what. From there, they need to rely on prior experiences and knowledge to infer or determine what’s expected or not expected in the situation.

Our Akron ABA therapists work with parents, schools, and other caregivers to teach this same language as well, because ultimately consistency in our vocabulary will help improve understanding and carryover of these skills across environments.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Neurodivergent, Cleveland Clinic

More Blog Entries:

What We Look for When Hiring Registered Behavior Technicians for Akron ABA Therapy, Feb. 11, 2023, Akron ABA Therapy Blog