Image by Patrick Fore

Blog Post

 
 

Crossroads

Updated: Feb 22

Photo with a dark overlay of a four way crossroad, it has a long road to the left, at the left of the road are where the  four crossroads meet.
Photo of a Crossroads.

So, it's my first blog. What should I write about? I know some are curious about what it means to be a disillusioned Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). To start off, I will introduce a little about myself. My name is Alyssa Barrera Lansford (She/Her/Ella), and I am a Tejana (Latina) re-connecting Indigenous cis-gender female.

I come from many tribes but have found a connection with the Purepecha tribe in Michoacan, Mexico. This is where my dad's mom's side is from (my great-grandma). I am an Aquarian mom of two, who is a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and so much more. I am an anime enthusiast in my free time. I grew up watching shows like Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, Dragon Ball (Z), to now watching shows like Eighty–Six and Fairy Tail. The thing I love about anime is it takes me to a new world. I've always felt like anime helped me to relax and not think about the challenging occurrences in my own life.

Before diving deeper into my professional life, I wanted to credit someone I consider a mentor, Joline M, who was a big contributor to my development towards compassionate, empathetic, and trauma-informed therapy. She led me to understand why and what we can do about the ongoing issues in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). She also told me about the word disillusioned and why this part was more important than just someone being a reformer. I'd also like to shine a light on two others who helped me along this path, Oswin Latimer (Fae/Faer) and Melissa Gutierrez. To each and everyone - thank you.


Before I continue, I'd like to throw out a CONTENT WARNING for any neurodiverse individuals who will be reading.


I originally started out pursuing a physical therapy degree but had a change of heart when I witnessed some unethical treatment towards children in the Preschool Program for Children With Disabilities (PPCD) classroom I was working in as an Instructional Assistant (IA). I ultimately left after speaking up to the principal about this kind of treatment and seeing nothing be done in response.


I looked for ways to help ensure what I had previously witnessed wouldn't happen again. This led me to the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program at the University of Texas in San Antonio (UTSA). I obtained two separate Master's degrees, one of them was finished during my pregnancy with my oldest child. In all honesty, I never thought I would've gone this far in my education, I was always the athletic type who wasn't considered "smart." To my culture and customs, my family and I assumed I would get married and have kids at an early age - all while most likely becoming a stay-at-home mom in the process, a similar trajectory for my aunts, uncles, and cousins was expected. The intersections of my experience as a brown Latina made me view myself as less than compared to my white, assumed more "intelligent" colleagues. I believe my curiosity in getting to the roots of why certain behaviors occur led me to obtain my second master's degree. I am a naturally curious person who likes finding the answers to things. This can be seen in one of my special interests - crime podcasts. Where you always wonder "why?" when it comes to the murderer. What motivated them? What occurred in their past to have this happen? Is this free will or environmental?


I received some answers through my coursework, but toward the end of my ABA graduate work, I began to realize that it didn't answer some of the more complex questions. What about intrinsic motivation, trauma, parenting styles, and generational trauma? I would ask my professors for answers to these topics but would never get a good response from them.

I didn't start actually noticing the issues within the field of ABA until I attended my first ABAI conference (Association for Behavior Analysis International) back in 2019. During this time, I had stumbled onto a Facebook group called "BCBA's and Autistic's Unite for a Reformed ABA". This is where I met most of the people I discussed and thanked at the beginning of this post. I read stories about the horrible experiences a lot of autistic individuals were going through and it made me stop and contemplate my career choices at the time. I read, re-read, and engaged in conversations with many lovely people in this group to be sure I fully understood everything being told to me. Could I see myself doing these interventions to my daughter (who had just turned one year old)? It was through these conversations that I realized a lot of the research I had done with my University - considered ethical, was not.


I conducted Functional Analysis (FA) in both a clinic and hospital setting, took data, and developed interventions based on what would be determined as "the function of their behavior." A memory fresh to this day is of me is sitting on my couch at home, coding videos, my husband hears constant screaming coming from my headphones. Afterward, he asked what I was doing, and I told him about what an FA was and why I was coding. My husband then said, "So you are putting a child into a condition, taking or adding in something for that condition to then take it away and then taking their data… doesn't that sound wrong?" He was right. It did sound wrong. I haven't done an FA since, and though I do think placing behaviors into categories does give some insight into why we do what we do - we are more complex than this.


After talking about these experiences with my mentor mentioned above, I thought maybe I could help change the field by setting higher standards for therapists. I talked with many other autistic individuals in the Facebook groups I was in and decided to take the exam to become a BCBA. After I passed, I set my boundaries on how I would provide therapy to my clients and their families.


Working "in-home" was, to me, a huge eye-opener. Even though I had gone through not one but two Master's programs, I was nowhere near prepared for the issues and learning curve I would face by working the in-home, and later, crisis systems. I realized the lack of services given to those who are considered to be at a low socioeconomic status (Low SES). There was also the lack of hours given to these families for ABA services or in-home behavior support. Speech and Occupational Therapy were non-existent because the families couldn't get the services they needed approved. They were refused due to the severity of behaviors or even the client's age. As a young BCBA, I was left with trying to find alternative services for my clients. This was especially true for my clients who were about to transition into adulthood (18 years old). Fighting with service coordinators, case managers, insurances, scholarships, etc., was my life until just recently. During this time, I came to realize that a lot of the behaviors I was seeing weren't just because the client had a diagnosis but also because my caregivers (their families in general) were burnt out. Understandably, the education system, the health insurance system, and the overall societal system that we live in are hard to digest already. Everything becomes even more overwhelming when you are not considered a "normal" American family.


This slide show is an adult's human rights as stated by the state of Texas. This slideshow also discusses important terms that all Disabled Adults should be aware of.

I started changing my approach from working with the client to focusing on the caregivers and the overall family dynamic. I taught families only antecedent-based interventions and taught the clients' replacement behaviors. If I couldn't teach them these, I referred each to alternative services who could. In my second year of being a BCBA, I decided to leave the company I was at due to ethical concerns I had and joined a previous mentors' company