ABA is for monkeys (and managers)!

I recently puchased the book “Made to Stick,” and I’ve spent a little time catching up on the authors’ articles in Fast Company magazine. One caught my eye and seemed eerily familiar.

This article describes, of all things, using some standard ABA techniques to “handle” a difficult boss. It mentions the notion that everything you do can reinforce bad behavior, even things that we wouldn’t typically find reinforcing.

Here are the three “rules” from the article. How many of them do you use with your autistic child?

  1. Ignore bad behavior.
  2. Every response is potentially reinforcing.
  3. Reward desired behavior.

At first, I wasn’t sure that I was going to write about this article, but it doesn’t actually compare our kids to animals, any more than our therapist is calling her husband an animal when she talks about using ABA to keep him on the “straight and narrow.” After all, behavior in this context is mostly about reinforcement for desired behavior.

As my economist friend would say, if you choose B over A, it’s because you actually want B more — you get more from B. If you’re happier, who cares if someone is deliberately trying to make you happier? Isn’t that a good thing? The world would be a better place if we all spent a little time deliberately trying to make other people happier. I know it’s true for our son and for our family.


  1. John Hack on March 12, 2009 at 11:38 am


    Interesting and well made point. There is a great podcast out there called “Manager Tools” (www.manager-tools.com) which takes a behavioral approach to effective management. I’m a big fan of theirs (and a fan of your blog, too).