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Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Name: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Title: MA, BCBA, COBA
Company Name:  Special Learning, Inc.
Company URL:
Short Bio: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Certified Ohio Behavior Analyst. She has experience working with children, adolescents and adults in variety of settings including school, home and mental health facilities. In each of these environments, she worked closely with parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals to develop and oversee implementation of behavior intervention plans. She has extensive experience mentoring and providing supervision to RBTs, BCBA candidates and behavior analysts. As an Associate Director of Clinical Solutions for Special Learning, she is responsible for creating and presenting educational materials and promoting Special Learning’s mission to positively impact the special needs community. She received her Master’s degree in Special Education/ABA from The Ohio State University. She has been working with in the field of ABA for over ten years.

Habilitation AND Happiness

When asking parents of children with special needs, “What are your goals for your child/teenager?” most of them respond with one or both of the following:

1)    To function in their environment more independently
2)    To be happy

As behavior analysts/clinicians, we can figure out several ways to obtain goal one.  But how often do we target happiness?

Bannerman, Sheldon, Sherman, & Harchick (1990) wrote a moving article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis titled: Balancing the right to habilitation with the right to personal liberties: the rights of people with developmental disabilities to eat too many doughnuts and take a nap. The title alone sparks conversation. I encourage clinicians, parents, and social workers to read this article as it discusses the relation between the right to habilitation and the client’s right to personal liberties.

Targeting behaviors to increase habilitation, such as reading and preparing meals may mean individuals with disabilities are faced with long hours of treatment and high levels of demands. While these goals are imperative for several reasons, I think most of us see the social significance of also targeting happiness. Happiness itself is not a measureable behavior, which may be why research examining happiness is minimal. Dennis Reid, Ph.D., BCBA-D spoke about evidence-based strategies for prompting enjoyment among children with autism.  He discussed his research on measuring indices of happiness and unhappiness (e.g., smiling, laughing, yelling), which are indirect measures but still valid. He encouraged and emphasized the need for prompting enjoyment and recommended strategies for doing so, these included building in a lot of choices throughout the day, smaller teaching sessions with highly preferred activities interspersed, and ways to develop relationships with individuals you are teaching.

It’s important to keep in mind promoting happiness should and can be paired with skill building, personal growth, and maintenance.

Bannerman, D. J., Sheldon, J. B., Sherman, J. A. & Harchik, A. E. (1990). Balancing the right to habilitation with the right to personal liberties: the rights of people with developmental disabilities to eat too many doughnuts and take a nap. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 79-89.

Reid, D. H. (October, 2011). Evidence-Based Strategies for Promoting Enjoyment Among People with Autism at the Virginia Institute of Autism, Charlottesville, VA.

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