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Compassionate Care ABA in Schools: Moving Beyond Rewards & Punishments

compassionate care

Have you ever felt like traditional Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods were missing a crucial element – compassion? The good news is, ABA is evolving! In a recent episode of the Misfit Behaviorists podcast, my co-host Caitlin and I had a heart-to-heart about the importance of compassionate care ABA in schools. Let's dive into what this approach is all about and how it's transforming the way we support students with challenging behaviors.

What is Compassionate Care ABA?

Compassionate care ABA isn't about throwing out the science; it's about embracing the whole child. It blends evidence-based ABA practices with a deep understanding of student's emotions, needs, and experiences. This approach recognizes that behavior is communication, and that building positive relationships is the foundation for lasting change.


Key Principles of Compassionate Care ABA

Making lasting positive positive behavior change through compassionate care isn't just about “being nice,” and ABA is still all about being research-based. It can be both! Here are the key principles of compassionate care ABA:

1. Building Rapport: This goes beyond just pairing yourself with preferred activities. It means truly connecting with the student, understanding their interests, and becoming a trusted source of support. Catch them “being awesome!” It's worth it!

build rapport
preventative strategies

2. Antecedent-Based Interventions: We focus on preventing challenging behaviors before they occur. This means understanding triggers, offering choices, and providing non-contingent reinforcement (those “just because” moments of connection). It's so much easier to prevent a behavior than to undo a situation after it occurs!

3. Skill Acquisition with Choice: Giving students a sense of autonomy is empowering. Let them have choices, involve them in goal-setting, and teach them skills that will help them advocate for themselves. So choice not only for day-to-day decisions, but also in what to work on and where to go in their lives from as early an age as possible!


4. Celebrating Effort and Growth: Don't just focus on mastery. Celebrate the small victories and acknowledge their hard work along the way. This builds confidence and encourages a growth mindset. Be mindful that you're not just passing on goals year after year. Really look at your IEPs and reports and have the best capture of what is most meaningful for that student for THAT year.

How Compassionate Care Transforms ABA

More Effective Interventions: When we understand the “why” behind behavior, we can design interventions that truly address the root of the problem, not just the surface-level actions.
Stronger Relationships: Building trust and rapport with students leads to greater cooperation and engagement in learning.
Empowered Learners: Giving students choice and autonomy fosters a sense of agency and independence, which are crucial for long-term success.
Positive Classroom Environment: Compassionate care ABA shifts the focus from punishment to skill-building, creating a more positive and supportive learning atmosphere.

Addressing the Critics

Some people worry that compassionate care “softens” ABA, but it's actually quite the opposite. We're not abandoning evidence-based practices, but we're infusing them with empathy and understanding. It's a win-win for both students and educators!

Ready to Dive Deeper?

Listen to our full podcast episode or watch it here for real-life examples, practical tips, and a deeper discussion of compassionate care ABA in action.

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