The Price of Play: Youth Sports in America

Tony Tramelli, M.A., L.P.C.

The culture of youth sports in America has changed dramatically over the past decade. Not too long ago, youth sports were, for the most part, community-based organizations which did their best to give every child the opportunity to be part of a team, to get some much-needed physical activity, and to learn the many valuable skills that come with competition. In the past ten years or so, we have seen youth sports move away from this model and develop into a $17 billion industry, which makes it larger than the business of professional baseball and the same size as the NFL.

This financial boom has occurred not with an increase in participation but with a significant decrease in children’s participation rates in sports. Going back to 2008, regular participation in youth sports is down in almost every category. One might think that the decline in youth sports is a result of the sedentary, technology-dominated lives of young people. Children are certainly prioritizing screens over play, but this is not the primary driver for the decrease in participation. To explain this phenomenon, we have to look at income inequality.

Among wealthier families, youth participation is rising, and among the poorest households it is trending significantly downward. According to a report from TD Ameritrade, most American families whose children are involved in sports spend about $500 a month for each child to play, about twenty percent spend $1000, and roughly ten percent spend upwards of $2000 per month. These costs have made it impossible for millions of children to participate in sports. To be sure, there are also many cases in which financially struggling families either go into debt or make other financial sacrifices with the dream of their investment paying off down the road in the form of college scholarships or even professional careers. The fact is, however, that youth sports are a seriously flawed investment. Only two percent of high school athletes are awarded financial scholarships and only two percent of college athletes go on to professional careers.

Even with these dire statistics, we have seen an explosion of the pay-to-play travel team model of youth sports. Expensive travel leagues take talented young athletes from well-off families, leaving behind traditional, local leagues with fewer players, fewer involved parents, and fewer resources. When kids move from community teams to elite travel teams, it sends the message to the kids that didn’t make the team, or whose family couldn’t afford it, that they don’t have a place in sports. The American system of youth sports, serving only a select few at the expense of so many, has destroyed an institution which once prided itself on the values of participation, teamwork, character development, and physical exercise. Youth sports has become, like so many institutions in this country, a business.

The lack of access to youth sports for so many kids is only one of many consequences of this culture around sports. We also must look at how this culture is affecting the athletes and families who do have the resources to be part of these teams. Because parents are investing so much financially, with the rare chance of a future payout, naturally more pressure is put on the athlete to perform. Kids are experiencing a tremendous amount of pressure and expectations from parents, coaches, and peers alike. At the heart of this pressure is a fear of failure; if the child doesn’t perform well, they fear that something bad will happen to them (even if this is objectively untrue). Based on research of thousands of young athletes participating in elite sports, the most common causes of fear include:

  • Disappointing their parents
  • Being rejected by peers
  • The end of their sports dreams
  • That it will all have been a waste of time
  • Failure in sports means the child him/herself is a failure

These beliefs produce:

  • Negativity, worry, and doubt
  • Fear, anxiety, and stress
  • Muscle tension, increased heart rate, and adrenaline pumps
  • Self-sabotage and avoidance behaviors

These beliefs and fears are why so many children are dropping out of sports by their early teens. About seventy percent of kids are giving up organized sports by the time they reach high school.
Kids are also experiencing pressure to play a certain sport, and even a certain position, within the sport based on the probability that it will land them a college scholarship. More and more, kids are becoming single sport athletes, playing their select sport all year around, which leads to physical deterioration and burn out. The irony in this is that most college recruiters are looking for athletes who play multiple sports throughout the year. Some kids are even being told to ignore defense in favor of scoring because it is easier to get recognized that way.

With all of this pressure being put on children, one would think that success at a young age is a valid predictor of future success, but this simply is not the case. Unless a child is one of the rarest prodigies in their sport, results at a young age do not predict later success. What matters in youth sports in regard to future success in sports are not the results, but rather the passion and
willingness to work hard to improve one’s skills, developing the resiliency necessary to manage loss and failure and to develop physically and technically.

We also see family systems affected due to the current culture of youth sports. For many families, life revolves around the team; practices, games, private coaching, out of town tournaments, fundraisers, etc., take the bulk of the family’s time. The extent to which and how families are affected by this of course depends on the family, but for many no time is left for anything but the sport. This leaves families without opportunities for family dinners, vacations, downtime, and social lives outside of the team. In many families, resources or talent allows only for specific children to participate in sports, leaving the other child or children to feel left out and less than.

Youth sports can be an incredible learning opportunity for young people. It could and should be a powerful and healthy developmental opportunity. In a healthy sport culture, children develop resiliency, commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, and have an opportunity to get some much-needed physical activity. We, as parents of young athletes, need to do a better job of encouraging this type of culture. We do this by changing our family’s culture around sports. We do it by reminding ourselves why we have our kids in sports in the first place and by removing our focus from the results and putting it on the effort that our kids display. We do it by making sure that all children have the opportunity to participate, no matter what their skill level or family’s financial situation may be.

Tony Tramelli, M.A., LPC received his Master’s degree in Counseling from Webster University with a focus on mental health counseling. He works with individuals, couples, and families on a
number of issues, including depression, anxiety, grief, behavioral issues, academic problems and issues surrounding marital concerns and family transition. Tony also works with young adults and
their parents in working towards financial and emotional independence. The transition from adolescence to adulthood can be very challenging, and Tony works diligently to support families
during this process. In addition, Tony provides therapy for individuals, couples, and families struggling with issues around technology, including gaming addiction and internet pornography
addiction. He regularly provides presentations to schools on technology-related topics.

Suicide in Older Adults

Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW

I’m partly in and mostly out of this world now and into the next…I think I’ll see a lot more people I know in the next one. More and more I think of how it would be nice to go soon… and then I have some really bad thoughts.

– 94 year old

Individuals 85+ years show the highest rates of suicide completion in the United States over any other age group. Suicidal ideation and behaviors impact our aging loved ones, families, and the systems in which they are engaged. It is overwhelming to wonder if an older adult we care about may be having suicidal thoughts. In order for us to effectively address suicidal ideation, it is essential to know the risk factors, protective factors, and mental health needs of older adults.

Risk factors are certain elements or circumstances that make an individual more vulnerable to suicide. Older adults have distinctive risk factors unique to their age group in addition to risk factors we see across the population. Common risk factors for older adults include:

  • Acute mental health changes; common signs include changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, anger, and changes in behavior (i.e. typically mild-mannered person starts to yell more frequently; vivacious/social person becomes more withdrawn)
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Social isolation or recent loss of a spouse or loved one
  • Risky behaviors/impulsivity – can be due to decrease of self-awareness, cognition, or feeling “I have nothing left to lose”
  • New diagnosis of a serious medical condition that could dramatically change lifestyle
  • Rigidity – difficulty dealing with change, lack of flexibility, denial of increasing needs
  • Previous attempts at suicide
  • Feelings of hopelessness; feeling like a burden
  • Prolonged stress (i.e. caregiving for a loved one)
  • Pain
  • Financial issues
  • Signs of imminent danger include: putting affairs in order, giving away possessions, saying goodbye to loved ones, shifting mood from despair to calm, planning to buy or borrow suicide means (i.e. firearm or prescription medication)

If you have concerns after reading this list, you are not alone. Many of us who work with and care for older adults find this list intimidating! The majority of the older people we care for experience numerous risk factors on this list. What do we do next? Once you have identified that your client or loved one faces multiple risk factors, the next step is to open up a conversation about how they are feeling and dealing with the difficult circumstances in their life. If we do not ask older adults directly about how they are feeling, they will not tell us. If you feel uncomfortable having this conversation with the older adult in your life, seek out someone who is able to discuss thoughts, feelings, and coping skills with them.

This conversation will guide you together to determine the best course of action for this individual. If the older adult is having thoughts and plans for suicide completion, immediate intervention is necessary. Thorough assessment and safety planning from a mental health professional are vital for this individual’s safety. If there is not a mental health professional involved in this elder’s care, it is appropriate to reach out to a primary physician or suicide hotline (i.e. Behavioral Health Response 800- 811-4760 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255). If the individual is not having suicidal thoughts at this time, yet is struggling, a positive next step is to explore ways to strengthen the older adult’s protective factors to enhance their quality of life. Protective factors are skills, strengths, or resources that help people deal effectively with stressful events.

Increasing protective factors can reduce suicide risk. In the older adult population, beneficial protective factors include:

  • Connection – healthy relationships with family, friends, neighbors, other residents, community
  • Spirituality/Meaning in life
  • Resilience – the ability to cope with adversity and adapt to change
  • Having long-term goals
  • Comprehensive health care – supportive care from providers, good medication regimen that manages health issues effectively, and ability to access health services

Older adults are not immune to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and they often do need support and resources to help enhance their protective factors. By gaining insight on the unique risk factors older adults face, we can better equip ourselves to provide the older adults in our lives with increased engagement and enhanced quality of life. If you are concerned about an older adult in your life, please seek guidance from a professional who is experienced in the mental health needs of older adults.

Care Team Training 2.0 *

Revitalizing Your School’s Response to Today’s Generation of High-Risk Students

28 Hours of Comprehensive Training

At times today, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Many of us find ourselves struggling to cope with feeling overwhelmed and worried by how to respond to all the changes. No doubt, schools are forced to cope, too. Our students are coming to school more anxious, dependent, entitled, and depressed. Suicide rates are climbing rapidly, even preschoolers come to school traumatized and anxious, and ever more students simply refuse to come to school at all.

Today, more than ever, teaching is not for the weak. It’s critical that our teachers and school professionals have a means to receive collegial support, brainstorm solutions, and assure follow-through for the most high-risk students. Of course, any program that takes time and resources must be highly effective. To that end, training and support is available to make sure that your school’s Care Team is creating a real difference for your students and staff alike.

Training Topics Include:

  • Attachment, the core of all relationships, and its application in the school
  • Student mental health, including anxiety, ADHD, self-harm, suicide prevention and others
  • Vaping and today’s substance use crisis
  • The effects of today’s technology on our students’ mental health, relationships and behavior
  • Dealing with difficult parents
  • Motivating unmotivated students
  • Strategies, habits, and ethics that create a healthy and effective team
  • Finding solutions when the team feels stuck

Who Should Attend: Whether you are considering how to start or restart your school’s team, wish to revitalize a struggling team, or just need some fresh ideas for your team that is already successful, you are welcome. All Care Team members and education professionals are encouraged to attend.

Cost: $450 per attendee Title II funds may apply. Continuing Education certificate provided.

Location: This course will be offered throughout the school year at the offices of West County Psychological Associates, 12125 Woodcrest Executive Drive, St. Louis, MO, Suite 120.

Dates and Times: Sessions will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on the dates listed below:

  • October 1st, 2019 November 5th, 2019 December 3rd, 2019 January 7th, 2020
  • February 4th, 2020 March 3rd, 2020 April 14th, 2020 May 3rd, 2020


Online registration is available at:

Payment is expected at time of registration. Questions or concerns? Call WCPA at (314) 275-8599.

Register Today – Space is Limited

* This training program is also available on-site for your school’s or district’s Care Team. Call for more details or to schedule, (314) 275-8599.

The Inclusive Classroom

Donna Garcia, M.A., M.S.

Where did summer go? You have spent the past few months taking classes, participating in professional development, reading, writing, researching, learning, and creating so that you can provide the best educational experiences for your students. You learned what not to do from last year’s hiccups and this year offers an opportunity to start over and make things better.

As you decorate your classroom, you make it as welcoming as possible. You have spent hours making sure that fresh, new bulletin boards are in place, desks and tables are arranged to your liking and books are neatly stacked. You stand back and marvel at your orderly, colorful room. The first day of school quickly approaches, and you anxiously anticipate meeting and welcoming your new group of students. You tell yourself that you are ready. But, are you really ready?

The first day arrives and you stand at your door welcoming all of your students back to school and to their new classroom. Like you, they eagerly enter the new year, attempting to put their best foot forward. You observe as they enter the classroom and have conversations with their friends. Unknowingly, you begin to create opinions and expectations of each student based on your perception. These opinions are based on appearances, perhaps the way they dress, race, hair style, mannerisms or the way they speak. And you haven’t even had a conversation with them yet!

Why do we formulate opinions and create expectations? Do these affect our classrooms? Our subconscious is at work while we formulate opinions and expectations from our observations. These thoughts and feelings are also known as implicit biases. These can be positive or negative and they are automatic and unintentional. They are influenced by experiences (not necessarily personal experiences). Many factors can contribute to implicit associations that people use to form biases about members of other social groups such as media, how you were raised, and cultural conditioning.

An implicit bias is an unconscious attitude or belief toward any social group. People often attribute these attitudes or beliefs to all members of a particular group. This is also known as stereotyping. Even

if we renounce prejudices or stereotypes in our daily lives, implicit bias influences how we act in a subconscious way. The biggest difference between implicit and explicit biases is that explicit biases are intentional and controllable. We are all susceptible to bias. Our brain has a natural tendency to seek out patterns and associations. It stores, processes and applies information about people in social situations and forms associations about the world. It then tries to simplify the world for us.

Our subconscious is always at work, which means that we are making judgements about our students through our observations and forming opinions. Think about it. How many times have we categorized a student because of the way something was said, the way something was done or because the student looked a certain way? As educators, we cannot choose to ignore our implicit biases. Although we can’t control having them, we can control how we deal with them and how we choose to respond. The struggle with implicit bias lies in how we overcome and prevent discrimination or discriminatory practices. Not addressing implicit bias influences how we respond to student behavior, which implies that it can have a powerful impact on educational access and academic achievement. When we choose to ignore our implicit biases, they will negatively affect our relationships with students and our teaching. Ignoring them will cause students to:

  • Believe that we have no confidence in them
  • Create negative stereotypes about themselves based upon group associations (ex: girls believe that their preference should be language rather than math)
  • Believe that we have lower expectations of them, or
  • Accept that we don’t believe in their academic abilities

To create safety and inclusion in your classroom, ask yourself a few questions. What are your classroom values? Does your class take the time to reflect on values and demonstrate them in your classroom and

/or daily lives? Can you pronounce all students’ names properly? Are your books, materials, and bulletin boards reflective of all students?

On a personal level, focus on how you might personally experience deep empathy. Try to discover first-person experiences. Take a deep breath, imagine yourself in your student’s shoes and withhold judgement. Model your learning with students. Stay up to date with a few influencers and reliable news sources that inspire and challenge you to honestly confront difficult conversations on race and bias. Listen to understand, ask questions, show empathy, recognize your own bias, and question your assumptions. Your willingness to try providing safety and inclusion in your classroom sends a strong message to your students, that their learning, engagement and voices truly matter.


If your school could benefit from additional training on this topic, you may contact Donna Garcia at the WCPA office, (314) 275-8599. Training on implicit bias and other diversity issues is available for your school or organization.

Considering Depression through a Relational and Spiritual Lens

Bryan Duckham, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW

Advances in medication for the treatment of depression within the last 20-30 years have alleviated tremendous suffering for many individuals. In addition, new counseling and psychotherapy treatments, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, have done the same. Neuroscience, in its greater understanding of neurotransmission and genetics, while providing some ethical challenges, also holds promise for the amelioration of depressive symptoms. In short, society has benefited greatly from medical and technology innovations. However, pulling the collective attention to growth in these areas, while helpful, has also created a narrow understanding of depression. Viewing depression through only a biological/medical or faulty-thinking lens can eclipse other important ways of understanding and treating depression.

In the area of pharmacology, medications such as Prozac, Paxil, and Lexapro, among others, have augmented the arsenal of practitioners who prescribe psychotropic medications, who were previously relegated only to using older anti-depressant medications. The newer classes of antidepressants, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Selective Norepinephrine Inhibitors (SNRIs), have increased efficacy in the treatment of painful depressive symptoms such as hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, helplessness, guilt, and low energy/motivation, while simultaneously decreasing side effects. Research has shown Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to be effective in the treatment of depression, although many of the gains made with this type of therapy are a result of a good client-therapist relationship, something more valued in other theoretical orientations and longer-term treatment approaches. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy focuses on distortions in one’s thinking and faulty core beliefs about oneself and the world. Identifying these distortions and belief systems allows the practitioner to help the client combat them with more rational and reality-based thinking which, in turn, lifts the depression. Much like a computer, CBT suggests that the input of corrupt data (or a virus, to extend the metaphor) will lead to corruption and breakdown of the entire system. Righting the thinking through healthy input corrects the system.

To be sure, biology and thinking are integral parts of our human functioning. However, they are only two of multiple and fundamental aspects of what it means to be a person. Collapsing people into their thinking or biology runs the risk of viewing humanity through rose colored glasses. For example, the important insights of existentialists and various spiritual leaders on depression is missing from our dominant cultural ethos. The sage wisdom from people like Scott Peck, Rollo May, Ram Dass, and Parker Palmer, to name only a few, understands that depression can be a sign, a warning sign if you will.

While the existentialists see depression as an indication that one is living an inauthentic life, not forging a meaningful existence in the face of powerful forces that seek to coerce one to conform, the spiritual perspective suggests one is not aligned with some higher power and will for their life. From these perspectives, depression and other emotional struggles are signals that, not only is your car overheating and/or having mechanical problems, but it is also off course. Correction of the course leads to a fix of the system. Scott Peck eloquently and personally makes this point when he states, “Since patients are not yet consciously willing to recognize that the “old self” and “the way things used to be” are outdated, they are not aware that their depression is signaling that major change is required for successful and evolutionary adaptation,” (Peck, 1978, p.71). Peck goes on to say that, in depression, the subconscious is ahead of the conscious. In other words, a deep part of us that is usually out of awareness is urgently trying to get our attention to let us know that we must make significant changes.

How do we get off course in a way that leads away from our true selves and into depression? While we know that there can be a genetic predisposition to depression, sometimes those who experience depression suffered stressors such as loss or abuse in childhood. Recent research suggests that those who experience mental health issues are more vulnerable to environmental
events and internalization of these experiences, thus making them more prone to internalize trauma. Peck says, in relation to the contributions to depression, that psychological support is taken away from the child getting what they need developmentally.

Of course sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse contributes to the loss of psychological nutriment and the internalization of this loss and/or trauma. The emotional pain is internalized and embodied. The trauma is emotional and occurs in the context of relationships with caregivers. The internalization of this trauma and loss leads to unhealthy relational patterns and an inability to appreciate and develop one’s uniqueness, gifts, and vocation.

A 2010 meta-analysis by Jonathon Shedler, while showing the efficacy of CBT and other brief interventions, suggests that feelings and relationships should be the primary focus of treatment for greatest efficacy and the most lasting and meaningful changes. Shedler’s analysis suggests the importance of an approach with multiple mental health issues, including depression, that emphasizes not just the cognitive aspect of people’s functioning but rather unresolved feelings as they contribute to unhealthy relational patterns which, in turn, contribute to depressive symptoms. Shedler’s work suggests this emphasis goes way beyond cognitive growth. His analysis suggests that focusing on feelings, relationships, and patterns can enhance relational and sexual intimacy, happiness, creativity, humor and a host of areas that make us fully human.

Building trust with a therapist to remember, feel, and externalize these feelings takes time. Awareness of these experiences and feelings about them is essential in permanently rooting out depression. Simply focusing on one’s thinking may temporarily help but does not access or lead to a working through of long-standing problematic patterns and painful experiences that inform
the thinking. Understandably, clients (consumers) and insurance companies want efficacy and efficiency. But the kind of treatment that gets at the roots of depression usually takes time and cannot be done through a quick fix. Cooperating with an insurance company’s criterion that treatment should focus on returning one to their “previous level of functioning” through a brief “shoring up” can be a disservice to the individual who could be helped to examine patterns, feelings, needs, and a purpose in life that may match their gifts and calling.

From the Director : When Does Anger Become Our Friend?

Mary Fitzgibbons, Ph.D

One of the topics that I will often ask about early in therapy is anger. The responses range from, “I am embarrassed by my anger,” to, “I seldom get angry.” I know when I hear both of these statements that we have some work to do. In doing some minimal research, I found that most professionals give more credence to anger being a negative emotion rather than positive. Wikipedia defines anger as, “an intense emotional state, also known as wrath or rage. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.” In fact, the predominant attitude toward anger in most of the literature is quite negative. It is believed that:

  • Anger creates a loss of objectivity and empathy
  • Anger is a knee-jerk reaction to provocation
  • In general, most of us fear our anger lest we become out of control

Many modern psychologists, however, view anger as a primary, healthy and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, as something that has functional value for survival. Anger allows us to defend ourselves and others from both physical and emotional attacks.

Although anger is natural and healthy, there are few of us who are comfortable with our anger. And, yet, I tell my clients that anger can be our friend. Maybe that sounds a little overstated, but I do not believe so. The modern psychological theory of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) says that anger is a primary emotion. Anger does not have to be expressed in road rage, verbal or physical insults or by throwing a vase across a room. An honest expression of primary anger looks more like a deep indignation when someone has hurt or harmed you or someone you love. It is the anger that says that “this should not have happened.” It is anger that says, “This is not right nor is it just.” It is the expression of anger that gives us the strength to take care of the unjust, unrighteous situation. It is the inner force that allows the parent, without fear of what the repercussions can be, to say to his adolescent that he is grounded for the weekend. It is the response of the abused wife who says that, “I care too much about myself to allow anyone ever to do this to me again.” It allows us to set limits for ourselves. It is an empowering emotion. It can be your friend.

It has been my observation that most of my clients that are highly anxious or depressed are generally fearful of their anger. Some are so fearful that they do not allow themselves its honest expression. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay. Even if we may not experience anger (and some people don’t), all of us experience situations where we should have been angry. Many of us stuff that anger. We hold it inside. Our sense is that it makes us much nicer people. But, again, we pay a price. Our great fear is that, if we allow ourselves to express it, we will be out of control. However, if we do repress or suppress this emotion, we risk our anger building until we explode, or we become depressed and/or anxious. It can, and often does, result in physical symptomology.

It is understandable why so many of us want to avoid this seemingly negative emotion, but it has been my experience that a healthy, honest ability to be angry when appropriate lends itself to healthier, stronger and more authentic relationships. In the long run, I have found over the years, our anger is our friend.

Applied Behavior Analysis: The Science behind Bettering Your Life

Natalie McKelly, M.S. Ed., Ed.S ABA

You may have heard or seen Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, talked about at your child’s school or on advertisements for agencies around town. But what exactly is ABA? Well, it’s not just for individuals with autism or children with special needs. Tremendously simplified, ABA is the science of changing a person’s behavior by decreasing an unwanted behavior and replacing it with a wanted or more appropriate behavior. This is done through different ways of reinforcing behavior. That being said, virtually every person can benefit from ABA. What kinds of behaviors can ABA help?

Behaviors related to mental health diagnoses, such as:

  • ADHD
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Emotional/Behavioral Disorders
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Other Developmental Delays

Other behaviors including, (but not limited to):

  • Improving diet or exercise habits
  • Eliminating a bad habit, such as smoking
  • Improving interpersonal social skills
  • Building independence and self-esteem
  • Improving educational or career skills
  • Reducing or extinguishing childhood tantrums
  • Improving independent sleep behaviors

The above are all examples of behaviors that have the capability of being changed through the work of ABA. The possibilities are endless, but how does it work? In ABA, the process of behavior change includes these steps:

  1. The behavior or behaviors that need to be increased or decreased are identified.
  2. An assessment is conducted to find out why exactly this behavior is occurring. We all engage in a behavior to either avoid something or to get something. The process of ABA helps to figure out exactly what that is.
  3. A plan is made for how to decrease the unwanted behavior and increase the wanted or more appropriate behavior.
  4. The positive reinforcement provided in the plan is faded over time in order to promote independence.

Case Example: “My daughter, Emma, will only eat chicken nuggets. She’ll refuse to eat anything else, so I’m forced to make her chicken nuggets just so she’ll eat.” Emma has learned that if she refuses to eat other foods, her parents will make her chicken nuggets eventually. Emma will most likely continue this until the parents’ behavior is changed.

Working with a behavior analyst, it’s decided that Emma can have one bite of chicken nuggets after she eats one bite of the food provided by her parents. After a few days, she can have one bite of chicken nuggets after she eats three bites of the food provided by her parents. Bites of the food provided by Emma’s parents will increase gradually as the bites of chicken nuggets Emma can eat will decrease until Emma is able to eat most of her food provided by her parents. The chicken nuggets are extrinsically motivating her to eat the food provided by her parents until she builds the intrinsic motivation to eat the food provided by her parents.

In this example, Emma most likely would not have agreed to eat bites of the food provided by her parents if she was unable to eat her chicken nuggets after. The chicken nuggets served as positive reinforcement for Emma eating the bites of her parents’ food. The use of positive reinforcement is vital in the process of ABA and implementing behavior change plans. It is the key component in successfully changing behavior.

Of course, it’s unrealistic to make sure Emma can have bites of chicken nuggets after every meal for the rest of her life. That is where the importance of fading positive reinforcement comes in. This is a slow procedure, however, and the duration depends on the individual and their level of success during the process.

ABA is very beneficial for anyone who wants or needs to change one of their behaviors in order to better their life. While it is a science, it can and should be adapted to fit the needs of the individual no matter their age, abilities or socioeconomic status. We all have something we want or need to change to better our lives and ABA can make that happen.

Natalie McKelly obtained her Educational Specialist degree in Behavior Analysis from Lindenwood University. Her experience and expertise in behavior analysis allows her to provide effective services to individuals of all abilities, backgrounds and ages. These include but are not limited to behaviors associated with autism and other developmental disabilities, forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, acquiring and sustaining career skills, and decreasing tantrum and aggressive behavior.

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