A Behaviour Analyst in Cornwall - Stephen Buckley reflects on his first year

Stephen Buckley, Behaviour Analyst

I came to Cornwall to work for Green Light PBS Ltd. in November 2017.  At the time I knew absolutely nowhere in Britain.  I was very excited to be going to work there!

I can still remember the call I got to let me know that Green Light was interested in interviewing me.  During that call, I heard a lot about how Green Light was incorporating ABA into its approach toward supporting individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.  It sounded very exciting and like a great opportunity.

At this time, I had just finished a year’s contract working for a company that were using a non-applied behaviour analysis orientated positive behaviour support (PBS) model in the North West of Ireland.  I was sad to be leaving the North West of Ireland as it’s a beautiful place and the company had offered to extend my contract an additional six months. But I really wanted to work in a residential care service that used ABA tools as part of its approach to PBS.  As far as I can gather, this isn’t really widely happening in Ireland at present and I was happy to try living somewhere else if I could just have the opportunity to practice ABA in a residential care setting.

I had also not finished gathering all my independent work experience hours qualifying me to sit the exam to become a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA).  As such, it was important that I receive supervision where I was going to work next or at least establish the possibility of receiving remote supervision.  

There were a couple of things that made me really excited about this job before I even went for the interview. The first was the scope of behavioural technology they were using.  First of all, I was told that Ioanna Konstantinidou, the BCBA on staff had conducted Functional Analysis and had been making a huge positive impact on the lives of those people she had been working with.  Secondly, many of the people working with the company had a learning history of complex and challenging behaviours.

I had always found that I had learned the most from trying to understand and experience challenging behaviours because their complexity encourages you to innovate and think outside the box.  As far as I am aware, and this is just my opinion, despite the positive developments in the residential care sector with respect to regulation and the application of the PBS model (in contrast to a previously completed unregulated sector and a traditional congregated setting with an institutional/paternal model of care) Ireland is still quite far behind when it comes to the application of  behavioural principles to improve the lives of others (not just those in care or those who are born on the autism spectrum). I do think this will get better over time as there are some fantastic BCBAs researching and working in Ireland now. Anyway, my previous experience in the care sector in Ireland had largely been disappointing when it came to the models of support used as, despite labels such as ‘person centred’, I found the focus to be on reducing challenging behaviour and aversiveness to risk as opposed to a risk aware environment that focuses on ways to teach people with ID new skills and encourage prosocial behaviour as gateway toward expanding their horizons.

Anyway, when I came to Cornwall, I was floored by how beautiful the county was. This was even before I completed interview or started the job!  

Porthcurno, Cornwall

Well I completed the interview and they offered me the job. Ever since I started working for Green Light and even before I started the job, I have been impressed hugely by one aspect in particular: their transparency and visibility.  They were so visible on social media platforms and keen to make the public as conscious of them as they possibly could.

Even before I started the job, I could already see that the company had really focused on evolving the residential care model into something that provided tangible benefits for the people it supported by concentrating on one simple tenet of the PBS model: Supporting people to be happy and to live fulfilling lives that gave them satisfaction and real quality of life.  This might seem like a ‘no brainer’ really and PBS considers challenging behaviour to be secondary cause for concern that shows that the person has needs that are not being fulfilled.

'Tranquil Cross', one of 14 homes now operated by Green Light in Cornwall
The main concern of PBS is to look at ways to support people and facilitate them to arrange their lives so that they will realise their potential and experience purpose to the highest degree possible. I believe the term now often used to describe this values-based approach to care and disability is ‘ableism’.

Since I started working with Green Light, I have seen a wonderful determination to implement ableism in a way that’s individual and unique for each person that they support. The teams are fantastic, the managers are wonderful and the support we all receive is of a very high standard.  

My experience is that there is a fantastic work ethic, a strong team spirit and hugely supportive work environment underpinned by incredibly strong values of dedication, positivity, enthusiasm, transparency, respect, dignity and professionalism.

While it has been wonderful to experience continuous efforts to successfully realise these values on a daily basis in the homes of Green Light, the most important part of my professional development as part of my goal of achieving certification as a behaviour analyst has been to go through the entire process of referral, functional assessment and implementation of ABA-based technologies and strategies.

It’s been a fantastic experience for me overall in terms of the experiences I’ve accumulated and the improvements I’ve seen.  If I could sum up in one sentence what I was hoping to experience it would be this: To see ABA in action.

Stephen delivering training session in Newquay

I had heard before and during my studies how this systematic science of behaviour could really help improve the lives of people by concentrating on reinforcing prosocial behaviours, identifying goals, collecting data, conducting functional assessments such as Functional Assessment Interviews, Questions About Behavioural Function and direct observation using the four term contingency of Setting Event, Antecedent, Behaviour & Consequence.  

And of course, it's been amazing to actually witness contingencies in action and see that behavioural technology works. It really works if function is correctly diagnosed and a suitable intervention is put in place to meet the needs of the person that they are trying to express through challenging behaviour. Probably the most exciting and interesting challenge is to implement ABA in a residential setting where there are a lot of environmental factors that you simply can’t control.  So you really gain some important skills including the ability to adapt and innovate.

Stephen & Ioanna lead Green Light's implementation of PBS
underpinned by ABA
Probably one of the most important skills is learning to negotiate and achieve stakeholder buy in – which is getting the support of those people who know the person you are supporting best and who will be the ones working with that person on a daily basis.  

It’s critical to get their support as they will be the ones collecting the data for you, implementing the strategies of the PBS plan and feeding back their analysis of the four term contingencies of any challenging or prosocial behaviour. It's not difficult to get their support if you can just show them that ABA strategies work.  

Sometimes it's not clear what part of your PBS plan worked or why someone has gotten better and why they’re happier.  It can be difficult to do that in an environment where you can’t control all the environmental factors and it can be hard to identify the factor(s) that actually influenced the change in the direction you wanted. It doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that life gets better for the person being supported and it’s inspiring and invigorating to see improvements for the better as a result of ABA-based interventions as part of an overall PBS approach.

Green Light's senior management team where Behaviour Analysts play a key strategic leadership role 
I think the other important feature of my work as a behaviour analyst with Green Light has been the variety of experiences I’ve been privileged to be involved in from Multi Disciplinary Team meetings, delivering training, team meetings, manager’s meetings, workshops, leading Needs Assessments, Admission Assessments, Transition Planning Meetings and their accompanying transition into a care home process.
Behaviour Analysts Ioanna Konstantinidou, Stephen Buckley
& Managing Director, Jo Pyrah

I’ve been involved in the development of new packages right from the very beginning and continue to be involved in their maintenance and improvement.  It would be wonderful to explore research possibilities but I’ll have to wait until I’ve passed my certification exam before I can start considering this further.

I'd also like to emphasize just how incredibly supportive Green Light have been in improving my professional abilities as a behaviour analyst and my attempts to achieve certification.  The supervision I have received has been exemplary. I have been supported to attend several ABA forums hosted by the United Kingdom Society for Behaviour Analysis (UKSBA) as well as a number of conferences.  This has given me some fantastic networking opportunities as well as being educational.

And finally, (yes – finally!) Cornwall is simply a wonderful place to live in. There are so many amazing things happening here – you can learn to surf, body board, paddle board and coasteer. Whether you’re into sport, history, environmentalism, personal fitness, music, nature, cities, clubbing, socialising it doesn’t matter.
Surfers at Sennen, Cornwall

You’ll struggle to find things NOT to do! Cornwall seems to be a place that attracts liberal minded, curious and inventive people who want to share their knowledge so you’ll have a lot to experience if you do come here to work.  

Regular connections to and from Newquay Airport 2019
The only real problem is that you might find it difficult to leave. Some people might point out that its rather remote (look on a map – its quite an extensive peninsula) but I can be in Newquay Airport in 20 minutes and be in London or Dublin or Cork in an hour so I’ve never experienced it as remote.  

Green Light's offices in Newquay
Overall, I’ve found my work with Green Light so far to be invigorating, rewarding and inspiring. I’ve had fantastic opportunities to improve my skills as a behaviour analyst, trainer, presenter, public speaker, note taker, PBS practitioner and its expanded my understanding of the Autism spectrum, the complex and interesting behaviours that can accompany the condition as a means of communication and the admirable resilience of individuals experiencing the world through neurological sensory filter of autism.

Stephen Buckley
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St. Ives, Cornwall


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