ACT Therapy for Kids with Brian Middleton

Brian Middleton is a former special education teacher and a current practicing BCBA. He is a father and also has an autism diagnosis as well as ADHD. Brian works with Mindful Behavior LLC, Neurodiversity-Affirming Behavior Analysis, through an Acceptance & Commitment Training Framework.

What is ACT?

ACT is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or Training). Brian describes ACT as a language model, how we use our language to relate to our experiences and everything that we experience internally. Through this process, we flexibly engage with our environment, allowing space to feel emotions and understand them.

ACT for Nonverbal Kids with Autism

Can you use ACT with nonverbal children? Brian says yes! If you can tact or label your experience and have motivating operations, then you have everything you need to start. And if you can’t do those yet, then that’s where behavior analysis comes in. Brian describes how he uses his infant daughter and himself at the same time by acknowledging and confirming her emotions, whether they are joyous or distressing. i.e., “I see you’re frustrated. It’s okay to be frustrated; this is hard,” etc. While she may not developmentally understand now, Brian is using ACT on himself in this situation to shape up and continue this idea of acknowledging and allowing space for his child. While her own skills develop, ACT will be embedded in her processes.

Shaping Behavior with ACT

Holding space and allowing emotions and behaviors, does not mean anything goes. Part of ACT is creating and maintaining firm boundaries. While a child is allowed to feel angry, there is an expectation of what that anger should look like (no dangerous or injurious behaviors). Brian uses the example of a child who was angry about the end of a party, a developmentally appropriate response to this situation. However, because his feelings were honored and he had been taught to acknowledge and process them with ACT, he was able to feel angry and move past it. Another important factor in ACT is values. Everyone has values, and in ACT, these are used as reinforcements to engage learners.

You can find Mindful Behavior LLC at their website, as well as find Brian on social media as the Bearded Behaviorist.

ACT Therapy for Kids with Brian Middleton

Brian Middleton on Turn Autism Around Podcast

Brian s a human. Brian is a human who experiences the autistic & ADHD neurotypes. He is also a former special education teacher, a practicing behavior analyst, and a fierce advocate for disability rights. He is a husband and father, a scientist, an explorer, and a lover of humanity.


  • What is ACT?
  • How can you use ACT with non verbal, non vocal learners?
  • How can parents use ACT for their kids and themselves?
  • How can ACT shape desired behaviors and prevent problem behaviors?
  • How ACT embraces feelings and emotions.


Brian Middleton – Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript

Transcript for Podcast Episode: 236

ACT Therapy for Kids with Brian Middleton

Hosted by: Mary Barbera

Guest: Brian Middleton

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number 236. Today I have a guest, Brian Middleton, who is both a behavioral analyst and an adult autistic person. He also has ADHD. Brian, is a former special education teacher and he's a practicing behavior analyst. He is also a husband, a father of a four month old baby. And he and I discussed a bunch of things today. But mostly we're going to talk about ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy for kids, even very young kids without language or speech. It's an interesting conversation. Hope you love it. Let's get to Brian Middleton.

Intro: Welcome to the Turn Autism Around podcast for both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, Autism mom, Behavior analyst and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.

Mary: Oh, hey, Brian. It's so nice to meet you and to have you on the show. So thanks for joining us today.

Brian: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Mary: Yeah. So I saw you doing an Instagram live a couple of weeks ago and I was intrigued. I watched just for a few minutes and I thought. I really liked your topic, which is going to be ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy for kids and even for babies and for kids who aren't speaking, which is, I think, a really important topic. But I also know there's a lot of other things that we're probably going to talk about. But before we get there, let's have myself and our listeners learn about you. So can you tell us about your fall into the autism world?

Brian Middleton on the Turn Autism Around Podcast

Brian: Okay. Well, my fall into the autism world was when I was born, so I grew up autistic, but I did like I am autistic. It's a part of who I am. I also have ADHD and am dyslexic. But the interesting thing is, because of the way life circumstances rolled out, I was misdiagnosed with non-verbal learning disorder as a tween and was never able to receive medication for my ADHD because my mom was vehemently anti medication and so therefore all the warning signs were ignored. But in some respects it was possible for me to be able to get the things that I needed because I was homeschooled. And when I went away to school, I initially was going to do a pre-law degree. Actually, no, I was doing a pre-law degree. I took a practical LSAT and did really well with it. But then I substitute taught for a friend in a Sunday school class and loved it. I worked with an upper elementary and middle school age group, and I did it for I think it was like three or four weeks in a row and thought it was the funnest thing in the world. And I remembered my teachers because I was in a charter school. So homeschool charter school combo. And it was a little bit different from what charter school looks like today. Like teachers were hired and then we went to their houses or the building was rented and we would go and learn there. So my math teacher helped work on re-engineering the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. My chemistry teacher recently retired as the Sacramento Water Lab director. Because I grew up in the California area, they had an art teacher who was a professional artist, and an English teacher who was a professional writer. And it was really kind of cool because they had these really neat teachers and I was able to explore and dive into and do all sorts of things. And then I was also able to attend the local community college for high school credits. And so I thought about all these teachers that I really loved and how much I love them. And I was like, Maybe I want to be a teacher. So I changed my degree to being a social science composite, which allowed me to teach six subjects and the social sciences for high school and middle school. And then the counselor said, Well, you know, you just need to add one semester and you can have a dual major in special education. And the special ed teacher that I had, I was an early IEP receiver. She was cool. I really enjoyed having her and working with her. So I was like, Yeah, sure, why not? And that was the beginning of the beginning.

Mary: You were just getting an IEP when you were younger for your nonverbal learning disability, right?

Brian: And my dyslexia. And so I had those diagnosed and so like I got those supports. So when I went to school and got my teaching credential and then my first day of teaching, I started working in special ed because it was really hard to get history. Teacher jobs still are. I had a total of one year as a history social science teacher, and I've done seven plus years as a special ed teacher. But I love being a special ed teacher because I got to be lead teacher for all the things. So that was fun too. And I started working with all these autistic kids and going, This is my childhood. What the heck? Like this? Is this? Like there are differences because of the environment, but this is my childhood. And so I eventually, with the help of a friend, went through the process and got my diagnosis and was officially diagnosed. And I became a behavior analyst because while I was going through this process of learning about myself and my kids were having tons of success, like people were telling me I worked magic and I'm like the magic. I work because I treat them like a person. So it's not really that big, that magical.

Mary: Did you have BCBAs coming in to help with their program?

Brian: We didn't have any BCBAs in the area.

Mary: You were just doing the right things and being positive and using reinforcement and things that made sense.

Brian: Yeah, And my grounding in ABA was very limited with my special ed program. And there were definitely some flaws with it looking back. But I still was hitting our points where we were. We're not able to make progress. And so when I discovered behavior analysis and I pursued becoming a BCBA I got most of my supervision time through my unrestricted hours. For those who know what those are for supervision in the classroom. And I was writing behavior plans and the classroom was night and day different. I was a behavior special ed teacher for five years. Mild. Moderate. My last three years, we had 100% inclusion. We had support. We had all sorts of really cool things that we did where there were accommodations for sure, but we had 100% inclusion. And I believe it's because of a combination of being aware of the needs of the individual and addressing their needs and also utilizing behavior analytic approaches to things. And interestingly, in my introduction to ACT acceptance, commitment therapy, or training for those who are not familiar with the acronym and no, we don't ACT because no one wants to take a test. But with ACT, I was introduced to that very early on in my behavior analytic training. And so I missed understanding it a lot. And I actually spent a lot of time contemplating and considering and applying it towards myself. But I was hitting on more and more things that were consistent with what ACT is and how ACT should be applied, as I was working with my students.

What is ACT?

Mary: Yes. So I know I did a whole episode with Jonathan Tarbox, who is a friend of yours, but he's also one of the leaders in the field. So we can link his show in the show notes here. This podcast will be to 236. So Mary Barbara dot com for us 236 to look at all the show notes to watch the video recording. But I think Jonathan's show talked more about using acts for adults or for highly verbal kids and especially parents of newly diagnosed kids. And so his episodes are a little bit different and it was a couple of years ago. So I think our listeners would really like and I know I would like to learn again from you what is acceptance and commitment therapy or teaching? Is it teaching?

Brian: Training or therapy? So the T can stand for therapy or training.

Mary: The T on the end can be therapy or training. So why don't you tell us what it is?

Brian: Well, first off, I'll tell you what. It's not okay. It's not a magic bullet. Okay? It's not a cure all. It is not an explanation for every tiny little thing that's happening, and it's not cognitive behavioral therapy. Now there are cognitive behavioral therapists who utilize act, and there are also dialectic behavioral therapists, DBT, therapists who utilize act, and in both cases they can utilize it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they understand its origins or what it's about. Acceptance. Commitment therapy is an application of something called relational frame theory or RFT, which is a behavior analytic theory about language in. And how language impacts our environment. And acceptance commitment therapy, which the training bit has been developed recently because of the confusion between therapy versus training. And it's not necessarily a formal delineation. However, I like to delineate it because. Act, as done by a behavior analyst, is training. You're training yourself. You're training others around you on how to engage with stimuli in your environment, and your emotions are stimuli. When you feel something that is a part of the environment, just as surely as me flipping the light switch on. Just as surely as somebody delivering a piece of candy to you or a piece of praise when you do something that they consider good. It's all stimuli. It's all a part of it. And so what ACT is about is it's a language model. It's how we use our language to relate to our experiences and everything that we experience internally. And behavior analysis, we call those private events. So thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, sensations. They're private events because only you can truly experience them. We can see external indicators like pupil dilation, balled fists, heavy breathing, tensed muscles, laughing, smiling, giggling, like all all the different things could indicate an internal state. But only one person can experience that. Even if we use EEGs, EKGs and MRIs, we can only see so much because only the individual can experience. And that's why we call it a private event. And so when you boil ACT down to its very, very basics, it's a self-management strategy or model. It's how do you use your language to help manage your own experiences as you relate to them? And how do you use your language to help other people to manage their experiences? And so there's a thing that goes around and behavior analysis where that and there's some pretty well-known people who've said this. You can only use acts if you are vocal, verbal or if you have language. And that's not true. That's not true because especially the vocal verbal bit, because when it comes to emotional regulation, when it comes to awareness of your internal experiences, there's really only two things that we need to be able to build on those skills. And one of those is something called a motivating operation, specifically a conditioned motivating operation. And here's what that means. And you have something that happens in the environment that creates anticipation. It doesn't necessarily have to be a positive anticipation, although it can be okay. But is there something in the environment that can create anticipation or can create a connection? A good example of a conditioned motivating operations surrogate, which dont you don't have to remember that is just maybe for the behavior analysts in the crowd is if you see.

Mary: Even for the behavior analysts in the crowd. All right.

Brian: That's true. But if you can see a picture of a hamburger and think to yourself, let's say it's a McDonald's ad and you start salivating. Right. And then you think to yourself, I should make hamburgers tonight for dinner. That's a conditioned motivating operation. Right. And it may not be as complex for a kid because kids are learning. They're still building their language. Which, by the way, that's an official term language thing is now considered an official scientific term because it's utilized in relational frame theory. So there you go. But like, if you want, can you have that? And then to. And the individual, the learner, the child, the person, whatever, and they label their experiences and behavior speak that's called tacting. If you can tACT or label your experience and you can have motivating operations, then you have everything you need to start. And if you can't do those yet, then that's where behavior analysis comes in, because this is behavior analysis. All of this is like tACT training. Your verbal behavior approach book actually goes into that. That's something that we can do. Language acquisition, it's important. And the really important thing about this is that the entire objective of act, the entire objective of behavior analysis should be but isn't necessarily always, but should be learning how to flexibly engage with our environment. And so when you look at the ACT of Flex, which is this like hexagon thing with all these different concepts on it, in the middle of it, there's this little phrase psychological flexibility. For me, I don't like that term because that's confusing. And so like, the term that I'm going to use is what that term means. But the term that I use is flexible engagement. And so I'm working on a book and a procedure, and I'm going to be teaching it to a bunch of parents in a couple of weeks who are like a university in Alaska's is sponsoring the event. And then we're going to be putting it up on the website. But it's basically all of this. It's teaching parents how to use languaging strategies. And I'm actually the president of the Open Educational Resources Special Interest Group for ABAI. And we're all about making resources open, accessible, free when possible, inexpensive when not possible. But the entire objective of mindful behavior, which I'm an owner in and the Open Education special interest group, is we're trying to make this stuff accessible to you parents. Because at the end of the day, you know, you can have people all day long shooting at you. But if we should all over the place, the world stinks. Right. And what should is not what is. And I think that's a really important thing to hold for ourselves. This is ACT as it applied to us. Right. You can only know what you know. My first the first ACT question that was asked to me, that wasn't actually an ACT question, but it was because the person who asked it to me didn't realize they were hitting on a nail on the head. And that question was, if I could go back in time knowing what I knew then what I still do the same thing I did knowing what I knew then. Because I can't know. I can't know what I know now. Right. Right. I can't. I can't magically go back with all that information. It's not possible. So can I look at myself with a little compassion? Can I see myself with them in context? And can I see not only myself in context, but other people in context? And that actually is an ACT of principle.

Mary: So let me. Yeah. Let me interrupt you for a second, because when we started actually before we hit record, you told me you're married and your wife has ADHD and you have a baby who's four months old. And you said, like to me, that you know, she's meeting her developmental milestones so far, but you're fully anticipating her being, you know, neurodiverse in some way.

Brian: Neurodivergent.

Mary: Neurodivergent.

Brian: And that's okay.

Mary: Like we could do a whole show on, on the terms that we use and all that. Yeah, but a lot of the kids, a lot of the parents who are listening and the professionals that are listening work with kids who are functioning at an infant level of language and they can't tACT the things in their environment. They can't label their emotions, they can't label their pain. So I want to talk about using ACT and just some of the key things that, you know, 3 to 5 things that you are already doing with your baby that you're going to be doing with your child before she becomes vocal. After she becomes vocal, but not conversational. And like, I think that would be really helpful is giving us specific things we can do to practice, ACT with our kids and our clients.

ACT with Kids

Brian: So first off, it's really neat that I'm working on behavior, brain creating, that's what I'm calling my approach for act, behavior brain, creating skills and tools and things for parents. And the fun part is I don't have to create it from scratch because there's actually a system out there that effectively I'm able to hitch my train to or train car to, if you will, because it's already utilizing those very important foundational blocks. And that is something called Project ImpACT ImPACT. It's spelled Capital I, lowercase m, capital P, capital A, capital C, Capital T, So Project ImPACT, and it's actually a collaboration between behavior analysts and speech language pathologists. And it's all about language skills. And Project ImPACT has a little triangle that you focus on and you use to help guide you where you're going. And at the bottom of the triangle is focusing on your child. That's one part of the triangle, and the other side is adjusting your communication. So that's the foundation of project impact. And then the middle portion of the triangle is creating opportunities. And then the top of the triangle is teaching new skills. And then along the side of the triangle is this lovely little arrow that is labeled to shape the interaction. And the arrow actually goes from top to bottom. And the fun thing about this visual is that the visual literally tells you where you need to spend the most of your time, which is focusing on your child and adjusting your communication. Those are the two core areas you want to focus on. And then when you create opportunities, you create opportunities flexibly, right? That's where the scape shaping interactions are. And you teach new skills when they're in a receptive place. And it's really vital when you're working on shaping these skills, these languages and skills to be flexible. And in fact, I argue that the majority of what you're going to be doing, even when your kid gets to the point where they have more advanced language because some kids will develop to that point, some will not. We don't know why. What we do know is that we need to be flexible and meet them where they're at. But even with the kids who become more vocal, verbal, right. We still need to use ACT on ourselves. In fact, I would argue that the majority of the acts that I use with my daughter. Is on me. Now I'm also shaping the interaction and I'm teaching her as I go. Now she's four months. So her language skills developmentally, she's starting to look where when I call her her name periodically, she's curious, she's engaging, she's babbling, she's burbling, she's doing all the things that she should be doing, typically compared to a normative reference, and she might even be a little bit ahead. Which actually is kind of typical for Neurodivergent children. Not always the case, but it's kind of typical. So there's there's that. But what I'm doing is when she's experiencing distress instead of me, can you just stop? Right. What I'm doing instead, it sounds like. Oh, I know, I know. This is hard. I'm here with you. Oh, yeah. It looks like you're feeling frustrated. Ooh. So I'm labeling. I'm using my language to label her experience, and I am maintaining a calm tone. Sometimes I also have some distress in my voice, like. oh, that stinks. Oh. Like, the other day. Well, actually, this morning she got a shot. Two shots specifically, and she was upset. And what did I do? I picked her up. I soothe her, is like, Oh, yeah. Oh, that was hard. Ah, thank you for being here. Yeah, that's okay. It's okay to feel frustrated. It's okay to be hurt. Right. And I'm using my language to tell her. Now, does she understand the words I'm saying? Probably not. Not at this developmental stage, but I understand the words that I'm saying. And what I'm doing is I'm establishing a habit, a pattern of making space for her experiences. Because here's the most important thing that's really important as to why ACT is actually behavior analytic and not cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you that when you have an unhelpful thought or emotion, you have to challenge it. Behavior analysis says there's no such thing as an unhelpful thought or emotion, that everything, all the emotions, all the thoughts, all the feelings that we experience, they're all a part of the environment and they're elicited by the environment and they're there for a reason. Our philosophy, our nature, our ontogeny, our nurture and our culture, the communities that we live in shape, our behavior. And so if I have a thought that's distressing, if I have a feeling that's distressing, it's not maladaptive. It is. I don't have to challenge it. I should not need to challenge it. What I should do is accept that it's something I'm experiencing. But it doesn't stop there. Because here's what I do with my learners. And to start with, with a little child, we guide. But for children, as they get older, we step back more and more and we give them more space to be able to go through this process. And so I've done this with multiple children, including children who are seven, eight, nine, ten, 11 years old. And I've even done it with some five year olds and they've done it independently as well. So what I do is I teach them skills on how to figure out and problem solving in their environment. And I'll give you a fantastic example of this with a kid that graduated a year ago this year from Services. It was his last day and we had a little party for him where he was a part of the social skills group. He was graduating. He was good to go and we were having fun. We had a bubble machine, pizza. Parents were able to come make it. All their friends were excited for him. We're talking about all the things he wanted to do over the summer. And then the person who is leading the group is an RBT. He said, okay, it's time for us to be done. We need to clean up. And my little guy. Seven or eight years old goes, I don't want to be done. That's perfectly okay. That's exactly what a seven and eight year old should say and do right and. The RBT looks at him and says, I understand, but it's time to clean up. He goes and he stomps back to his seat and he drops down. And I'm just sitting here watching. And what he does is he takes a big, deep breath. He reaches out to the table and he rubs it a little bit. He takes another big deep breath. He hunches his shoulders, kind of straightens himself up a little bit. And he gets back a part of the group. And then at the end of everything. He walks up to the RBT and says, Mr. Ben, I'm sorry. ACT isn't about making it so we don't feel. ACT is about making it so that when we feel. We're allowed to feel. And we're also allowed, we allow ourselves. We're allowed by others. to be able to work through it.

Mary: Mm hmm.

Brian: And figure out things and process. Because what if there was a situation where. The teacher was being unfair. Wouldn't we want him to be able to self advocate? What if there was a situation where instead of it being. Something innocuous, like a group activity where it's somebody who's trying to take advantage of the child. When we want him to be able to vocally protest and engage in aggression. If a kid's about to get kidnaped or harmed in some way, I want that kid to be exactly the opposite of compliant.

Mary: Right.

Brian: And that's what flexible engagement is about. It's about giving them the skill set. And a part of it is understanding that there's no such thing as a maladaptive. Behavior. There's no such thing as in a maladaptive emotion. Now, are there complexities? Yes, because I'm talking about these things. And even as I'm talking about these things, I'm going, this isn't easy. Like I've worked with some really hard cases, some really hard situations. In fact, one of the first people that I use ACT with well is an adult. With intellectual disability, non vocal and autistic. Two weeks before I came on to his case, he broke the radial on somebody's skull, which is the bone that's right next to the eye. For those who don't know where that is. That's a very bad place for a bone to be broken. We're talking intense aggression, intense self-injury, public defecation, urination, elopement, property destruction, the whole nine yards. And he was the first one to teach me how to use ACT for everyone. Because as soon as I identified what mattered to him, what his values were.

Mary: And his motivation, reinforcement, you know. And when you get...for every child, we need to really start with reinforcement caring. Even with your baby daughter, you know, I'm going to change your diaper. Okay. Oh, you look like you have a belly ache, you know, because she's straining to poop or whatever, being on it, like, being like, maybe I need to keep track of her bowel movements or. Or, like, the whole sleep thing, you know, instead of, like, I am not a fan, and I'm sure you're not a fan of Cry It Out. You know, they're crying or young kids are crying. You know, they probably need something and there's probably some pain or distress or stress or the demands are too high, reinforcements too low. And it's our job as the parent or professionals to change that around whether we're going to call something ACT or ABA. I just believe that if we were a lot more positive, told kids and people what we were doing, being gentle, being positive, it just goes a long way.

Brian: Yeah. And well, and a part of so here's a perspective for you. Optimism and pessimism are both based on the same concept. We ignore something about the environment.

Mary: Hmm.

ACT: Values and Reinforcement

Brian: Because when you're optimistic, you're ignoring all the negatives. And when you're pessimistic, you're ignoring all the positives. We want realists. Okay. So being positive. Yes. But also moving towards something. Looking to find something. And that's really important when it comes to ACT. Because the ACT concepts accept diffusion. That's the ability to learn how to take a step back from the experience that you're having as a parent. If you haven't mastered that yet, you're definitely going to need to write. I have been working on it a lot. Being present that's being aware and engaged with what's happening right now. What is my attention focused on, self as context that's giving myself and others permission to be human. I want to say that again. It's giving myself and others permission to be human. Acceptance that's learning how to be non-judgmental, be aware of a situation. Committed action that's moving towards values, informed goals, what am I doing? And then, of course, values are what's important to me. What is the purpose and direction I have? And that's hard for kids when it comes to values. That's actually where people get the most stuck is values for kids because while they're still learning their values. But here's the thing: there are universal values, safety, having fun, being connected, being included. Having rest. Having a choice. These are all values. And you can start with universal values and follow the kids' lead. But I'll tell you right now. What are some other ways that you can figure out values? Look at what they're interested in. I use video games to figure out values for kids. Vocal. Non-vocalism doesn't matter because of video games. Tell us a little bit about them. Kids who love Minecraft, depending on the type of way that they play Minecraft, they maybe love creativity or maybe they love challenges. What about kids?

Mary: A podcast last week, 235 All about autism, toys and them. Our main population is kids that don't talk and or that aren't conversational and look at what they do when there's, you know, nothing going on. Like, are they rocking? Are they stimming with their hands in front of their face? You know, looking for clues. What toys do they pick up? How do they play with those toys? You know, kind of just bringing your example back to younger people.

Brian: And I'm like, well, and I have actually a perfect example of how I found values with the kid who was started out completely non vocal. And when I left the company because I had to move on for professional reasons, you know, opportunities. When I left the company, he was at stage three of project ImPACT where he started using multi center sorry, multi word communication. And what I did with him, his play is I looked at what type of player he was doing and there are two types of play that were real dead giveaways to me. The first type of play was exploratory creative play, and that was where he was flipping water and marbles and he was watching the light reflect off of them. And the other type of play that he did was the swinging, spinning type of play, where it was about getting that physical movement going. And I was able to figure out a couple of the core values for him which value One was curiosity. You like to explore. Okay, so I used that and it took a lot of shaping, but I used that. And then the other one was movement. Movement as a value. He loved everything to do with moving. So guess what we didn't do? We didn't do DTT at a table all day. We did a lot of movement. Now we did DTT. I'm not saying DTT is bad. Like anybody who tells you that something is bad just because we don't.

Mary: We don't really teach that and most don't know what DTT is because we use a, you know, the term autism around approach, which is, yeah, mixed, you know, verbal behavior and early learner materials and all all and basically combining natural environment teaching with intensive teaching. And so, you know, even when you're talking about Project ImpACT and I'm sure it's great, it's, you know, behavioral analysts and.

Brian: There's more than one right way of doing it. I'm not saying that project is ImPACT.

Mary: You know, like when I hear Project ImpACT and it's combined or whatever, I'm thinking I probably have the basics of what Project ImPACT is in my turn, Autism book and in my online course, you know. And we're not here to say, you know, you need to use this approach basically whatever approach you're using. Mm hmm. I Need to be positive. We need to be gentle. We need to not cry it out. I'm a big proponent of table time, but it's not the kind of table time that you and I have seen in the past. It's not ever forcing a child. We want to have the reinforcers at the table. We want to. You know, so I think acts for kids is more like if the children don't have language, we need to provide all that positivity. Yeah. Talking about emotions, you know, I'm a registered nurse to people all the time. Like, how do you get kids to tell you they're in pain? Well, there's labeling their pain, but there's also some body part work, potato head, magna doodle that we can teach kids body parts because I don't care how old you are or how vocal you are, if you can't touch or label body parts, it's going to be really hard for you to indicate when you're in pain. So those kinds of things I know you mentioned to me before, we hit the record of the book, which is very well known. Talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids Will Talk is a very layman book that you can extrapolate and put the procedures in place to use, ACT with kids. So I'm just wondering if, you know, like steps of that or what you mean by that statement.

Brian: So with the first so I dropped a couple of links so that way you could drop them in the show notes. And I shortened the URL so it's easier to use. The first one I actually selected was Talk So Little Kids Will Listen actually focuses on younger children and so it actually helps a lot more with the less vocal non vocal speakers, the non speakers but like they all of it applies and the reason why is because what talk so kids will listen is about is is about using language ing to model how to process through big emotions. So it's actually a strategy for parents to help them through the process. And the child goes with you and they actually have a full series of books, including troubleshooting and those sorts of things. And please keep in mind when I talk about any of these things, and I'm glad you put that disclaimer in, Mary, If it works, use it. If it doesn't work, do not think that you have to do it a certain way because we're talking about people here and everybody's a little bit different. There's definitely some consistent patterns that we follow, right? And there's research that shows that different groups will develop in different ways and will have different things. But if you're learning any system, especially if it has to do with ACT and you think to yourself, Well, I have to, that's time to pause, take a step back and be like, it's not have to. Does it work? Because have too is too strong of a word. The entire idea is that we're holding things loosely and we're finding what works and what works matters. Because the reason why the behaviors are the way they are is because they work. Does that mean that they're the most convenient behavior? No. Does that mean that they're the most efficient behavior? No. Does that mean that we're happy hunky dory all the time? No, because it works. Just means it accomplishes something. It serves a function. And when it comes to verbal behavior, just like with any other behavior, functions of behavior apply. So if I'm feeling. Anxious. The function of anxiety. It can differ, but generally the function differs by individual and circumstance. But generally the function of anxiety is to distance its escape and avoidance. Now, let's say that the child has a situation where they feel anxious, they ACT anxious, and then the parent swoops in to help them. Well, then we have escape and attention. Right. And possibly. Or it might just be escaping. Right. But it's escape and attention only.

Mary: Combined, I think.

Brian: Yeah. Typically.

Mary: You know, and most of our audience are parents. So they don't know, we don't, we don't get too deep into it, but it really doesn't matter because we want to spend 95% of our time preventing problems you're getting from behavior. It might be, you know, 75% escape and 25% attention. But you know what? It doesn't really matter because we're going to go back to being the Monday morning quarterback and try to prevent it next time.

ACT and Preventing Behaviors

Brian: Well, and then this actually leads into a very important thing because in ACT just like in behavior analysis, some of your parents may be familiar with this. Some of you won't. I'll explain it. We use the dead man test. The dead man test is if a dead man can do it. It does not count as behavior. Well, the dead man test also applies to values because we're not just talking about the values of the child. We're also talking about your values. And the dead man test is when it comes to values, Is it something a dead man can do? I don't want to feel anxious. That's a dead man's value. That's an antivalue. Are you right? I don't want there to be behavior problems. Okay. Or dead. Then we're not going to have behavior problems. Right. So a very important part of this process is, yes, we can have a differential. That's where we have something we don't want. But we also have to have something we do want as something we're moving towards. So if you're spending all of your time preventing behaviors, where are the skills that you're shaping? And it's so hard. Please do not hear me accusing. Sure. It's so hard because when you're in the thick of it and you're stuck and you feel like you're up to your eyeballs in that quicksand and you can't go any further, like that is so hard to do. So give yourself that, that humanity, that grace, that kindness for yourself and. What are you moving towards? Because like with the quicksand example, the cowboy who gets stuck in the quicksand, you know, from those, you know, early cowboy movies, the one who is moving and wiggling and trying to get out. They're the ones that sink deeper and deeper. This isn't actually how quicksand works, by the way, but it's a fun metaphor. But the cowboy who spreads himself out and moves towards something. And get some more surface area. That's the one who escapes. That's the one who gets out and what, where and when you're stuck in the quicksand, when you're in survival mode, which, by the way, another book I recommend is The Whole Brain Child. There's a lot of really good things about it. There's some things I don't like about it. That's the reason I'm writing Behavior Brain. But the whole brain child is a fantastic resource. In the meantime, while I'm getting my book together and it's a fantastic resource in general anyways, because there's some really good research and there's just some of the research relating to the right brain, the left brain has since been disproven. So there you go. But when you're in survival mode, you have to give yourself that space and you have to be willing to give yourself that kindness. When I talk about ACT, I don't just talk about ACT for children. I will talk about ACT for everyone. I think the video that you were watching, the livestream I did initially started out as me talking about.. Actually no that was live streamed the day before, but I talked about a situation where I screwed up. Where I was the jerk. I think I titled that ACT is for Aholes and I was the ahole, right?

Mary: And I think that was the one I was watching. Yeah.

Brian: Okay. Well, yeah. Yeah. So, like, how do you tell if that was the whole point? Yeah. But also it was also what actually happened because I screwed up. Now, the other person screwed up, too. But I screwed up and I owned my mistakes. And I utilize acts to self-regulate and self-manage. And ACT isn't about being perfect or having a perfect example through all those things. Just like the example. The young man I told you about who graduated, he was allowed to feel he was taught previously he wasn't allowed to feel the people in his environment learned how to allow him to feel and to give him that space. And a big portion of what I did to help that young man was teaching his parents. And then his parents started teaching the teachers how to allow for that space. And lo and behold, it wasn't a matter of, okay, we're permissive. That's exactly the opposite, because a big part of ACT is also holding and maintaining boundaries. Because you do have to have your boundaries. Your rights are just as important as their rights. You can't let somebody stomp all over you and. We taught parents and teachers and young men how to manage their emotions. But we allowed him to be a young man learning and growing. And as he learns and grows because I'm still in contact, the parents still check in with me. We still communicate back and forth. Like, there are definitely going to be hiccups, but there's also maturing that comes into play because this is the reason why ACT is behavior analytic. The consequences of him using these skills are that he's increasing in his skills. By using these skills, the use of the skills are acting as reinforcement. Building more flexibility. And that's why, instead of psychological flexibility, I use flexible engagement, because flexible engagement is the goal. The goal is for all of us to be able to encounter the storms of life. And instead of being swamped and sinking to the bottom of the sea. We're able to drop anchor, ride it out, or make it to a safe harbor.

Mary: Yeah, Love it. Yeah. When you are talking about boundaries and being not this isn't being permissive. It reminds me of an episode I did with Rachel and her son Everett, who at the time was three years old. And he came to my house and he was throwing things and hitting her, which, you know, people were like, Oh, well, it's three. And, you know, but he's typically developing, which has nothing to do with anything. He had a speech delay, but I knew it was becoming unsafe and gave her some techniques. We have it in the podcast. We can link it in the show notes. But we were able to, within two days, get his throwing and hitting to zero levels. And we kind of have that all outlined how she did it. But, you know, it's not just about like, Oh, I know you're frustrated, you know, because I know we're talking a lot of, you know, here about a lot of things, but that people might listen and go like, oh, well, we should just tell Rachel's son, Everett, Oh, I know you're frustrated. It's, you know, but don't please don't throw a no thank you and get into that gentle parenting, which then just escalates. There's no boundaries. There's no, you know, preventative kind of kid that can understand just basic rules. Like there's only throwing outside and blah, blah, blah. And we're going to remove gently from your hands things that you're throwing. We're going to have to calm down, take deep breaths, and then you can have your stuff back. And it's like that little thing turned everything around. So now Rachel can bring both her boys out by herself and her five year old niece to an amusement park. And they can all be safe and happy. And those are my three goals. As safe as possible, as independent as possible, and as happy as possible. Really has nothing to do with a diagnosis of autism or whether you have language or not. These are general behavioral procedures that can govern us all.

Brian: Yeah, exactly. And a part of that is, along with that whole thing I like to say ACT applies to humans because the question is like one of the core questions that lead to ACT developing because these ideas are not new. They've actually been around for as long as humanity has been around. It's just the differences. It's been researched and it's been tested. But the ideas of ACT are basically founded in the question of how it is that some people can go through complete and total hell like Auschwitz, right, and come out the other side being stronger? And then somebody else has the mental equivalent of stubbing their toe and they fall apart. What is the difference between those and when it comes to acting, ACT boils down to? It's super, super simple, like even simpler than what I was saying before, where it is a self-management strategy. Somebody asked me to describe ACT in one sentence, and I said, Suffering is optional. Pain is inevitable.

Mary: Reminds me of the book Man's Search for Meaning, which is one of my favorites.

Brian: It's a very good book.

Mary: Alright. Well, we are going to wrap up. I would love to get into your experience as an autistic person, BCBA a combo, all of that. But we do not have time for that. So maybe we'll have you on in the future. But I did have our Monde Armando Bano, who is a friend of yours, Similar history. He was a special ed teacher, BCBA and was diagnosed with this episode. We talk a lot about that, so we definitely will link that in the show notes. And so before I ask you your final question and I let you go, how can people find you? It's

Find the Bearded Behaviorist

Brian: Yep. So Mindful Behavior is the website. I'm a business partner in it. We do. It's focused predominantly on behavior analysts. However, we are starting to add resources for parents and the behavior brain presentation. The actual name for the presentation is Language Strategies to Help Kids Learn. So when that's available, we're going to have it in a section available for parents to access. But like mindful behavior is using a neurodiversity affirming approach to ABA through the ACT lens because it really does help with understanding perspectives. I know this is a term that's commonly thrown around on the Internet and people misunderstand its use all the time. And I'm sure somebody had it thrown at them even. But basically, ACT teaches you how to experience without gaslighting yourself, without telling yourself that your something's wrong with you. And that's entirely the objective here, is we want learners to be able to know how to experience. We want parents to know how to experience and understand how to engage with their experiences. The reality is that we, like I said before, could shoot all over the place. That doesn't change what we need to do, what is. And so for parents out there who have experienced aggression or verbal. Unkindness from the autism community. I'm sorry. That sucks. I have experienced some as well. And can we afford to give them their humanity as well? Because that behavior comes from somewhere. And can we allow ourselves to experience what we're experiencing and take a step back? The only way that we can change the way we're doing things is to be flexible. Flexible engagement applies to all of us. And I can't make somebody else engage flexibly, but I can show them the skills and I can create the environment that's necessary to make it easier for them to flexibly engage. And I can create an environment that's easier for me to flexibly engage, including owning when I make a mistake.

Mary: Yeah. And you also are @beardedbehaviorist on Instagram. Are you all anywhere else?

Brian: I'm on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Yes, I'm on Twitter. I also have a YouTube and TikTok. For all of them, it's @BeardedBehaviorist, except for I think it's Twitter and Tik Tok. I think it's @behaviorbearded because there is a character limit on the name, and the name actually does not come from me having a beard. It comes from the old saying, I like to collect old sayings to beard the lion in its den, which means to address a problem directly and head on. It actually comes from the story of King David. When King Saul was looking for someone who would fight Goliath, and the story that his servant told Saul was about how David's lamb was stolen by a lion and that David pursued the line as to its then grabbed it by the beard and smote it. And that's literally where the term bearding the lion's den comes from is because David addressed the problem directly.

Mary: So we're not going to be able to shave your beard because now, like when I was having you on, I'm like, What's the bearded guy's name? But the bearded guy's name is Brian Middleton and bearded behaviorist on social media. Anyway,

Brian: I don't want to shave my beard. I love having it.

Mary: Yeah, well, you're going to have to. You're stuck with it now. Okay, so final question. Part of my podcast goals is not just to help the kids, but also help the parents and professionals lead happier lives with less stress. So do you have any stress reduction tips or self-care tools that you use that help you be a little bit less stressed?

Brian: Yes. In fact, this is a perfect example of utilizing ACT. I did a post recently on it. It's looking at and utilizing gratitude to help us with reducing stress. So I'll give an example. Anxiety. And you feel grateful for feeling anxious. Because anxiety is there for a reason. It's there to protect you. So can you, when you're feeling anxious or angry or afraid or whatever it is that the emotion you're going through is, can you take a step back and see that feeling? You can visualize that. You can draw it out. You can write a poem. There's so many different ways you can do it. But the idea is diffusion is disentangling or taking a step back. Can you look at that feeling that you're having and can you give it some gratitude? Can you thank that feeling, that experience for being there? And then once you've thanked that feeling, that experience for being there, can you then say, alright. Now I can look at what's happening right now. And I can see that what's happening right now is I'm feeling this way because of the things that are happening around me right now. And therefore, because I can be grateful to my anxiety, that anxiety for being there, I can now accept that it's there. That doesn't mean I have to be anxious, I can feel anxious, and then I can identify what actions I need to take to move towards what matters to me. And I just.

Mary: Being more present then.

Brian: Exactly. And I literally just went through the act flex through that whole process because the biggest mistake that's if you see ACT out there and you see people talking about it or maybe you've encountered it before, the biggest mistake that people make with ACT is thinking it's something you stop and do. You can stop and do it. It's definitely fantastic for practicing, but ACT is about action. It's about doing it at the moment. It's about building those skills because just like throwing a ball, just like whipping some eggs, just like brushing your teeth, it's muscle memory, but it's not actually muscle memory, it's neural memory. It's your neurons and it's firing of your neurons. And when it comes to emotional regulation skills, when it comes to love, you're going to make mistakes, just like when you first throw a basketball or a baseball, you're going to flub it a little bit. Or the first time you start whipping eggs, you maybe don't do the whipping motion quite right or you brush your teeth a little bit wrong. Right? But it's about building and building and building and giving yourself that space, that ability to be human. And as you build on that, you're also doing the same thing for others. You're giving them that space you're giving. And that's really the best way, in my opinion, to de-stress because instead of trying to escape your experience. And trying instead of trying to avoid it, you are accepting it. But a part of accepting is allowing yourself that space. So it's not an actual escape. It's integrating it into you.

Mary: Yup being grateful. All right. Well, thank you so much, Brian. It was nice getting to know you and hopefully the listeners have enjoyed a lot of this. We will have a full show notes section And thanks again.

Brian: Thank you.

Mary: If you're a parent or professional and have listened to this whole podcast episode and perhaps many of the podcast episodes, I am here to tell you that your next best step is to most likely join our online course and community. We have a course now for toddlers and preschoolers. We also have a course to help older school aged children who are still struggling with talking tantrums, picky eating, sleeping, potty training and so much more. The courses have very similar modules, very similar themes, but different case studies, different examples, different success stories. It is 60 days access in eight weeks. You can literally turn things around for your family or at your school in homes, helping families. Either way, it's an amazing community filled with parents and professionals from over 100 countries. I hope you check out all the details at and I hope to see your introduction in our community today.