Victoria Boone on Positive Parenting for Autism

Victoria Boone is a fellow author and BCBA. She is the founder and director of The Hamilton Center. Today we are discussing her book, Positive Parenting for Autism.

ABA has been a hot topic lately. Victoria shares her perspective on the misconceptions. A lot of what Victoria explains comes back  to finding the right provider.  Most of the myths in ABA surround working with the wrong provider, setting, or team for your family and the child’s needs. Unfortunately, the few bad experiences had by some give the whole field a bad name.

In order to combat these problems, we discuss some questions and ideas to keep in mind when looking for the right provider for your child and family. Victoria has a great perspective on the use of ABA and how well it works when it’s done right!

In her book, Positive Parenting for Autism, Victoria shares explanations for extinction versus punishment and the use of differential reinforcement. These are great tools for stopping problem behaviors and increasing good ones! She gives some examples and ideas of the psychology behind these when they work.

Positive collaboration between parents and professionals is so important in the ABA and autism field. Victoria shares the same sentiment as I do in that parents are the experts on their child, the captain of the ship.

This is a great baseline for beginning to shift parenting to building up desired behaviors, and understanding the “how” and “why” in finding good ABA. I highly recommend checking out Victoria’s book, as a tool for understanding positive parenting and the effect reinforcement has on your child’s behavior.

Positive parenting for autism

Victoria Boone on Turn Around Autism

Victoria Boone, M.A., MPH, BCBA, LBA, is the founder and executive director of The Hamilton Center, a multi-state healthcare agency focusing on services for children and young adults such as speech and occupational therapy as well as applied behavior analysis. She is the author of Positive Parenting for Autism. Victoria Boone also conducts various seminars and workshops for special needs parents and professionals throughout the country.


  • Examples of ABA therapist interview questions.
  • Why is ABA controversial?
  • What is the difference between punishment and extinction?
  • How to find ABA providers?
  • What is extinction in ABA?
  • Victoria Boone’s book, Positive Parenting for Autism. 
  • Victoria’s perspective on the misconceptions on ABA.
Want to get started on the right path and start making a difference for your child or client with autism?


#148 Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript

Transcript for Podcast Episode: 148
Victoria Boone on Positive Parenting for Autism
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera
Guest:Victoria Boone

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number one hundred and forty-eight. I'm your host, Dr. Mary Barbera, and today I welcome a special guest, Victoria Boone, who is a board-certified behavior analyst. She was the founder and clinic and is still the clinical director at the Hamilton Center, which is an ABA agency in Los Angeles. She helps individuals with autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, and more. She wrote a book called Positive Parenting for Autism, and today we're talking about her book, her work, and we're also diving into some ABA principles, such as extinction differential reinforcement, and we're talking about how to be more positive and collaborative between parents and professionals, in her book and in this episode. So let's get to it with Victoria Boone.

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: Thanks so much for joining us, Victoria is really great to have you here this morning.

Victoria: Thank you for having me and being excited to be here.

Mary: Yeah, so we've never met in person and we don't really know a lot about each other, so I'm learning with my listeners. So why don't you describe your fall into the autism world?

Victoria Boone's Fall into the Autism World:

Victoria: Sure. So I got into the autism world actually a little over six years ago. I was working in a completely different field and just didn't feel very fulfilled. So I cast as wide a net as I could and wanted to see what was out there and I started working with kids. That was the the advertisement Come work with kids, learn a little bit about, you know, the field of ABA applied analysis. And so when I started, I, of course, had a degree in psychology, thousands of my bachelors and and so when I started learning about, you know, reinforcement and all these other terms, it felt natural. And then once I started working with my clients who were all children, typically, the ages of, I would say, five and 10, I fell in love. I saw the progress immediately. I loved my clients. I loved going to see them each day, no matter what setting we were. And so I really fell in love with the process and with the community, with the autism community. And so I was there maybe two or three months, and then I decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I pursued my BCBA, I finished my masters and I'm still here. Well, it's been fun.

Mary: Well, it's very unusual to have somebody, you know, just started as a second kind of, not only a second career, but look kind of you've only been in the field for six years and you already wrote a book in 2018 called Positive Parenting for Autism, which I saw was in the top 10 when my new book, Turn Autism Around was in the top ten for autism books. And I was like, Oh, that's an interesting book. I never heard of Victoria Boone. Let me download it on Kindle and read it pretty quickly. It was great, and so I reached out for an interview. But I mean, how do you go from just falling into the field six years ago to writing a book a few years later? Like how did that all happen?

Victoria: You know, it's it was actually very it was a very cool story. I was in grad school, was just started my doctoral program and I get an email and the email says, Hey, we feel that you have a clinic. We see some of the work you're doing. We'd love to talk to you maybe about this book. So the publisher actually reached out to me. And at first, I was a little skeptical. Oh my God, that doesn't normally happen. But we talked about it and it was definitely in alignment with what I wanted. So my focus at time was parents, parent training, supporting parents, and that's what they were looking for. And it was a match. It was absolutely fabulous. It was a very quick turnaround. I had just a few months to write it. But what was interesting was I actually because I was a BCBA at the time of my doctorate, I was able to wave the... They had like a intro to behavior learning, which was, you know, your reinforcement, your punishment, your extinction. And so because I was very I was able to be of that class. So I actually wrote the book during the time that I would have had that class. So it fit inperfectly, like I said, it was a quick turnaround. But It was definitely a passion project, and I'm proud of it, especially the fact that, you know, it's still helping parents even today, especially during COVID. I saw that a lot of parents, because we were all forced to quarantine, to be in the homes, at least where I am, you know, it was able to help a lot of parents out.

Mary: Wow. Yeah, it's pretty. It's easy to understand, but it's pretty meaty and we're going to talk about some of the chapters in there too. And speaking of Kobane and a lot of parents, you know, kind of seeking out more resources during COVID, we have a couple of episodes that we should link in the show notes, because it might help others. But we have Michelle C. who fell into the hole, you know, needing to learn when her daughter was diagnosed right before the world shut down. That's episode 78. And I also did an interview with Catherine Lord, who talked all about how diagnosing during the COVID pandemic has been an extreme challenge, so we can link both of those in the show notes. So your book does describe, you know, ABA and all a lot of the main procedures used and strategies used. And we also can link a couple other episodes that we recently did on ABA because I think we need to talk more about ABA and some of the myths and truths as a solo show we can put in there. And I also did an interview with Tamika from I Love ABA a few weeks ago, so we talked all about, you know, kind of ABA applied behavior analysis, why it's seems to be more and more controversial. Every state in the United States does have mandates for insurance to pay for ABA, yet then parents are getting a diagnosis; some are seeking ABA, but some are being told that ABA is not the way to go. So what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about ABA or myths?

The Biggest Misconceptions of ABA: Victoria: You know, I actually did a conference presentation on this for parents about the myths of ABA. And I would say that a lot of the the ones that I've seen the most are that ABA makes your child robotic or it's very rote or they don't seem, you know, it's it's not taking into consideration the neurodiversity of the diagnosis. And I think that if you're doing it right and if you have the right clinician and the right team, that's the farthest thing from the truth. You know, my goal is never to quote unquote fix. I've heard that term being used a lot or to make the child be anything that they're not. So my goal as a clinician is to come in and to help support. So I look in, I assess, and I feel like, where can I be the most helpful? You know, what skills can I teach my clients to help them feel the most empowered to give them the most skills that they feel like they'll need in order to to be as independent as they can? So I can't do that and also make someone robotic, you know, it's hard to do them at the same time, they're incompatible. And so for me, it's how can I be the most supportive and I think if you have the right team, then then as a parent or as a member of that team, you should be feeling that as well. And so if you're in situations where you feel like the former is happening, where you know your child or your client or whomever is made to be quote unquote robotic, or it's very much not flexible or cater to the client, then it's probably not the right team or the right environment. I think taking that into consideration. But I would say that those are some of the biggest myths I've seen. And you know, unfortunately, that has happened for a lot of people. But I think that there are a lot of ABA good providers that will prove otherwise.

Mary: And how do you think? And Tameika and I talked about this, but how do you think parents can when they're just setting out to get an ABA provider? What kind of things should they be looking for to quote unquote get good ABA?

Questions for Finding "Good" ABA:

Victoria: Yeah, you know, I think that's a really good point, especially since a lot of the parents that I work with to their children and really diagnosed. So it's brand new to them, I think. Ask me about the team. How often am I going to see my supervisor? You know, how big will my team be? What is the rotation going to be like? Am I allowed to see a session? How do I get updates on progress that's being made? Do I have a say in some of the programing that's happening? How are they taking into consideration cultural factors? So maybe it's really important for some children to learn to eat but with specific utensils versus, you know, in other households, it might be a different situation. So I think really asking about how things are going to be individualized for their child, what that looks like, how often am I'm meeting with my whole team? Do I get to meet with my whole team? You know, is there consistency in my schedule? If not, why? Or what does that look like? How open are they to working with other services, too? Because if it's just an ABA clinic, but your child is also receiving speech, or OT, or know, how flexible will your ABA team be with that? So for instance, for, you know, I've done a lot of work where I'm working with a speech therapist, so we're both in the room. I'm helping with behavior. They're of course, helping with speech, which I am not an expert in. That's what they're there for. So I think having a team is collaborative and having, you know, a team that's also really flexible with how they're working with the client. So any questions that I think help a parent clarify that are probably going to be the most helpful?

Mary: Yeah. OK, sounds good, so let's move on to some of the specific chapters of your book, which I think might help a lot of people, whether they're parents or professionals. So one of your chapters is on extinction. So tell our listeners what extinction is and why it's a better alternative than punishment.

Extinction vs. Punishment:

Victoria: Yes. So when I was just coming into the field, I remember that actually being a question on my job application is can you describe extinction? And I know a little bit about it from my undergrad, of course. But when I talked to a lot of parents about it, they think of dinosaurs immediately. And and that phrase. So I think it's one of my favorite things to talk about just because it is so different. But what I really like about extinction, I'll explain it first, is that you're not reinforcing a behavior that was previously reinforced. So, for instance, you know, if let's say I have I have two cats with a dog. My dog is incredibly smart and my dog will bark when they want attention all the time. And so in the beginning, I was always responding because it was a new puppy. I wanted to let them know i'm present, I'm here, I'm here. And then I realized they're barking for attention. Every time I turn around, I am just I'm reinforcing this behavior and now my dog always barkinh because they always going to be held. And so what I decided to do is like, Hey, I'm a BCBA. I can't do something about this is, you know, I stopped responding when they were barking and then I only gave them attention when they would come up to me or when, you know, they were standing nicely or being quiet or not barking when the cat came in. And lo and behold, the barking for attention stopped, and now I have a quiet home. And so that's one of the ways that I'm able to describe it, because ABA it doesn't... It isn't just used with with autism. It's applicable in every field, and so even with with my pets and in my home, we're an ABA family. So when when I use that example, the way that I'm describing extinction is that you're withholding reinforcement for a behavior that used to be reinforced and then you get a differential reinforcement. We're now reinforcing behaviors that I do want to see or that are more desirable. So for me, it was having a quieter home, and so we replaced the barking behavior with them playing nicely with the cats.

Mary: So how does extinction replace or is a better alternative than punishment? Like, how does it different from punishment?

Victoria: So with punishment, you're either adding or you're removing something that makes the behavior go down, whereas with extinction and withholding reinforcement. But then the goal is, of course, to replace whatever behavior with the more desirable behaviors. So when I'm working with parents, what I find is that they tend to... They think they're punishing or they think they're just intervening. But really the reinforcing that behavior. So, you know, maybe they're responding, saying, Hey, don't do that, but they're not understanding that behavior is for attention. And so now you're reinforcing a behavior that maybe you thought was punishing. So the reason that I like extinction personally, more so than punishment is that I feel like, you know, with punishment. Sometimes you forget to to replace that behavior. So we're punishing a behavior meaning that we're wanting it to go away by adding or removing something. But typically, we forget to replace that behavior. So what'll happen, at least with a lot of my clients, is that another behavior will come up that the parent is thinking, Well, now they're doing this, what do I do about this? And I also think too, sometimes when we're using punishment, we get paired as a Punisher. And so that can make it hard when you're trying to build rapport, you know, as a professional with a client or if a parent is trying to bond or to change the relationship that they currently have with their child, it can be hard because now you're seen as the Punisher. So I think that if you're doing or if you're using extinction and you're coupling that with the introduction of other behaviors, I personally think it's a lot easier on the front end and on the back end. So it's more favorable to the client. It's in the long run, a better solution for parents, typically. And so I think that not a lot of ways for me, it beats out punishment

Mary: Plus ethically, we as behavior analysts cannot use, should not be using punishment unless we have a positive reinforcement situation firmly established and in place. And you know, I think one of the reasons that ABA kind of gets a bad name is because you know it when you think about ABA or you think about the term discipline, which I did a video blog on discipline. It's basically discipline is teaching, and it's not. But people have these connotations like ABA means punishment, and I am really clear on we need to not use punishment, especially not train parents to use punishment. And if they are using punishment, it's probably being used incorrectly like even time out. A lot of people think that's punishment, but a lot of times timeout ends up to be reinforcing, which is confusing, but it is definitely the case. And so if you are, you know, just in general, I like to like, say like spend ninety five percent of your time preventing problem behaviors. If you're reacting to problem behaviors. More than five percent at a time, you're probably not doing a good enough job preventing it. And these these terms, you know, extinction and punishment and differential reinforcement, and it is kind of tangled and it kind of in some situations you can say, well, I said it was, you know, reinforcement, but it if you look at it from this angle, it looked like punishment. When we say what we're saying, punishment to, let's be clear, like we're not talking about physically hitting anybody, restraining anything like that. When we talk about punishment as a behavior analyst, we might even say punishment is like just a firm, no. It could be taking away a toy that the child's playing with because they hit their brother and putting that toy on the refrigerator. Those kind of things which naturally occur in every home and in every school, there's lots of reinforcement and punishment going on naturally. So we're actually just trying to as behavior analysts, I think, just kind of settle everybody down so that we can make progress instead of just like chasing our tail.

Victoria: Yeah, and I like how you said, you know, if you're doing so much on the back end, then you're probably not doing a lot to prevent. I think that typically, you know, as humans, we don't really respond until something's happening, but we're not always looking at the antecedents. And what we can change on the front end because, you know, typically it's not a problem on the front end, quote unquote. So I really like what you said about about that and what are we doing on the front end to be preventative versus always in this reactive state?

Mary: Right, right. And it rarely comes down to, you know, he bites. And I, you know, what should I do when he bites? Well, when he bites, it's no longer a win win situation. OK, so we have to kind of be like, OK, where is he biting? Oh, he's biting on the shoulder. Oh, OK, so you're carrying him? Yeah, I'm carrying him. Why are you carrying him? He can walk. What are you saying when he bites? What are you saying before you bite? So then you're telling your wife he bit you know all of that together. And meanwhile, when somebody wants me to give them advice on what should I do after a child has problem behaviors, it's rarely... It's rarely possible to give good advice. It's really on the front end, like you said, preventing it. OK, let's move on to another chapter of your book on differential reinforcement. Can you give an example using differential reinforcement to increase behaviors we want and or decrease behaviors we don't want?

What is Differential Reinforcement:

Victoria: Yes, I can answer your question out there. Well, I think that ties up extinction and reinforcement that perfectly because it's really a combination of the two. So when I'm thinking of examples of differential reinforcement, I have a client in mind who they would always, so it's like i'm talking to you, we're having conversation and they'd always come up and just ask what your name was. So that was their way to introduce themselves to try and connect, find, you know, things that were common interest. So it was. What's your name? Even if they knew my name? So this is the client I'm working with, like 20-30 hours a week. They know my name, but for them, that's, you know, that was how they how they wanted to communicate. Those were at the time that we met, those are the skills that they had. And so, you know, of course, when you first meet someone, that's more of an appropriate question. But if it's someone that you know and you see 20, 30 hours a week, you know, how can I shape this behaviors so that way? You know, maybe we can maybe lead to different conversational topics. We can create a dialog where I'm also learning more about what they like. So they're asking, What's your name? What's your name? And you know, when we're working with new people would come to the home or we were out in the play area and they were meeting a new friend that was totally acceptable or totally appropriate. So we shifted, what's your name? And we started putting that on extinction. So once I've answered the question, you know, I had not placed that on extinction, so it's behavior that I was reinforcing and now i'm withholding reinforcement and with differential reinforcement, I'm adding another behavior. So those different kinds of differential reinforcement, but the most common one that I use is when I'm adding a replacement behavior, and that's the behavior that I'm now reinforcing. So whenever they wanted my attention instead of saying what's your name, they would say, excuse me, miss. And they would tap my shoulder, if we're in a class setting that might raise their hand. And so now those are the behaviors that I am reinforcing in those settings. So in those instances, I wouldn't reinforce or deliver reinforcement for them saying, what's your name if they already know that individual's name? But perhaps, you know, in those moments that might prompt them if needed to raise their hand, to tap a shoulder, or to ask another socially appropriate question or to give another socially appropriate statement. So in that way, we're adding a replacement behavior, but we're also so that there's no punishment involved, but I'm giving them really other opportunities to be successful in that environment or in that setting.

Mary: So when you say you're not reinforcing what's your name, you're basically using planned ignoring and just waiting, whatever amount of time, you know, is kind of in the plan. That's the other thing is, is a lot of people just and myself included, you know, treat behavior kind of willy nilly, you know what I mean? Like oh i'm just gonna ignore it. But there is no like, I'm going to ignore it for five seconds. I'm going to turn my back. Yeah. You know, there's no kind of procedure. So then the next day, they're like, Yeah. Maybe, you know, and so it's like it doesn't get better because you're really not following any kind of strategy or plan. So I like that to just say because most a lot of people think, maybe when you say you're withholding reinforcement, like we're not talking like edible reinforcement, we're does talking your attention. Especially for a child that's coming up and saying, what's your name? And that's where, you know, the reinforcement system and the planning and the programing need to really change because, you know, I've had a number of kids that have defective mands for attention by asking the same questions over and over again. I even have this had this client long, long time ago who said, Are you OK? But like 48 times in 10 minutes, you know, and then when you did start to put it on. It was weird. It kind of like happened all the time happened and it had an escape function and I was like, Oh my goodness, you messed up. You know, and then and then if you didn't respond, he would escalate to aggression and stuff like that. You know, while we're talking about this and we both have books that outline this, it can get pretty tricky, especially if a child has big problem behaviors like aggression, self-injurious behavior. And I know in my book, and I'm sure in your book and your work, you do say, like everything. Even this podcast is for informational purposes only. And really, if you are having a child who is escalating to harmful behaviors in any sense, you really do need to get individual assessment and advice because, you know, we could get ourselves in trouble by giving out information and oh, you know, that works. And then all of a sudden, you know that extinction now is a child, you know, throwing a chair through a window or or hitting their sibling because you're ignoring him and going into the kitchen and, you know, attacking the baby or whatever and all where we aim, both of us aim to make this as digestible as possible. It can be quite complex.

Victoria: Absolutely. Yeah. Even as a professional, like you were saying, I get into situations. I'm like, Oh my gosh, this is serving multiple functions, and you know, I'm trying to help the parent navigate that. I'm okay. Which function is disturbing right now? What should we do in this situation? So, you know, it's for a lot of a lot of the cases. It's never really just a quick and dirty answer. You know, there's a lot of complexity. As human beings, we're complex, you know, environments are complex, so there's always a lot to consider. And so, you know, I talk to a lot of parents and that'll reach out and say, you know what? This is a really complex case, and I think it'd be best if you reached out to your local provider and here are a list of providers. That might be helpful because, you know, it's not easy. It's rewarding, it's fun. I love kids, I love seeing the results, but you do have to be careful. Behavior and behavior intervention, I think, is such a powerful tool. And like you said, we kind of treat behavior willy nilly. And I would say that it's the thing that keeps the engine moving. It makes the world go round. We're behaving all the time. And I think we forget that sometimes.

Mary: Yeah. You also have a chapter on coordinating care and collaboration between parents and pros, which I'm a huge fan of all of that. Do you have specific tips for parents and professionals about how to collaborate better?

Better Collaboration for Parents and Professionals:

Victoria: Yes, that is gosh, that's become very much an area that I love researching love talking about because I've done a lot of research in this area and I'm finding that when that collaboration is absent, then the client suffers tremendously. It can be the best program in the world. But if that collaboration piece isn't there, then you're missing a big piece. And so it's really important for parents to feel like they can speak up, especially parents that are new to the field. Maybe the child just got diagnosed. They're just now getting services or just have access to services. And I think a lot of times they may not feel empowered to speak up or to say, you know, I don't think that that's a good fit or to even ask for a different therapist or a different provider. So I think it's really important for parents to know that at the end of the day, they're the expert on their child. And if you're in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or you feel like things need to change to feel open about speaking up and having that dialog, because that part can be tough. And I think, too, that they're really the bridge between all of these different providers. You know, when I see a client, I see the parent too, normally. And so that's typically the same in other settings. When that child goes to the OT or the PT or the speech therapist, you know, the parent is the one that's sharing all this information. And so, you know, they they're really important piece, and it's important for them to know that and to know that they are the expert on their child.

Mary: I call them the captain of the ship.

Victoria: I like that. I love that.

Mary: Yeah. So yeah, this has been really helpful. How could people follow your work? Your book is called Positive Parenting for Autism. I know it's available on Amazon, probably wherever books are sold, but how can people contact you or are you? You're at a clinic now... and you're pursuing your Ph.D.? Like, is there any way to follow you besides getting your book?

How to Find Victoria and Her Self Care Tip:

Victoria: Sure, so they can reach out to me at if they want more information on my clinic, it's the Hamilton Center of And I'm also on Instagram and I'm Victoria Boone. And there's also an Instagram for the Hamilton Center, which is just the Hamilton Center. So I'll typically have parents reach out to me by email on VB consulting and coaching. And I find that BCBAs tend to find me and other professionals more so on Instagram. So either way is fine. I love hearing from people who are also interested in the work we're doing is amazing.

Mary: Yeah, that's awesome. OK, so part of my podcast goals are for parents and professionals to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So what do you do for self-care and stress management that might be helpful to others?

Victoria: Oh yes. My favorite! Well, right out of the frame, you can't see it, but I have all my candles burning. So for me, it's for me it's a lot about routines and rituals. So the morning I light my candles. I typically make it to Starbucks in the morning, so that's how I start my day with a nice coffee and my candles. And that's also how I cap my day. So especially during this work from home season, it can be hard to really separate work and home. And so for me, you know, my Starbucks in the morning signals the start and they have a Starbucks to end the day and that signals the end. And so really sticking to to that for myself and setting boundaries even and in my personal life and the work that I'm doing so OK. It's 8:01, I thought I'd stop working at eight, I'm going to stop working at 8:00 and also really being true and honest with myself when I'm feeling like it's a tougher day or, you know, I'm just feeling defeated and I just need a break. So I give myself what I call a ten minute pity party if I need it. And I take ten minutes to feel everything I'm feeling and it's OK to cry. It's okay to be upset with this and that. And then I surrender to that and I shift and I continue the day. And so really just honoring where I'm at because I can't help anyone else, if I'm not full. You can't pour from an empty cup.

Mary: So I love that. Love that. Well, it's been great getting to know you better. I do recommend the book Positive Parenting for Autism and I'm sure where our paths will cross in the future. And so I look forward to getting to know you better then. And all the show notes for this episode are at Thanks so much for joining us.

Victoria: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Mary: If you're a parent or an autism professional and enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out my online course and community where we take all of this material and we apply it. You'll learn life changing strategies to get your child or clients to reach their fullest potential. Join me for a free online workshop at, where you can learn how to avoid common mistakes. You can see videos of me working with kids with and without autism. And you can learn more about joining my online course and community at a very special discount. Once again, go to for all the details, I hope to see you there.