Thought Leaders 026 | Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales | Part 2

This month on Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales as she answers the questions, "Where do you see the field going?" and "Where would you like to see the field go?"


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Shauna Costello (00:02):

You're listening to Operant Innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month on Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales as she answers the questions: Where do you see the field going and or where would she like to see the field go? You answered some of it already, but those two and a half questions of: [Laughing] Where do you see the field going and or where would you like to see the field go?

Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales (00:36):

We're a new endeavor in a systematic way. I think people always, to some extent, have been reflective [Laughing]. It's how we progress. I think as a science, to look at patterns that are quantified over time and how those change and for me, as an applied behavior analyst, to do that in the context of something that's meaningful with immediate betterment to the people involved and to produce generalized knowledge that will help betterment. I talked about this actually a little bit at the DEI panel, so I've been thinking about it this year at ABAI because we were talking about the question, "Where do you think the field will be in five years in terms of DEI?" And I think global wellbeing is so much a part of the way I look at things, or influences or informs it. I think my answer is similar in some ways. I'll start there. I hope... I can't imagine where we'll be [Laughing]. I think advances in technology, advances in our understanding of the world, while it feels like everything's falling apart, there are also just these incredible other things rising and soaring. I think some of the falling apart is allowing new structures to emerge, new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at things. Some of the things I imagine would be, for example, advanced technologies to be able to count things. We still have to know what we want to count and what we think is meaningful. I would hope that our development of understanding what's meaningful, understanding how whatever we do affects everyone else, how we make sure really basic things like no children are starving, children don't get a really beautiful, enriched whole child education. People don't die in ways that are inhuman and disproportionate. We're all gonna die. That's part of the story, [Laughing] but it's not fair that some people die torturous and painful deaths because they don't have healthcare and ther people are maintained alive in hideous conditions because they do have so much healthcare. There are all kinds of extremes going on in terms of wealth, education, healthcare, housing, food security. I hope that in addition to our technology, and I mean literal technology advancements, and our technology in terms of how we replicate and do what we do. The whole broad category of technology. I hope with our advances in terms of ethics, compassion, justice, equity, and our wellbeing, that we develop knowledge in those areas. Whatever it is, I think the heart and the science, the heart and the technology will advance. It might be painful because I think sometimes things have to blow up before we see the necessity. It's what's going on with the vaccine or with Covid. If we don't take care of everybody, then more difficulties are gonna happen for everybody. It's in our best interest as a species to think about us as one organic body, and whatever we do to one part of the body will affect other parts of the body.

Shauna Costello (05:02):

What do they say growth is? Growth is hard. Growth is painful. That's been around for a while and I agree with you. I really hope humans in general can get there, but as a field can help facilitate and help create these changes and support these changes. It's something I've been trying to do on a professional level. I see this question all the time. What else can I do with my degree other than work with children with developmental disabilities?

Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales (05:49):

When I started in the field everything was institutions because at that time, a lot of the state institutions had gotten in trouble. [Laughing] There was some point, it was probably as I'd been in the field for a little while, it seems like there's always been some area where there's more employment and more opportunity. I think from all of that we just keep learning and keep expanding and also collaborating with other disciplines, expanding our notions of what it means to have a science of behavior, what it means to even when we're working with children with Autism. It has really driven my thinking about perspective taking. Linda LeBlanc did some of that early work and I remember seeing her. It might have even been for a dissertation. I'll have to ask her, but I remember the first time I ever saw her. I didn't know her at ABA and she was presenting on that and I was like, "Whoa, that's really good." Part of it was because it's good for children with Autism, but I'm thinking about the whole world. We can start to look at component composite analyses. We can start thinking about what produces more perspective taking, what shifts the way we look at things. First of all, I really don't like when people complain about Autism all the time. It actually really pisses me off. I'll be straightforward first because I think, "Why do you have to complain about it?" [Laughing] Are you jealous or what's the deal? Any time you try to do something to better a situation, you're going to learn something and you're gonna learn something at every single level. Even right now in Autism, listening to Autistic people talk, is learning a lot. There's always something to learn and I don't know why, if there's a lot of emphasis in one area, it doesn't have to become myopic. It can always be expansive. We're a new discipline and we're learning to be expansive. I think the science of behavior is part of something very big and powerful. Evolutionarily, how we understand ourselves and how we direct the course of our development as individuals and as a collective. There's a lot to learn in Autism about that. There's a lot to learn in early childhood, in the prevention of maltreatment, in social justice, in all the different areas we work. I've seen my students go out and do some work in Autism and do phenomenal work. Very collaborative and compassionate work in the field and I've seen students go out and work as physical therapists, but taking their behavior analytic training. In fact, I had to go through physical therapy, because I have some problems with arthritis. I had to go through physical therapy and I'm working with my therapist and this young man was an undergraduate in our program, and he starts telling me, "Oh yeah, this is a great combination." I'm watching the whole clinic thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is great." I wish I could go back to physical therapy at that clinic every day. The combination of those two disciplines was exquisite. They really did beautiful work. The same thing is true. Some of our students work with anthropologists, with educators, sociologists, physicians. There's so much synergy that can happen from working with other disciplines and their knowledge bases, especially if you have that combined mission about care and betterment, that you share that.

Shauna Costello (10:11):

I love hearing that, especially with the population with Autism, ASD, because there's so much more that we have to learn. We're not just there. We don't have this perfected, it's just not perfection. [Laughing] You hear stories all the time. There's so much more we can be doing even within the areas that we are already doing very well in.

Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales (10:45):

I was going to say, just to ride on what you were saying, learning about how not to be compromised by the healthcare system that is run on finances, is a thing to learn. How to honor the Autistic individual, the child with Autism. How to honor who they are and how they come into the world and also how to look at our own behavior and how we're affected by all of that. Finally, the intersection where there's a big splash of tension happening is around culture. There are studies being published, qualitative researchers going in and talking to people from different cultures, and saying, "We're not super comfortable with what's being done," when they're given a voice. Those are at least four or five areas that we have a lot to learn, and especially if we do it in a spirit of service and trying to make things better. Not just because we're stemming on getting a data path and a publication, but if we're going in a spirit of service, then we are sure to find things that will help in other spheres of other human activity. The problems with money in healthcare are not just our problems, they're problems in many realms and how to navigate that. Whatever we learn is going to be important. It's generalizable.

Shauna Costello (12:26):

I have learned a ton. Is there anything else that you want to say, to wrap all of this conversation up?

Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales (12:42):

I think a couple things I'd like to say, especially to the behavioral illness of color and from different backgrounds. I would like to say thank you for bravery for entering the spaces. Also, I went to a black applied behavior analyst conference this weekend and honestly, it was one of the most amazing conferences I've been to in years. I think what's happening in that space is really important to the development of our field and going back to the permeability and how we look at what's included and how it's included, who's included. Those activities are really important. I'd like to say it's so easy, especially when you're old like me, to say, "Oh, it's not the way it was when I was young," or [Laughing] nobody's doing the right thing anymore. Not that I have my moments of that, but I also look out and I see, "Oh my gosh, there's some really exciting things going on." They're not entirely comfortable all the time, but I look at some of my younger colleagues who are so brave and so engaged in the world. I would say keep going, younger colleagues, but also everybody else supports those brave hearts. Don't get in their way. I think that's one thing I would say. The other thing I would say is try to be flexible, all of us, because the world is rapidly changing. I think we have to be more and more navigational in terms of some core values about what we're doing and why because holding onto old structures may not be very productive. There's a concept that my colleague, Alicia Cruz and I have written about. We got it from feminist and womanist literatures and philosophies. It's Nepantla, which is this in between space and looking at that as actual pedagogy. Use those between spaces, the spaces of discomfort, as learning spaces and don't be afraid of them. Try to go into them. In this case, Alicia is an applied anthropologist and at first it wasn't always easy, and still we have our moments that are really difficult. To go into that space together with such different epistemologies, different methodologies, the way we approach everything seemed very different on the surface. As we started working together more, there's a real bounty in having those in between spaces because you learn really new and different ways of walking forward. I guess that's the other thing. Find all those places of discomfort and between spaces with a mission and a purpose. [Laughing].

Shauna Costello (16:38):

Yes. I just want to thank you for taking time today to talk to me and to share your story. It's not always easy sitting here and talking about ourselves.

Dr. Shahla Ala'i-Rosales (16:52):

Well, you are lovely. [Laughing] It's very easy to talk to you. I feel very comfortable and I appreciate it, and I appreciate you. I already can hear from what you've said, making a place for so many women and so many women who maybe had paths that were not typical compared to many of the leaders in our field. Thank you for that.

Shauna Costello (17:18):

Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of Thought Leaders. Come back next month as we talk with Dr. Sigrid Glenn. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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