Microaggressions and Supervision of ABA Therapy Staff

Looking at What We Say to staff of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in the Clinical Setting

Microaggressions are what people say from a (maybe) a complimentary perspective, but is reserved for people they are surprised by.  Microaggressions are also things that are said that are based in stereotype stated to put the person on offense.

Here are a few:

  1. You speak so well
  2. That is really unprofessional
  3. Why do you get so angry so fast
  4. That is so ghetto (in more casual workplace setting)
  5. Your hair is different today
  6. How do you know these things?
  7. You are so…different
  8. Are you in charge? (in a surprised tone)

What is said and what is felt – the message- are very different.  The listener may interpret or walk away with feeling that they are in a workplace or have a supervisor that is shocked about their ability, language, expectation, and using stereotypes within an interaction.  So you never feel…at home.

Here is a good visual of Microaggressions and the messaging.  

Because of the intimacy amongst our colleagues and with our clients in ABA and other clinical fields, it is important that the supervisor of people of racial, ethnic, and culturally diverse staff understand that these communication encounters are aversive.

This level of aversion reduces the motivation, proficiency, and even efficiency in the workplace.

While supervisors are not responsible for building self-esteem, it is important to understand that people enter as themselves holding history and  varied experiences.  With this many people of color, especially African-American women can often carry the weight of these microaggressions.  I often times look and read rosters for conferences and speaking events and wonder “could they not find anyone who looks visually diverse to present?” And this matters…a lot.  The implication in the field of ABA is that ‘you are good enough to provide basic line therapy, but I don’t view you as good enough to teach me’.  In this field, that is one of the biggest and (in my opinion most obvious) microaggressions, the non-presence of diversity and the inaction to attain it on a major educational platform or stage.

At the same time, there are families that have discomfort with people of ethnic and cultural diversity.  I have read different approaches on social media, that upon reading are visually and ‘in practice’ offensive.  What should a business do when these situations arise?  There are good solutions.  But the good solutions are also hard choices that may not support the economical projections of that business line.

The impact and the attitude of racism being “old and tired” as described in an ABA social media post has a far reaching impact of discomfort and anger.  It is, in fact, exhausting conference after conference to not see the reflection of me in clinical leadership, in teaching at conference events, and even the acceptance of paraphernalia and language that isolates a group in the name of self-expression.

Adulting in the professional world is utilizing Theory of Mind every day.  Perspective Taking.  Adulting is realizing that while 2018 is present, there is a historical account and present experience of people that should not be discounted.  Adulting in Supervision of people of ethnic and cultural diversity should be asking why in a growing field…the seats at the table still visually look the same.

It’s important to realize that the microaggressions in the workplace are in this field of ABA and it is everyone’s job and responsibility to correct them, not ignore them.  See them and tap your colleagues on the shoulder and clearly explain why #timesup.

~Let’s Keep Thriving

Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA

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