Book Summary & Review: Chaos to Calm

Book Summary & Review: Chaos to Calm

Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism by Martha Gabler, MA (autism parent)

Book Summary & Review by: Tiffany N. Kilby, MS, BCBA (autism family member and professional)


Sometimes people ask me when I decided on my career.  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure.  One thing that is certain is that I have always been passionate about autism awareness and autism acceptance, because I have family members diagnosed with and red-flagged for autism (and related diagnoses).

Just before my last year of undergrad, I found out about behavior analysis pretty much accidentally.  I was instantly impressed by its data-based, objective decision making to help better the lives of those receiving services.  Flash-forward to now, and here I am – a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and Founder/Director of The Behavior Station, LLC.  I created The Behavior Station® platform to help disseminate resources, science-based information, and ethics of behavior analysis.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science of learning and behaving, so principles of behavior and procedures of ABA can work in essentially any field or with any population.  Board Certified Behavior Analysts provide ABA services.  While BCBAs work in a variety of areas, for the reasons mentioned above, I chose to work in the world of autism.  Currently, ABA is the only validated approach for people with autism.

Book Summary & Review: Chaos to Calm

Brief OverviewChaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism (abbreviated here as “Chaos to Calm”) is an incredibly well-written book, where an autism mom takes you on her family’s journey.  Martha starts the book out by giving some brief information about her son with autism and his challenging behaviors.  The Gabler family was dedicated to science-based treatment, meaning that they were only going to use treatments that were based on rigorous scientific research.  Since Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is currently the only validated scientific approach for autism, the family chose to primarily rely on ABA methods to teach their son “and deal with his many difficult and sometimes violent behaviors.”

More specifically, the family adopted a behavioral method called “Teaching with Acoustical Guidance” (TAGteach®).  Martha’s book Chaos to Calm focuses on how she used the science-based method, TAGteach, to teach her son new behaviors that would allow the family to have a better life and thrive in the community.

Topic: TAGteach – Involves use of rewarding appropriate behaviors by providing a reward immediately after an audible event marker sound.  TAGteach was derived from the science of behavior analysis.

Target Audience: Parents of individuals with autism.  The methods described in Chaos to Calm can also be relevant to parents of individuals with similar diagnoses to autism, and certainly can also be used for typically developing children as well.

Goal: Martha’s goal of Chaos to Calm was to provide parents with information about science-based methods for teaching people with autism.

Purpose: Because ABA services can be expensive, and some areas to not have access to science-based professionals or interventions, Martha wanted to reach parents on a larger, inexpensive scale.  Please note that Martha’s book is not a step-by-step to-do list.  Instead, Martha’s book aims to educate parents on how to approach situations by using these methods.  She uses detailed, personal examples to provide parents with the tools to make these types of behavioral decisions in their everyday lives.

Review: I highly recommend Chaos to Calm for parents of children at all levels and ages.  Not because every parent can or should use TAGteach, but because Martha does a terrific job with providing a foundation for understanding behavior.  Parents of children at all ages or diagnoses (or lack thereof) could benefit from reading Chaos to Calm, as it addresses how to positively and effectively make behavior change.  Students and professionals can also benefit from reading it.

The book is also written in a way that shows that Martha practices what she preaches.  She sets up the reader for success, just as she recommends that parents set up the learner for success.  In ABA terms, we would consider the set-up of the book to be “technological,[1]” meaning that any reader is likely to understand and be able to perform the procedures.

Martha provides readers with the tools to create goals for learners.  She gives four criteria to use when creating a goal: 1) What I Want, the goal; 2) One Criterion, target 1 appropriate behavior at a time; 3) Observable, you must be able to see/hear the behavior; 4) 5 Words or Less, what you call the behavior should be short yet descriptive.

Martha also explains and gives examples of how the parents can benefit from using TAGteach as well.  Throughout the book, she mentions how she learned from using this method and how she also found herself to be more relaxed or calm since her son was relaxed and calm (i.e., not engaging in dangerous or maladaptive problem behaviors).  While this is only anecdotal information (i.e., no objective measures were used to monitor her behaviors), this may still be helpful information for parents when weighing the pros and cons of using this method.

Although Martha provided the readers with tools for learning more about behavior change, she also mentioned that Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are skilled at analyzing a person’s behaviors, determining what those purposes are or might be, and setting up individualized behavior plans.  As Martha mentioned in the book, in the cases of severe and dangerous behavior(s), the family should contact a BCBA.

In the introduction, Martha included a few organizations and government agencies that advocate for the use of ABA as a treatment for people with autism: The Organization for Autism Research, Association for Science in Autism Treatment, the United States Surgeon General (1999), and the International Encyclopedia of Education (1998).  At the time of writing this summary and review, ABA is still the only scientifically-validated approach for people with autism.

Besides the information with these four organizations, Martha did not provide resources for her claims or information about science-based methods throughout the book.  It is understandable that footnotes and references were not included for each page or even each chapter, as the target audience was parents.  However, I do think there should have been a section specifically for resources, even if it was just one page at the end of the book with a list of bullet points.  (Please see The Behavior Station® resources below).

Overall, Martha did an excellent job at sharing science-based information in a way that parents can understand and relate to.  It is the goal of The Behavior Station® platform that we can disseminate information in this way as well.  We hope that other BCBAs and professionals learn to discuss the science in a way that parents and clients can understand, so that we can help as many people as possible (and this does not apply only to autism).  Martha provided a great example of how we can do this.

So, like Martha said, Here’s the challenge. Let’s get to work.

[1] Technological means that procedures are clearly identified in a way that any reader should be able to perform them after reading the description (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968)

References & Resources


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