First ever Malaysian Applied Behaviour Analysis International Symposium hosted by Sunway University

It was organised by the Behaviour Analysis Academy of Malaysia and supported by the Department of Psychology, School of Science and Technology, Sunway University. The symposium attracted about 150 participants, from 14 countries, 38 of whom were attending to collect continuing education points for their respective professional bodies.

Symposium speakers pose with Malaysian certified behaviour analysts and behaviour analyst assistants. Front row from left: Ms Gan Huey Sien, Dr Neil Martin, Dr Jeremy Greenberg, Ms Chong Ling Chih, Dr Alvin Ng, Prof William Heward, and Mr Tan Hong Chun. (Photo credit: Dr Jeremy H. Greenberg).
Symposium speakers pose with Malaysian certified behaviour analysts and behaviour analyst assistants.
Front row from left: Ms Gan Huey Sien, Dr Neil Martin, Dr Jeremy Greenberg, Ms Chong Ling Chih, Dr Alvin Ng, Prof William Heward, and Mr Tan Hong Chun.  (Photo credit: Dr Jeremy H. Greenberg).

The two-day symposium featured top names in the field of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) who provided scientific updates on a wide range of applications such as within the field of education, special needs and even organisational behaviour. Emeritus Professor William L. Heward, of Ohio State University in the United States, a world-renowned figure in the field of ABA, and Dr Neil Martin, the BACB Director of International Development from the UK headed the line up at this event. They shared about strategies to improve education outcomes for learners, as well as updates from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board with regards to development and opportunities around the world. Other topics include social robots in education, parents in ABA and behaviour analysis applied to inclusive schools.

Keynote speakers, Prof William Heward and Dr Neil Martin flanked by HOD Psychology, Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng and Sunway University Vice Chancellor, Prof Graeme Wilkinson.
Keynote speakers, Prof William Heward and Dr Neil Martin flanked by HOD Psychology, Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng and Sunway University Vice Chancellor, Prof Graeme Wilkinson.


The Vice-Chancellor of Sunway University, Professor Graeme Wilkinson gave a welcome address on the first day, and on the second day the symposium was officiated by YB Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, who also gave a speech on updates by her ministry in working towards improving services to people with disabilities.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific discipline that is based on principles of behaviourism that are used to modify behaviour. It is often employed in autism treatment, where its applications are scientifically proven to be the method of choice in teaching adaptive behaviour skills to children with autism. The field of ABA is becoming more popular in Malaysia with the growing demands for interventions from individuals living with autism as well as other special needs conditions. With more awareness on autism and the need for ABA therapy, there has been a number of intervention centres mushrooming up and also strong interests to ensure that therapists are properly qualified.

ABA practitioners can obtain their credentials in multiple levels. This includes Registered Behaviour Technician (RBT) for those graduated from high school, Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCaBA) for those with Bachelor’s degree, and Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) that requires a Master’s level qualification. These credentials ensure that individuals who are working in this field receive adequate training and knowledge to work effectively. Established in year 2018, the Behaviour Analysis Academy (BAA) is the first and thus far, the only academy in Malaysia that provides highly specialized coursework in ABA and trainings that have been verified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB ®, Inc). Practitioners who are interested can opt for the 1 year BCaBA course (Bachelor’s degree) or the 1.5 years BCBA course (Master’s degree) that are offered yearly at the Behaviour Analysis Academy.

A photo of the audience taken by Prof William Heward before he started his lecture.
A photo of the audience taken by Prof William Heward before he started his lecture.

Professor William Heward provided an engaging introduction to what ABA is and is not, as well as how it can be used to improve education. In many of his messages, he emphasised how “It’s all about improving quality of life, making day-to-day life experience better, happier, more successful and more productive, not just for the individuals with autism but also for their families and peers.” Prof Heward also touched on how ABA has a very important contribution beyond just autism treatment but also towards sustainability development through modifying behaviours towards healthier habits for individuals in relation to personal well-being as well as their economic and environmental circumstances.

Dr Neil Martin speaking on evidence-based research supporting the efficacy of ABA
Dr Neil Martin speaking on evidence-based research supporting the efficacy of ABA

Dr Neil Martin spoke on recent scientific findings on how ABA has been successfully applied in interventions for autism, and the importance of using evidence-based methods in addressing autism management. He asserted that “there are many hundreds of methods that claim to treat autism, and the only way to separate those in term of what works and what does not work is on the basis of scientific evaluation”.

Dr Jeremy Greenberg delivering his talk on a successful model of inclusion in an international school setting
Dr Jeremy Greenberg delivering his talk on a successful model of inclusion in an international school setting

Other speakers included Ms Chong Ling Chih, Director of the Behaviour Analysis Academy Malaysia, Dr Albert Causo of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Dr Jeremy H. Greenberg of The Children's Institute of Hong Kong; Ms Gan Huey Sien of SEED Autism Services Malaysia, and Mr Tan Hong Chun of Autism Rocks Support Centre, Dubai, as well as Sunway University’s very own Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng from the Department of Psychology.

Dr Albert Causo impressing the audience with his affable presentation on social robots for pre-school education
Dr Albert Causo impressing the audience with his affable presentation on social robots for pre-school education

These speakers wowed the crowd with exciting applications of ABA from robot-mediated learning in children, to organisational behaviour management to how it is used in inclusive schools. There was also a parent forum where two mothers of children with autism spoke about their struggles and successes in bringing up their children.

Mothers of children with autism, Ms Prudence Lingham and Ms Normerlisa Abdullah shared theirs struggles and hope with the audience, in a forum facilitated by Audrey Lau.
Mothers of children with autism, Ms Prudence Lingham and Ms Normerlisa Abdullah shared theirs struggles and hope with the audience, in a forum facilitated by Audrey Lau.

Sunway University’s Department of Psychology is proud to be a co-host as its BSc (Hons) in Psychology Programme includes behavioural modification as part of its syllabus and students will be able to listen to the greats of the field first hand during this symposium. Its Head of Department, Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, who was also a speaker at the symposium, commented, “It’s truly an honour for Sunway University to have such an event with eminent speakers in the field. This symposium is a very significant mark of advancement for ABA in Malaysia. I am also very indebted to my team members, Ms Woo Pei Jun, Dr Wo Su Woan, Mr Michael Ch’ng and Ms Ng J-Wen for their tireless help in ensuring this symposium ran smoothly, together with student volunteers and the main organisers”.

Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng delivered an action-packed presentation on behavioural fluency-building applied to education that drew lots of laughter from the audience. (Photo credit: Dr Jeremy H. Greenberg)
Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng delivered an action-packed presentation on behavioural fluency-building applied to education that drew lots of laughter from the audience. (Photo credit: Dr Jeremy H. Greenberg)

In closing the symposium, Founder and Director of the Behaviour Analysis Academy, Ms Chong Ling Chih passionately encouraged members of the field of ABA in Malaysia to continue their training and education to contribute further to the nation with regards to their expertise towards improvement of quality of life. She gave the example of functional communication in ABA: “Challenging behaviour occurs when the bridge of communication collapses. Behaviour analysts are serving their roles as engineers to help individuals rebuild that bridge.”

Ms Chong Ling Chih, Director of the Behaviour Analysis Academy of Malaysia giving her talk on restricted and repetitive behaviour.
Ms Chong Ling Chih, Director of the Behaviour Analysis Academy of Malaysia giving her talk on restricted and repetitive behaviour.

Part of the symposium saw autistic artist, Chuah Chern Yi, 25, give out his paintings as tokens of appreciations to speakers and guests-of-honour. Chern Yi, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4, now draws and paints beautiful works of art, mostly about dinosaurs, to provide him with an income. He still attends weekday therapy sessions at Shining Star Learning Hub to further develop his independence. Chern Yi's independent skills are generalized at home and out in the community, with the help of his parents Terence Chuah and Chris Boon. “He cleans his own room and does his own laundry, as well as buys groceries at the store with his own income! With all this training, Chern Yi is looking forward to get a day job in the near future!”, explains his sister Yu Pyn.
 
 

YB Hannah Yeoh receiving an appreciation gift from autistic artist Mr Chuah Chern Yi, and his mother, Chris Boon and sister Chuah Yu Pyn.
YB Hannah Yeoh receiving an appreciation gift from autistic artist Mr Chuah Chern Yi, and his mother, Chris Boon and sister Chuah Yu Pyn.

Apart from Chern Yi’s art, the symposium also showcased Tender Hearts Café, a social enterprise for people with special needs. They had a booth selling items for fundraising. There were also posters by international centres for special needs displayed at individual booths providing information on ABA practice in their respective countries.

Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng with the Tender Hearts Café team
Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng with the Tender Hearts Café team

The symposium also provided a platform for former psychology students from Sunway University to re-unite with their lecturers. These graduates are now qualified behaviour analysts, and behaviour analyst assistants or undergoing training to become qualified. Senior lecturer in psychology, Ms Woo Pei Jun commented that it was very nice to see how well these graduates are doing and that they are now contributing to the well-being of families living with special needs children.

Department of Psychology lecturers, Ms Woo Pei Jun and Dr Wo Su Woan (4th and 3rd from right, respectively) with graduates from the BSc (Hons) Psychology Programme who are now working in the field of applied behaviour analysis for special needs children.
Department of Psychology lecturers, Ms Woo Pei Jun and Dr Wo Su Woan (4th and 3rd from right, respectively) with graduates from the BSc (Hons) Psychology Programme who are now working in the field of applied behaviour analysis for special needs children.

The Department of Psychology and the Behaviour Analysis Academic of Malaysia are deeply grateful to the Sunway University Directorate for sponsoring the venue for the symposium. We also give thanks to the other sponsors, Stong Hill Resort, CLM – Competent Learner Model and Tucci Learning Solutions. This support is a very important one to develop the field of ABA further, especially with its role in sustainability development (see YouTube video by Prof William Heward: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxjmFCuUync&t=400s).  We hope that with this symposium the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis will continue to grow and contribute towards better quality of life in Malaysia through its various applications.