AIM Training

Presented by Mark Dixon Ph.D, BCBA-D
On Wednesday 19th Sept Kirsty Angel and Georgiana Koyama attended the Accept Identify Move (AIM) Training with Dr Mark Dixon in London. We wanted to attend AIM training to increase our support to individuals that we work with, as well as our team. Mindfulness and Acceptance and commitment Therapy(ACT) underpins the AIM curriculum.The one thing that resonated with us right at the start of the morning is that children and adults who are able to use language to communicate and have the ability to infer and reason, also have the ability develop negative constructs about themselves (e.g., “I’m a bad person”, “I’m stupid”, etc.). ACT discusses six core principles that can help people defuse from these negative constructs by changing the function of these (defusion) and work on committed actions towards their values. This approach is diverse and can help a wide range of children and adults including those, but not limited to, Autism, ADHD, Social Emotional Behavioural Disorders and those with problems about their mental health.The below information is relevant for children or individuals who are able to express their worries about the past or the future in language that others can understand. If you are familiar with assessments such as the VB-MAPP, this curriculum and this sort of approach is unlikely to be appropriate for them. This is more suited to children who are in mainstream school and require less support with language acquisition but require support with how they process and manage their thoughts or emotions. In short, for children or adults who are predisposed to fixate on certain stimuli or the environment. If you are interested in learning more about ACT from a personal perspective to use in your own daily life, you may want to consider reading the Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, which you can purchase on Amazon.
What is Mindfulness and how is it applicable to learners with Autism?
Scientific data has shown that Mindfulness practice has been effective in helping all individuals to increase self control, self care skills and empathy (Hwang & Kearney, 2013). Additionally, research has shown consistent practice increases stimulation of the prefrontal cortex which leads to, better focus and attention (Holzel & Lazar, 2011). Furthermore, mindfulness exercises have been shown to decrease anxiety, impulsivity, alter mood change (positively). The pre-frontal only fully develops at the age of 22 in neurotypical adults, so in context of children with ASD they require additional support in this area, hence the need for mindfulness in our practice.
 What is ACT and how can it support individuals with Autism?
ACT is recognised by the National Institute of Health- National Registry of evidence based practices and is supported by over 300 peer-review journal articles. In simple terms ACT tells us to “Live a rich, full, meaningful life with less struggle.” ACT suggests that we should avoid using or teaching strategies that attempt to suppress, control or eliminate negative thoughts. Instead ACT teaches us to practice accepting these negative thoughts and feelings, and suggests alternative ways of interacting with them. ACT has been shown to help decrease negative self-talk.ACT promotes behaviours that takes us towards our values. For children with Autism this means identifying and explaining to them how their behaviours and actions in the moments hinder them to access reinforcers. In ACT, values are life-long goals that we strive towards, for instance, being a good parent, having good relationship with friends and family, working on career development, becoming more independent, etc.. For our learners values may be simpler and be access to their favourite activities (lego, trains, dolls, movies, etc.). Teaching children to remain in the present moment will enable them to access what is important to them in that moment. The goal is to teach them to behave in ways that are in line with their values, which often means catching themselves in moments that move them away from their values. Providing children with choices so that they can understand that their actions directly influence how or when they can access reinforcers (values) and by managing their thoughts and behaviours that have become fused with their actions. ACT teaches that thoughts are simply language and do not have to control our behaviours or dictate who we are. To understand these as separate entities is known as defusion. In practice we need to be helping children to understand that their thoughts do not have to impact their behaviour, particularly if it takes them away from their values.What is AIM and how can it support our clients? 
Mindfulness and ACT work well together. The AIM curriculum has been developed to use both these practices for children. AIM is the combination of ACT, Mindfulness and Applied Behaviour Analysis. As a curriculum it has been around just over 10 years and was developed to support children manage their behaviours by placing greater emphasis on positive behaviour growth. The curriculum is appropriate for all children who have acquire some level of conversational language (aka, intraverbals; answering questions, making statements, etc.). We will be embedding AIM into our practice to specifically support children who are struggling with negative self-talk or negative thoughts about themselves, and challenging behaviours. The curriculum is compiled of 75 mindfulness lessons and 175 daily ACT lessons.In addition..
At ABC we are excited at being able to use mindfulness and ACT with our clients to help improve their lives, through the use of the AIM Curriculum. In addition to this, research has shown that the approaches of mindfulness and ACT being used by practitioners, has an impact on learners. This has encouraged us to use these approaches ourselves, to help us become more effective teachers and practitioners!References and further reading
AIM Curriculum: Behavior Analytic Social-Emotional Development | Science Behind AIM:
AIM Paginated:, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 36-43, 191(1)
Hwang, Y-S., & Kearney, P. (2013). A systematic review of mindfulness intervention for individuals with developmental disabilities: Long term practice and long lasting effects, Research in Developmental Disabilities, 314-326,34(1).


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