Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #82
CE Offered: BACB
Child Development: Recent Advancements in Theory and Basic and Applied Research
Saturday, May 29, 2021
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Area: DEV/PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: Nicole Luke (Brock University)
CE Instructor: Genevieve M. DeBernardis, Ph.D.

Behavior analysts need to understand the process of child development in order to understand the development of atypical behavior. Behavior analysis has increasingly focused on treatment of problem behavior but seldom examines the process of development itself. Behavioral systems theory (BST) is a fundamentally behavioral approach to understanding the developmental process. BST combines dynamic systems and developmental systems theories with the principles of behavior analysis. This symposium identifies recent developments in the field of behavioral development since the publication of Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach by Novak and Pelaez. The talks will review the principles of behavioral systems theory and identify new trends in behavior analysis that have emerged in recent years. The first paper will outline BST’s principles. It will present some new concepts that have emerged in both behavior analysis and developmental psychology relevant to BST. The second paper will examine basic areas of research in child development, including cognitive, social learning, communication and language development and present relevant new research in these areas. The final paper will present a behavioral systems application to problem behaviors such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. A review of research literature relevant to these areas will be covered.

Target Audience:

Educators, practitioners, and researchers interested in the area of child development.

Behavioral Systems Theory: A Contextual Behavioral Model of Development
GARY D. NOVAK (California State University Stanislaus)
Abstract: In creating Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Theory, Novak and Pelaez fashioned a theory of child development that looked at traditional concepts in developmental psychology, such as cognition, language, social-emotional development, family dynamics, and education, but analyzed them from a contextual behavioral framework. To do this required the melding of behavioral principles with a compatible developmental perspective, which was found in dynamic systems theory and a contextualistic behavioral viewpoint that was emerging. We have called this approach Behavioral Systems Theory (BST). This paper will provide an overview of BST as it has emerged over the past 25 years. Concepts such as multiple determination, equifinality, nonlinearity, coalescent organization, behavioral cusps, and emergence will be presented. The role of ontogenetic and phylogenetic contingencies will be discussed. As will the behavioral significance of the unravelling of the human genome. Dynamic cascades, stimulus equivalence, relational framing, and the four-term contingency will be introduced as new extensions to BST.
Basic Research in Understanding Child Development Phenomena
MARTHA PELAEZ (Florida International University)
Abstract: Pelaez examines various areas of basic behavioral research in early child development. The phenomena studied and discussed in her textbook (with Novak) from a behavior systems approach (BST) include: the development of attachment patterns between caregiver and child and the emergence of separation “anxiety”; the acquisition of young children’s fears, including fear of the dark and fear of strangers; operant-learning procedures and conjugate/synchronized reinforcement in the study of infant perception and memory; the early development of infant vocalizations via contingent motherese speech and adult vocal imitation; tacting and manding as early verbal operants required for later language development; rule-governed behavior as higher order skill that explains child’s moral development. The main focus of this presentation will be on examining the developmental progression of basic early social communication skills that include: eye contact, joint attention, social referencing, naming, and perspective taking. In this effort, the presenter will discuss the relation between the emergence of these skills and stimulus-class formation and derived-relational responding in young children.

A Behavioral Systems Theory Approach to the Treatment of Childhood Behavior Disorders

GENEVIEVE M. DEBERNARDIS (University of Nevada, Reno)

This paper examines the emerging areas of application in child development and the critical role of a behavioral systems theory approach toward the comprehensive treatment of childhood behavior disorders. From this standpoint, behavior disorders are the result of the same developmental process as other behaviors, where genetic-constitutional, historical, physiological, environmental, and behavior dynamical interactions must be considered. In particular, common childhood behavior disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder will be discussed, with emphasis on the importance of initial diagnosis and early behavioral interventions in preventing further maladaptive behavior patterns. The relationship between the person-environment interactions and efficacy of treatment will be outlined. A review of relevant research in these areas will be covered, highlighting the critical role of certain treatments such as social skills training and early language interventions. Further, implications and opportunities to incorporate behavioral systems theory within areas of applied child development will be discussed.




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