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 #194A
CE Offered: BACB — 
Toward Applied Behavior Analysis Reform: What It Means to “Do No Harm”
Sunday, May 30, 2021
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Area: AUT/PCH; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Madison Holcomb (Camp Encourage )
Discussant: Jamine Layne Dettmering (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, BIOS ABA, National Louis University)
CE Instructor: Rosie Rossi, M.A.

“Do no harm” is a core ethical principle that dates back to Hippocrates (Bailey & Burch, 2016). Although no well-intentioned behavior analyst knowingly does harm in their clinical practice, a lack of awareness may lead to more subtle forms of harm. For example, social skills goals may teach the client to camouflage autistic traits (Gerow et al., 2019, Koegel et al., 1974), which has been associated with lack of belonging and suicidality (Cassidy et al., 2019). Failure to consider past trauma may result in the use of contraindicated procedures (Kolu, 2020) and teaching skills that are not developmentally appropriate may cause stress and be experienced as traumatic (Burts et al., 1990). While the BACB Professional and Ethical Compliance Code requires BCBAs to practice within their boundaries of competence (1.02), respect cultural differences (1.05), and individualize programs to the clients unique needs (4.03), behavior analysts don’t know what they don’t know. In this symposium autistic advocates and BCBA allies will a) define masking and discuss long-term costs, b) explore strategies to teach social skills in a more affirming manner, c) examine current BCBA training, and d) offer a more ethical approach to training from a developmental lens.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): BCBA Training, Developmental, Masking, Social Skills
Target Audience:

BCBAs, BCaBAs, and graduate students with a basic understanding of the behaviors associated with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: 1) explain "masking" autistic traits and the potential harm, 2) identify how to ethically select and teach social skill goals, 3) understand the current deficits in training future BCBAs working with the autistic population and how to address these deficits

A Too-Short, Very Incomplete Introduction to Masking: The Practice, Effectiveness, Costs and Ethics of Performing Neurotypicality

MADISON HOLCOMB (Camp Encourage)

Masking does not, as yet, truly have a clinical definition. Rather, the term might be better understood by its roots: an attempt by the Autistic people to describe and start conversations about the (overwhelmingly common) experience of trying to appear neurotypical. Teaching Autistic clients to appear neurotypical has been one of the main goals of Applied Behavior Analysis since the days of Lovaas (Lovaas, 1981), so it is imperative to understand how the Autistic community views these goals and the effort required to meet them. This talk will attempt to (a) create a working understanding of what the Autistic adults mean when discussing masking, (b) offer the opportunity to empathize with the labor that masking requires, and (c) discuss the costs of masking long term.

Checking Blind Spots: Navigating Neurotypical Standards of Social Skills as it Relates to Neurodivergent Clients
Abstract: The majority of Behavior Analysts today work with the autistic population (BACB, 2020) Teaching various “social skills” are standard goals for our clients. These goals are often based on neurotypical social norms and the Autistic community reports that teaching social skills often involves teaching them to mask (or suppress) autistic traits. Masking autistic traits can lead to depression and anxiety in autistic adults (Hull, et al., 2017). It may be valuable to teach autistic clients to navigate neurotypical social interactions; However, Behavior Analysts are ethically obligated to practice within our scope of competence (1.02a) and to obtain the training, experience, consultation, and/or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services (1.05c). Neurotypical Behavior Analysts may be oblivious as to whether or not we are teaching skills that are socially significant to the autistic community. We may unknowingly teach our clients to mask behaviors that are a part of their autistic identity. Therefore, Behavior Analysts have an ethical obligation to listen to the autistic community and design social skills treatment with respect to individual client experiences. This presentation will discuss practical recommendations for selecting and teaching social skills in a way that is meaningful to autistic clients.

Current BCBA Training: What Did I Just Learn?

KATIE MURRAY (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, BIOS ABA Consultants)

Applied Behavior Analysis is known for its interventions geared towards the autistic community. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board quotes intensive Applied Behavior Analysis treatment as “the most successful approach for children with autism” (BACB, 2017). It has quickly become the gold standard approach to working with autistic individuals (CDC, 2019). Despite primarily working with autistic children, there are no requirements to educate ourselves on the autistic perspective. In our current course sequence, there is a lack of education regarding the issues that impact the autism culture, trauma, and human development as a whole. Some have argued that the medical model of disability is ableist because it defines “normalcy” based on neurotypical individuals, instead of taking the viewpoint from the neurodiverse person (We Can and Must Do Better, 2013). Behavior Analysts are responsible for involving their clients in the planning and consent for behavior services (4.02), and by the end of our graduate programs we are expected to be a master of the field and autism. This presentation will: examine the shortcomings of current Applied Behavior Analysis coursework from the perspective of a recent graduate and offer strategies for newly minted Behavior Analysts to better allies to the autistic community.

Towards a More Ethical and Developmental Approach to Applied Behavior Analysis
AMY BODKIN (A Charlotte Mason Plenary)
Abstract: Current Applied Behavior Analysis training focuses on skill based learning without regard for the individual’s biological, psychological, emotional development, and the appropriateness of that skill given the person’s development. Current understanding of the human brain suggests that it develops from the bottom-up, with the most basic cognitive functions developing first and building from those to create more complex cognitive functions (De Dominico, 2017). The development of these cognitive functions can be disrupted when basic needs such as physiological, safety, and psycho-social are not met. Demands that are inappropriate for the person’s current overall development can add to that disruption by causing stress and even trauma. Therefore, Behavior Analysts and those who are involved in their training have an ethical responsibility to ensure that they have a solid foundation in human development to allow them to see the whole person and not just the behavior. This presentation will discuss some practical ways the vast area of human development could be categorized and conceptualized for use in current Applied Behavior Analysis practice.



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