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.


48th Annual Convention; Boston, MA; 2022

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #249
Diversity submission Dismantling Ableism From Your Practice
Sunday, May 29, 2022
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Meeting Level 2; Room 253A-C
Area: PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: Kaston Dariel Anderson-Carpenter (Michigan State University)
Discussant: Cailey M M Rodgers (Integrated Therapy Solutions)
CE Instructor: Cailey M Rodgers, Ph.D.

Ableism involves stereotypes (biased verbal behavior) and discriminatory actions against disabled people. Ableism results from the assumption that there is a normative way of living that is superior and that being disabled reflects deficits in need of “fixing,” and are thus, inferior. The Practice Board of ABAI developed a “Beginner’s Guide to Dismantling Ableism in Your Practice” in recognition of the fact that ableism is ubiquitous in helping professions, and behavior analysis is no exception. Behavior analysts have a particularly heavy responsibility for dismantling ableism given the large number of contact hours they have with Autistic clients and the immediate and long-term problems resulting from this form of discrimination. This symposium will include the perspective of four behavior analysts contributing to the development of the “Beginner’s Guide” and will reflect their perspectives and barriers they have experienced as activists--including that of an Autistic, a doctoral student, a professor, and a Board Coordinator. The symposium will conclude with discussion from a neurodivergent behavior analyst who has not been involved in the development of the “Beginner’s Guide;” she will reflect on ways this and additional work is needed to actualize a paradigm shift in ABA.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) define ableism; (2) explain why dismantling ableism is important in ABA; (3) describe how ableism powerfully impacts the roles of students, professors, and Autistics.
Diversity submission 

Ableism and ABA: I Have Caused Harm

SHAWNNA SUNDBERG (Ball State University)

Studying behavior analysis involves a love for the science as well as a drive to support others. With the growing awareness of ableism and applied behavior analysis (ABA) as abuse, students are faced with challenging information and are required to navigate through the controversy in the field. It is critically important to inform these future practitioners and leaders in the field what ableism is and how to actively dismantle it in their practice. Ableist beliefs are present in everyone due to our society’s continuous reinforcement whether in the media (i.e. infantilizing, dehumanization) or in or taught in educational settings. The Beginner’s Guide to Dismantling Ableism in Your Practice is an introduction to these issues and a way to listen to Autistic voices. Listening to Autistic voices is essential to dismantling ableism in ABA. Learning that you have discriminated and caused harm can be an overwhelming realization. Students must learn how to move forward and practice using true client centered care and make the changes in the field that the people we support so desperately need from us.

Shawnna received a B.A. in Psychology from Purdue University in 2008, and a M.A. in Special Education with Certifications in ABA and Autism from Ball State University in 2015. Shawnna is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) with over 13 years of experience working in the mental health and ABA/VB field. Shawnna is currently a Ph.D. student in special education at Ball State University where she will be completing her dissertation on prompting methods to reduce ableism used to support Autistic students. She focuses both her clinical and research efforts on dismantling ableism and ABA reform as well as training other behavior analysts and parents on issues of social justice-diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of ABA. She has a special interest in sexuality education for Autistics. Previously in her career, Shawnna was a parent training coordinator focusing supporting families in home. In addition, Shawnna was the 2018-2019 Hoosier Association for Behavior Analysis Secretary assisting with licensure for BCBAs in the state of Indiana. She has published two chapters on using interventions with Autistic children and three peer-reviewed chapters accepted for publication that focus on sexuality education, self-management, and college alternatives for transition-aged Autistic students.
Diversity submission 

Considerations for Academic Training Programs

JENNIFER J. MCCOMAS (University of Minnesota)

Applied behavior analysts possess deep knowledge and strong skills in teaching desired behavior and addressing interfering behavior of individuals with a wide variety of needs. However, at least two issues interfere with practitioners’ ability to engage effectively with the people they aim to support. First, individual practitioners bring their own beliefs, values, and attitudes to their practice, yet their beliefs, values, and attitudes will inevitably vary from those of the people they serve. Second, applied behavior analytic practitioners have historically approached their work in a very technocratic manner – as elite technical experts. Behavior analytic practitioners must attend to these two issues and adjust their approach if they wish to achieve their aim of providing effective supports. Actively working to dismantle ableism is one approach to addressing these two issues, and training programs bear responsibility to teach aspiring behavior analysts how to think, talk about, and treat the people they serve and support in anti-ableist ways. I will discuss infusing a training program with instruction and practice in the use of anti-ableist attitudes, language, and practice.

Jennifer J. McComas, Ph.D., is Professor of Special Education and holds the Rodney S. Wallace Professor for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning Endowed Chair at the University of Minnesota and faculty lead of the Collaborative Action for Radical Equity in Applied Behavior Analysis (CARE ABA) lab. Her research focuses on systematic and individualized analysis and intervention for academic and social behavior. She co-coordinates the University of Minnesota Master’s program in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis, recently co-authored a chapter titled, “Beyond Cultural Responsivity: Applied Behavior Analysis Through a Lens of Cultural Humility,” and co-authored ABAI Practice Guidelines, “Beginner’s Guide to Dismantling Ableism in ABA Practice: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Diversity submission 

Activism and Life-Long Learning

SUSAN WILCZYNSKI (Ball State University)

The Practice Board redefined our mission in 2020 as, “The mission of Task Force for Quality and Values-Based ABA is to recommend systemic changes to ABAI and leaders in the field of applied behavior analysis regarding how best to meet the needs of the people we serve. We maintain that anti-ableist, person-centered services that promote meaningful outcomes through socially valid and effective intervention is the means to achieving this mission. We further recommend reflection, honesty, and effective communication regarding the strengths and limitations of evidence regarding the utility and adverse side effects of all interventions applied by behavior analysts.” The Beginner’s Guide to Dismantling Ableism in Your Practice is consistent with that mission and collaborating on this work with Practice Board members learning from Autistics who are outside the field of ABA led to growth opportunities. For example, I had learned that White people need to do the heavy lifting for producing systems change with respect to social justice and race because they (we) had created the structures that produce marginalization. I incorrectly generalized this thinking to the development of The Beginner’s Guide by having only one Autistic person on the original group writing the document. However, this decision violated the trust of the Autistic community by not sufficiently addressing the need for representation. This presentation will focus on lessons learned and the need for self-reflection and reconsideration of our positions as we all consider how to dismantle ableism in our practice and field.




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Modifed by Eddie Soh