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.


11th International Conference; Dublin, Ireland; 2022

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #36
CE Offered: BACB/QABA — 
On the Ethics of Treating Automatically Reinforced Behavior: Self-Injurious Behavior and Stereotypy
Friday, September 2, 2022
2:00 PM–2:50 PM
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Carol Pilgrim (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
CE Instructor: William Ahearn, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: WILLIAM AHEARN (New England Center for Children)

Automatically reinforced behavior presents substantial challenges to clinicians when developing behavioral interventions. This presentation will examine that questions of how, when, and whether automatically reinforced behavior should be treated. Self-injury is problem behavior that is sometimes maintained by automatic reinforcement and can pose the risk of significant and, in some cases, life threatening harm. On the other hand, stereotypy is nearly always automatically maintained but rarely leads to injury. Ethical considerations for clinicians will be discussed and the risks and benefits of both treating and not treating self-injury and stereotypy be explored. Some applied research on evaluating and treating stereotypic behavior will be reviewed with a focus on effective interventions for building core adaptive living and social skills.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Applied Behavior Analysts

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Attendees will be able to discuss why automatically reinforced behavior is difficult to treat; (2) Attendees will be able to discuss why it is sometimes necessary and sometimes not necessary to treatment automatically reinforced behavior; (3) Attendees will be able to discuss why self-injury is a more pressing concern for intervention and which treatment strategies are likely to be effective; (4) Attendees will be able to discuss why stereotypy is a less pressing concern for intervention and why treatment strategies should first attempt to foster appropriate behavior.
WILLIAM AHEARN (New England Center for Children)
Bill Ahearn, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA, is Director of Research at the New England Center for Children. Dr. Ahearn is currently the chair of the board that licenses behavior analysts in Massachusetts and serves as Editor-in-Chief for Behavioral Interventions. He also serves on the Editorial Board for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and previously served on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis for about 20 years. Bill has published extensively, including on the treatment of repetitive behavior, treating pediatric feeding disorders, and examining predictions of the Behavioral Momentum metaphor. He was named the 2009 American Psychological Association - Division 25 awardee for Enduring Contributions to Applied Behavioral Research (Nate Azrin award) and as CalABA’s 2020 Outstanding Contributor. Bill is also a past-President of APBA and BABAT.



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