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.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Invited Tutorial #397
CE Offered: BACB — 
Advocating for Compassionate Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Practice in Conversations With Caregivers and Colleagues
Monday, May 29, 2023
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center Four Seasons Ballroom 1
Area: PRA; Domain: Applied Research
BACB CE Offered. CE Instructor: Adithyan Rajaraman, Ph.D.
Chair: Meral Koldas (Queen's University of Belfast)
Presenting Authors: : ADITHYAN RAJARAMAN (Vanderbilt University Medical Center)

In recent years, behavior analysts have increasingly embraced the relevance and importance of the construct of compassion, including but not limited to how it pertains to: (a) building relationships with clients, families, and colleagues (Taylor et al., 2019); (b) engaging in culturally responsive care (Jimenez-Gomez & Beaulieu, 2022); (c) establishing neurodiversity affirming practices (Schuck et al., 2021); and (d) ensuring that the delivery of ABA services are aligned with commitments of trauma-informed care (Rajaraman et al., 2022). These themes have each fostered burgeoning independent lines of scholarly discussion, but their amalgamation as an overall compassionate approach to ABA has not yet been described. This presentation represents my attempt to bring these definitions together to meaningfully infuse compassion into several elements of ABA practice. Through various professional experiences, I have learned to employ a particularly collaborative process—practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment, often embedded within an enhanced choice model—when given the opportunity to address an individual’s dangerous and challenging behavior. Evidence demonstrating the effectiveness, safety, and social validity of the approach is well documented; however, behavior analysts may struggle to gain “buy-in” with caregivers and colleagues due to the counterintuitive nature of certain procedures. In this presentation, while briefly summarizing procedures and expected outcomes based on existing research, I will delineate key areas of collaboration and defend the inclusion of certain procedures (and omission of others) by invoking compassion as a guiding compass. I will also argue that compassion can be found in the methods we use to evaluate our services by describing how the logic of certain single-case experimental designs can foster, rather than inhibit, compassionate ABA. Regardless of your opinions of or prior experiences with this approach, I hope to offer you an evidence-based argument—grounded in compassion—in its favor, while proposing a vocabulary for describing and defending compassionate and trauma-informed processes for addressing dangerous and challenging behaviors exhibited by the individuals you serve.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

ABA Practitioners

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this presentation, attendees should be able to: (1) Define compassion from a behavioral perspective; (2) Delineate procedures and expected outcomes associated with the practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment model for addressing dangerous and challenging behavior; (3) Describe how components of this assessment and treatment approach could be conceptualized as compassionate; (4) Defend the inclusion of compassionate procedures in practice
ADITHYAN RAJARAMAN (Vanderbilt University Medical Center)
dithyan (Dithu) Rajaraman has been blessed to teach, interact with, and learn from children and adolescents with and without disabilities for 14 years. Dithu completed his Doctoral training in Behavior Analysis at Western New England University, under the advisement of Dr. Greg Hanley. In 2019, he joined the faculty at UMBC, where he taught and mentored undergraduate and graduate students of Psychology with an emphasis in behavior analysis. In the fall of 2022, Dithu joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, where he serves as Director of Behavior Analysis Research within Vanderbilt Kennedy Center's (VKC) Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). Dithu has published research in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Analysis in Practice, the International Journal of Developmental Disabilities, and Autism. Dithu’s research and practice interests include the assessment, treatment, and prevention of dangerous behavior, with an emphasis on investigating compassionate, trauma-informed approaches to behavioral assessment and intervention. This research aim is intimately connected to the goal of being able to provide safe, dignifying, yet highly effective behavior-analytic services to underrepresented individuals in underserved communities.



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