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.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #433
CE Offered: BACB/NASP — 
The Ethics of Functional Analysis: Implementation Challenges and Practical Solutions
Monday, May 27, 2019
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Hyatt Regency West, Ballroom Level, Regency Ballroom B
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Translational
Chair: Michael Weinberg (Amego, Inc)
Discussant: Joshua Jessel (Queens College)
CE Instructor: Michael Weinberg, Ph.D.

Given the current ethical standard to conduct a functional assessment when addressing problem behavior, there are a myriad of challenges for practitioners in applied settings to conduct such an assessment consistent with evidence-based practices. Ethically, we are bound to conduct the most efficient, evidence-based assessment to find the function and other maintaining variables for problem behavior then devise a plan that is most likely to be effective. This symposium will provide an overview of several perspectives by the presenters regarding ethical and legal challenges to conducting functional assessments in applied settings and offer potential practical solutions for practitioners. One potential barrier pertains to acceptance by administrators, funders, parents and others regarding implementation of traditional functional analysis methods in the behavior analysis literature (cf. Iwata et al., 1982/1994). Reliable approaches to functional analysis are currently under development that are promising in addressing acceptability, and thus alleviate ethical and legal challenges ( Bloom et. al., 2011; Hanley et. al., 2014). Presenters will offer current approaches to functional assessment and functional analysis that may serve as potential solutions to these challenges and permit for evidence-based methods in settings where these are not currently permitted and may serve to address acceptance concerns.

Instruction Level: Advanced
Keyword(s): Ethical Considerations, Evidence-Based Methods, Functional Analysis, Practical Solutions
Target Audience:

BCBAs, BCaBAs, School Psychologists, Psychologists,  ABA practice owners and managers, school administrators, others involved with policy and financial roles for provision of ABA services.

Learning Objectives: By the conclusion of the symposium, participants will learn to: 1) identify three barriers to the implementation of FAs in applied settings; 2) identify which FA procedures meet the standard of Evidence Based Practices; 3) discuss which FA procedures should be used in which situations; 4) describe how functional analysis conditions can be altered to use in school settings.
The Ethics of Functional Analysis: Implementation Challenges and Ethical Considerations
(Service Delivery)
MICHAEL F. DORSEY (Amego, Inc.), Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College)
Abstract: Functional assessment and functional analysis technologies have been extant in the field for decades, as has been the mandate to use these tools. One of the historic defining differences between the field of behavior modification and the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been the advent of the age of functional analysis (Bailey and Burch, 2005). Unfortunately, as noted by Oliver, A. C., Pratt, L. A., and Normand, M. P. (2015), the utilization of such diagnostic approaches is not commonplace within our profession, which seems to exemplify a disappointing, and somewhat confusing, inconsistency/disparity between the hundreds of functional analysis research publications and that of its clinical application. Addressing concerns by administrators, funders, parents and service recipients, as well as newer approaches to conducting valid and reliable functional analysis methods will be discussed. This presentation will address some of the challenges practitioners face in implementing Functional Analysis across applied settings, and how we might work to overcome these barriers
Ethical Challenges to Functional Analysis and Potential Practical Solutions
(Applied Research)
WILLIAM T. MARSH (Brevard Public Schools), Michael Weinberg (Amego, Inc)
Abstract: Conducting Functional Analyses poses legal and ethical dilemmas. Ethically, we are bound to conduct the most efficient, evidence-based assessment to find the function and other maintaining variables for problem behavior then devise a plan that is most likely to be effective. However, there have been legal and ethical challenges to doing so in many settings, such as public schools, and public funded services such as state departments of developmental disabilities. This presentation will review the main concerns regarding functional assessment and how these are presenting ethical and legal challenges to behavior analysts and some possible solutions to these dilemmas. The presenters will offer approaches to functional analysis that may serve as potential solutions to these challenges and permit for ethical, and evidence-based functional analysis methods in settings where these are not currently permitted or are considered an ethical human rights violation. The concept of the approach we refer to as “Molecular Functional Analysis” will be presented along with procedures and results of application of the method. This approach can change how behavior analysts apply and interpret results of functional analyses and gain acceptance from various concerned individuals, consumers, and stake-holders.
Ethical Considerations in the Absence of State Regulations: Relying Heavily on the Ethical Code
(Service Delivery)
RON DEMUESY (Dublin City Schools)
Abstract: Like many behavior analysts, as a behavior analyst employed by a school district, one’s role is to lead the completion of functional behavior assessments and writing behavior plans based upon assessment data. Unlike many behavior analysts, in the State of Ohio, there is little guidance surrounding how to complete Functional Behavior Assessments. The state has no current standards in place in public schools regarding acceptable practices for conducting a functional assessment or functional analysis. As a result, school administrators are left to make decisions regarding what will be allowed in their school district or school. Behavior analysts have a responsibility to adhere to the BACB’s™ Ethical and Professional Compliance Code which may pose challenges to the practice of behavior analysis in the school. This situation may open the doors to possible law suits by parents of children receiving special education services, and possibly child advocates as well as other concerned parties in the state. Given these considerations, this presentation will outline how the BACB™ Ethical Code Numbers 3.01–Behavior Analytic Assessment and 2.09 –Treatment Intervention Efficacy, are met using data collection, functional analyses and staff participation within a school district in Ohio.
Analyzing Consent: Ethical Practice in Assessment
(Service Delivery)
ANN B BEIRNE (Global Autism Project)
Abstract: Within the clinical practice of behavior analysis, consent is among our primary responsibilities. In this presentation, we will examine the nature of informed consent and the consent of acquiring and maintaining consent through a behavior-analytic framework. Although we as a field acknowledge environmental factors as influential in behavior, we often fail to apply this science in our interactions with stakeholders, leading to frustration, damaged rapport, and possible ethical violations. This is a significant issue in that the public, including parents of children receiving behavior analysis services, and colleagues in other disciplines, are not familiar with our evidence-based practices and methods nor terms. This can be a challenge for behavior analysts who are ethically responsible to provide a reasonable explanation of our services and approaches in a manner that parents and others can understand. Participants will identify the elements of informed consent, and the environmental factors that influence the process of gaining consent, as well as identify potential ethical pitfalls in the acquisition of consent to conduct assessments and ways to avoid them.



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