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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Symposium #189
CE Offered: BACB — 
A Constructional Approach to Consent and Assent
Sunday, May 29, 2022
8:00 AM–9:50 AM
Meeting Level 1; Room 156C
Area: PCH; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Sean Michael Will (Constructional Approach to Animal Welfare and Training)
Discussant: Lucero Neri-Hernandez (University of North Texas)
CE Instructor: Richele Zvorsky, M.Ed.

Given it’s addition to the BACB 2022 Code of Ethics, the current symposium discusses the hot topic: assent and its implications to human and animal learners alike. The first talk introduces a contingency analysis, followed by a concept analysis of assent, consent, and compulsion. The second talk follows-up on those analyses and introduces relevant examples and nonexamples familiar to clinicians in applied behavior analysis. The third talk introduces strategies to evaluate programs where assent is not present, but the program is needed. It also introduces intervention strategies to gain not only learner assent, but begin to construct the needed repertoires for learner autonomy. Finally, the fourth talk will focus on the animal trainer’s personal background and his experiences with assent. Specifically, how quality of life for the animal improves with experiences where assent is present. These four presentations taken together, will provide a fresh nonlinear contingency analytic informed perspective on assent and consent.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Assent, Constructional, Ethics, Nonlinear
Target Audience:

A solid foundation in the basic principles of Applied Behavior Analysis is required.

Learning Objectives: (1) At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to define consent and assent. (2) At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to discriminate between examples and nonexamples of assent and consent. (3) At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to apply these concepts in practice.

A Concept Analysis of Assent

SHEILA KLICK (Endicott College), Anna Linnehan (Endicott College), Jonathan Amey (AIMS Instruction), Richele Yeich (Eastern Florida Autism Center; Great Leaps Academy), Awab Abdel-Jalil (Great Leaps Academy / Eastern Florida Autism Center)
Abstract: Given the inclusion of the core principles and assent to the 2022 BACB code, this presentation will discuss a contingency analysis of consent, assent, and compulsion. A concept analysis will be utilized to identify the critical and variable attributes described by the three coordinate concepts of consent, assent, and compulsion. Critical attributes are features that if absent would produce a non-example, and variable attributes are features that vary across the range of examples of the concept (Layng, 2019; Markle & Tiemann, 1990). Contingencies related to discrete and continuous environmental events will also be discussed. While consent is a discrete event, assent is continuous and should be evaluated moment to moment. This talk will demonstrate how a nonlinear contingency analysis of such complex concepts can inform a concept analysis to clarify and outline what these concepts entail. The aim is to enable clinicians to go beyond topographical definitions of such concepts.

Examples and Non-Examples of Assent

JONATHAN AMEY (AIMS Instruction), Richele Yeich (Eastern Florida Autism Center; Great Leaps Academy), Anna Linnehan (Endicott College), Awab Abdel-Jalil (Great Leaps Academy / Eastern Florida Autism Center), Sheila Klick (Endicott College)

Given the critical and variable features of assent, consent, and compulsion discussed previously, this talk will present the rational sets of examples and nonexamples related to each (Layng, 2019; Markle & Tiemann, 1990). The presence or absence of the critical attributes will provide differentiation in example/nonexamples of assent, consent, and compulsion. Within this analysis, variable attributes determine whether criteria are met for true or apparent consent/assent. This critical discrimination between true and apparent is at the heart of ethical clinical practice. Examples of true assent will be contrasted against apparent with a focus on helping the clinician reveal the critical contingencies actually operating at any given moment. An emphasis will be placed on the practical everyday situations encountered by clinicians working with Autism Spectrum diagnosed learners. This discussion will establish a framework that will allow the clinician to determine if true assent has been obtained. Further, this framework can be applied in any setting across all learner types.


Practical Applications and Implications of a Contingency Analysis of Assent

RICHELE YEICH (Zvorsky Behaviour Consultants, Inc. ), Awab Abdel-Jalil (Great Leaps Academy / Eastern Florida Autism Center), Sheila Klick (Endicott College), Jonathan Amey (AIMS Instruction), Anna Linnehan (Endicott College)

Given the concept analysis and examples and nonexamples of assent, this talk will examine what clinicians can do when learner assent is not present. It is suggested that clinicians apply a cost/benefit analysis of program participation and nonparticipation to determine if the program benefits a learner’s overall growth and development. If it is determined that the program is beneficial for the learner, clinicians can ask a few guiding questions to help program for program participation. The questions relate to behavioral objectives, entry repertoires, and programming sequences (Layng et al., 1976). The answers will help clinicians create programs that build on learners' entry repertoires that lead to full participation in the program. These programs are individualized for the learner and may include shaping, chaining, the use of conjugate schedules, and streamlining reinforcement systems (Rosales-Ruiz & Hunter, 2019). This talk will present examples of programs that utilize this process to obtain assent.

A Constructional Approach to Assent in Zoological Settings
KYLE HETZEL (San Francisco Zoo )
Abstract: In the zoological community, animal keepers routinely face training assignments with learners who have immediate behavior needs, often paired with firm and intractable deadlines. This combination of priorities can create a disconnect in overall training goals. In the zoological field, linear contingency-based training is considered best practice. This training approach can force many animal care specialists to sacrifice their relationships with the learner or create behavior plans that are absent of assent. After witnessing the positive effects of the constructional approach with a severely disabled giraffe, I was inspired to understand the methods used to accomplish the behaviors displayed. Throughout my career in the zoological field, I have deployed the constructional design in helping develop training plans that allow learners to be fully understanding of all of the contingencies, regardless of their history or start of training. In this presentation I will discuss how I create whole life plans where a philosophy of assent is folded into the framework of the training, how degrees of freedom help to create assent based behavior developments, and the application of these practices in behaviors ranging from interactive guest encounters to high stakes invasive medical behaviors.



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