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 #546
On Incorporating Trauma-Informed Care into Applied Behavior Analytic Research and Practice
Monday, May 30, 2022
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Meeting Level 1; Room 103
Area: CBM/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Adithyan Rajaraman (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Discussant: Patrick C. Friman (Boys Town)
CE Instructor: Adithyan Rajaraman, Ph.D.

Trauma-informed care (TIC) can be defined as a proactive, universal approach—taken by practitioners and organizations—to appropriately support and avoid re-traumatizing individuals who may have experienced trauma. Researchers and clinicians from various human service disciplines have articulated commitments of TIC and argued for their adoption into service delivery models. Although rationales provided in such arguments seem relevant to applied behavior analysis (ABA), discussions surrounding TIC have only recently taken shape in the ABA literature, and an evidence base and technology for practical application of TIC has not been adequately developed. In this symposium, we progress toward bridging this divide by: (a) defining trauma-informed care; (b) describing a rationale and framework for its incorporation into behavior-analytic research and practice; (c) detailing multiple examples of TIC in ABA research and practice; and (d) providing preliminary empirical data on the effects of trauma-informed procedures on socially important behaviors purported to be relevant to trauma. In recognizing the importance of a robust evidence base to the adoption of potentially novel procedures (and the current paucity thereof), presenters in this symposium will share survey, clinical-case, and experimental data in an attempt to illustrate what TIC in ABA research and practice might look like.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Ensuring Safety, Promoting Choice, Trauma, Trauma-informed Care
Target Audience:

The target audience for this CE event includes any behavior analysts who conduct research or practice in service of addressing behavioral challenges exhibited by individuals with and without intellectual/developmental disabilities, and is particularly relevant for those who provide care to individuals who have experienced trauma. Content is designed to be consumable to beginning behavior analysts, although certain intermediate topics (e.g., a behavior-analytic conceptualization of trauma) will be discussed.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Define trauma and trauma-informed care (2) Describe the core commitments of trauma-informed care as they relate to applied behavior analysis (3) Describe multiple examples of how trauma-informed care could be incorporated into ABA-based services to contribute to positive treatment outcomes across a range of socially important behaviors (4) Articulate several reasons why an increased emphasis on trauma-informed care in ABA is both timely and warranted
A Framework for Trauma-Informed Applications of Behavior Analysis: What Might it Look Like? And Do We Really Need It?
JENNIFER L. AUSTIN (University of South Wales), Adithyan Rajaraman (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), HOLLY GOVER (Ivymount School), Anthony P. Cammilleri (FTF Behavioral Consulting), David R Donnelly (In Private Practice), Gregory P. Hanley (FTF Behavioral Consulting)
Abstract: Despite a growing acknowledgement of the importance of understanding the impacts of trauma on therapeutic approaches across human service disciplines, discussions of trauma have been relatively infrequent in the behavior analytic literature. In this session, we delineate some of the barriers to discussing and investigating trauma in applied behavior analysis and describe how the core commitments of trauma-informed care could be applied to behavior analysis. We also provide data from a survey of 447 behavior analysts across the globe, which shows that although most reported working with individuals who had experienced trauma or were at high risk for such experiences, many fewer felt confident in their knowledge and skills for working with these types of clients. We discuss the implications of the findings on future research and practice, and consider how increased attention to a trauma-informed framework might benefit clients and the behavior analysts who serve them.

Applications of Trauma-Informed Care to the Assessment and Treatment of Food Selectivity via Promoting Choice and Client Assent

HOLLY GOVER (Ivymount School), Adithyan Rajaraman (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), Gregory P. Hanley (FTF Behavioral Consulting)

Trauma-informed care, although widely recognized for its importance to human services, has yet to fully integrate into applied behavior analysis. Rajaraman et al. (2021) described what that integration could look like on a universal scale. In this presentation, we discuss what a model might look like when applied to the assessment and treatment of food selectivity. Food selectivity is a pervasive problem and affects up to 45% and 80% of individuals with and without disabilities, respectively. Food selectivity and mealtime problem behavior have primarily been treated through differential reinforcement and various forms of escape extinction. Escape extinction, while efficacious, may result in increased aggression, gagging, or vomiting and, therefore, may not be feasible to implement under some conditions. Through various case examples, we discuss a model, consistent with the commitments of trauma-informed care, in which mealtime problem behavior was assessed and treated without evoking severe problem behavior or emotional responding. Treatment components included multiple choice-making opportunities, including the opportunity for participants to participate or leave the treatment context at any point. Treatment sessions consisted of children self-feeding with no physical prompting or physical management on the part of the therapist. Implications for practitioners and future research will be discussed.


Ensuring Safety While Building Skills: A Preliminary Telehealth Investigation of a Trauma-Informed Behavioral Intervention

ADITHYAN RAJARAMAN (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), HOLLY GOVER (Ivymount School), Joshua Jessel (Queens College, City University of New York), Jennifer L. Austin (University of South Wales)

Ensuring safety and trust when providing therapeutic services is a core commitment of trauma-informed care. This commitment has implications for the assessment and treatment of dangerous problem behavior in that different approaches to intervening upon problem behavior may be associated with differential levels of experienced safety and perceived trust. One example of a potential violation of perceived trust pertains to the physical management of individuals exhibiting problem behavior. During this presentation, after providing a behavior-analytic conceptualization of the constructs of safety and trust, we share findings from a survey that returned 716 responses, from behavior analysts across the United States, regarding their experiences and opinions on the use of physical management procedures in ABA practice. Findings suggest that there are varied opinions regarding the safety and feasibility of such procedures, with a majority advocating for reduced use in everyday practice. We connect these findings to an evaluation of a systematic replication of the enhanced choice model of skill-based treatment—initially described by Rajaraman et al. (2021)—that importantly avoids the use of physical management, and that was delivered via telehealth consultation. Survey and single-subject data are discussed in the context of exploring trauma-informed processes for addressing dangerous problem behavior.


Lessons from the Field: Applying and Adapting Behavior-Analytic Strategies for Children With Histories of Abuse and Neglect

BARNEY GEORGE HUXTABLE (The Behaviour Clinic), Laura Anne Neal (The Behaviour Clinic), Jennifer L. Austin (University of South Wales)

Children and adolescents who have experienced substantial abuse and neglect typically require input from a range of professionals to support effective assessment and intervention. Unfortunately, behavior analysts have not always been considered key players on those multidisciplinary teams. Although there may be many reasons for that, in our experience, one prevalent concern is that behavior analytic approaches are unsuitable for children who have experienced traumatic events. In this presentation, we will describe how behavior analysis has been integrated into treatment delivery models for supporting a range of children and young people who have experienced substantial abuse and neglect. Through the presentation of data-based case studies, we will describe how behavior-analytic strategies were selected and applied based on the client’s unique trauma histories, as well as the adaptations we made to ensure the strategies were trauma-informed, client-centered, and capable of being maintained in the clients’ homes. We also will describe some of the challenges in integrating behavior analysis into social services in the United Kingdom, as well as suggesting specific strategies for overcoming those obstacles.




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