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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #111
CE Offered: BACB
Empirical Investigations Into Issues of Assent and Dissent When Delivering Behavioral Services
Saturday, May 25, 2024
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Convention Center, 200 Level, 202 AB
Area: PCH/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Britany Melton (Journeys Autism Center; Endicott College)
CE Instructor: Britany Melton, M.A.

Behavior science's core principles involve compassion towards recipients of our services, with the goal to prevent human suffering and maximize the quality of life for those we serve. Over the past several years, there has been an increasing number of behavioral researchers advocating for more discussion of assent-based procedures, where clinical interventionists provide frequent opportunities for the recipients of our services to indicate their 'willingness' or 'dissent' from participating in the activities requested of them. This increased focus is laudable. However, up to this point, there have been only conceptual and advocacy papers written supporting this more enlightened view. The conceptual importance of using more assent-based procedures has been determined. However, now we must begin to explore aspeccts of assent and dissent using our research approaches inherent in the behavioral sciences. This symposium will consist of three research studies that empirically investigated aspects of assent and dissent. The researchers will present data-based results from systematic research studies exploring what are the behavioral components of assent and dissent, how to maximize assent and minimize dissent in clinical behavioral intervention, and how to train staff to deliver services in line with this new approach to treatment.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): assent, ethics
Target Audience:

clinical interventionists; beginners

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) orally describe the importance of assent opportunities for learners; (2) orally describe behaviors that might make up assent and dissent; (3) orally describe potential empirical research studies to expand our understanding of assent procedures.
Enhancing Assent and Treatment Outcomes: A Case Study on Responding to Aversive Ambient Auditory Stimuli for an Autistic Adult
FARIS R KRONFLI (University of Florida), Jeanne Stephanie Gonzalez (University of Florida), Malchijah Williams (Florida Autism Center), Timothy R. Vollmer (University of Florida)
Abstract: The discussion of importance of assent and dissent procedures has moved from the conceptual argument for assent-based procedures, to exploring the variables related to identifying the components of assent-based procedures, so those procedures can be taught to clinical interventionists. The current study investigated the issue of teaching assent procedures to a recipient of services. We explored assent procedures to promote assent and treatment effectiveness for an autistic adult. The objective, at the request of the participant, was to evaluate an innovative approach to a) identify aversive auditory stimuli and b) teach Steven, a 19-year-old male, appropriate responses in the presence of these stimuli without directly exposing him to the stimuli. The results suggest that the procedures effectively identified auditory stimuli for assessment and taught the participant to avoid the aversive stimuli appropriately (that is, in ways that were not dangerous). Through the implementation of this novel approach, assent and treatment effectiveness were enhanced for the autistic individual

Staff Training in Assent and Assent Withdrawal Behavior in Children With Disabilities

JACQUELINE J. WEBER (Endicott College), Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College)

In recent years, there have been calls to action regarding the integration of compassionate care and assent into behavior analytic practice. Assent, in medical and educational interventions, is associated with an absence of coercion and with a willingness to engage. It is a core foundational value of humane and compassionate intervention across human service professions. A recent review of the research literature (Morris et al., 2021) revealed that attention to assent in Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) research is scarce. Critiques of the field have implied an inadequate focus on assent in clinical practice as well. There are definitional and measurement challenges associated with assent that are barriers to the integration of it into clinical work. In this study, instructors were trained to identify individualized indices of assent and withdrawal of assent for learners in their care. The focus on individualized indices represents an advance and reflects the highly tailored nature of behavior analytic intervention. Staff members were also taught to shift instructional strategies when assent was withdrawn. The study represents an empirical successful demonstration in training staff to identify and to honor both assent and withdrawals of assent. Limitations and future directions are discussed, in terms of measurement, training, and clinical practice. Implications for clinical practice and practitioner training are reviewed.

Assessing Behaviors Related to Assent and Dissent
ANDREA LOUISE EADS (University of Kansas), Thomas L. Zane (University of Kansas), Pamela L. Neidert (The University of Kansas), Cody Morris (Salve Regina University )
Abstract: The field of behavioral science has come increasingly concerned about issues related to consent and assent in both research and clinical situations. While consent has been more clearly defined legally, assent can be more difficult to determine, especially among individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other intellectual or developmental disabilities. Determining assent and dissent of persons who do not effectively communicate is of particular interest. Thus, the purposes of this study are to operationally define responses that comprise the response classes of assent and dissent, accurately measure those behaviors across preferred and nonpreferred activities, and attempt to increase rates of assent and decrease rates of dissent using environmental manipulations, with children diagnosed with autism who do not communicate effectively. The results of this study should deepen understanding of the extent to which nonvocal behaviors could indicate the willingness of individuals to participate (or not) in activities, and could lead to proactive strategies to increase the willingness of individuals to participate in research and clinical activities.



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