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 #42
CE Offered: BACB
Compassion and Science – How and Why They Must Coexist in Autism Education Programs
Saturday, May 25, 2024
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 113 B
Area: AUT/OBM; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Dawn B. Townsend (Alliance for Scientific Autism Intervention)
Discussant: Shahla Susan Ala'i (University of North Texas)
CE Instructor: Dawn B. Townsend, Ph.D.
Abstract: Recent interest in compassionate care has been evident in the field of Behavior Analysis, with concerns that emphasis on technical procedural knowledge has overshadowed the delivery of compassionate care. This symposium will define how we link compassionate practices with data-based outcomes to ensure that both science and compassion are part of autism education programs. As the founders of our field noted, behavior analysis is defined by both scientific rigor and valued goals and outcomes. A review of the core dimensions of behavior analysis will be completed along with an emphasis on how those dimensions are implemented and/or assessed in a science-based intervention model employed across several education programs nationally and internationally. Staff-training practices that include a focus on both technical precision and relationship development will be described to demonstrate the importance of training both clinical and compassionate repertoires. The role of consumers in selecting intervention goals will be discussed, as well as the importance of providing a wide breadth of programming that meets the family and cultural needs of each individual student. Finally, student observational measures, including engagement, activity selection, and interaction patterns will be shared to demonstrate the utility of these measures in assessing outcomes of compassionate care.
Instruction Level: Advanced
Keyword(s): Autism Education, Compassionate care, Data-based outcomes, Staff Training
Target Audience: This presentation is appropriate for an advanced audience. Audience members should have a BCBA and competencies in developing autism programs and training staff.
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to (1) identify staff training strategies to promote and assess clinical competence and compassionate care delivered by education program staff members; (2) identify tools and yoked contingencies of reinforcement that serve as proactive measures and prompt systems to support accountability in ensuring comprehensive programming and parental involvement; (3) identify how to use program-wide direct measures to assess synchronous engagement between instructors and students, instructor, and student affect, and to obtain a sample of daily activities for students, and clinical trainer activity.
Compassionate Care is More Than Words….It’s a Responsibility
ERIC ROZENBLAT (Institute for Educational Achievement), Donna De Feo (Institute for Educational Achievement), Dawn B. Townsend (Alliance for Scientific Autism Intervention; Institute for Educational Achievement)
Abstract: A growing discussion as it relates to autism intervention has focused on compassionate care. While this is an important topic, it is not a new phenomenon. In their seminal article, Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) discussed the importance of improving human behavior and outlined the seven core dimensions of the field. Subsequently, Wolf (1978) discussed the importance of having consumers evaluate the goals, procedures, and outcomes achieved to ensure social validity. Further, in the most recent publication of the Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts, the BACB explicitly states that behavior analysts should treat others with compassion, care, and dignity. In sum, when the goal is to improve one’s quality of life, it is important to do so in a caring manner, while still adhering to the core principles of the science. Throughout their careers, Drs. Krantz and McClannahan ensured compassionate care was one of the foundational values of an autism agency. Their work is exemplified within the Alliance for Scientific Autism Intervention (ASAI). The purpose of this presentation is to provide examples of how compassionate care is at the forefront of the systems employed within, and across, the ASAI programs and to share data documenting effectiveness in this domain.

Training Clinically Strong, Compassionate Staff Members

Sue Vener (Foundry 6:1:3), ALISON GILLIS (The Graduate Center/CUNY, RISE NY)

To be an effective agent of change in an autism education program, there are clinical skills that all staff must acquire. Historically, there has been an emphasis on staff-training protocols that ensure clinicians demonstrate mastery of behavior analytic repertoires and effectively implement instructional strategies. These skills include, for example, delivering reinforcement, prompting effectively, delivering discrete trial teaching, and teaching language. Although adherence to behavioral procedures is necessary, it is not sufficient to produce staff members who collaborate, demonstrate compassion, and ensure instruction that leads to improved quality of life. Staff training must include the development of professional, compassionate, and culturally sensitive skills. A review of staff training practices that have been effective in promoting well-rounded, caring clinicians will be described along with data supporting effective behavior change agents that ensure consumer satisfaction and implement teaching programs to address the cultural needs and values of each consumer. In addition, strategies and procedures that promote parent trust and involvement, an understanding of individualized family life and values, and the development of action plans based upon knowledge of the consumer will be reviewed, along with data from programs that have implemented the same staff training model both nationally and internationally.

Behavioral Systems to Ensure Compassionate, and Comprehensive Intervention Programming and Family Supports
KEVIN J. BROTHERS (Somerset Hills Learning Institute), Sandra R. Gomes (Somerset Hills Learning Institute), Paul Shreiber (Somerset Hills Learning Institute), Priya P Patil (Caldwell University), Emily E. Gallant (Somerset Hills Learning Institute)
Abstract: One facet of compassionate applied behavior analytic intervention is ensuring that provided services support the full breadth of a learner’s programming needs in an ongoing manner. Foundational to the operations of ASAI member organizations are multiple practices and systems designed to accomplish this. We will describe how compassionate care practices have been ever-present in our intake procedures, home programming model, and annual planning meetings. We will describe how our practices are flexible and responsive to changing consumer needs and best practices in our field. Participation in home programming services (that is, caregivers receiving coaching to effectively deliver intervention in home and community settings) as a requirement for continued enrollment, is a hallmark of our program and as we will describe, a core example of compassion fundamentally underlying our intervention approach. We will describe tools and yoked contingencies of reinforcement used across multiple levels across our organization that serve as proactive measures and prompt systems to support continued accountability in this area, with special attention to an annual home programming relationship assessment tool. Last, social validity data from parents of children served over the last 20 years will be presented.
A Direct Measure to Support Efficacy and Compassionate Behavior Analytic Services
AMANDA SAWMA FREEMAN (Princeton Child Development Institute ), Christine Fry (Princeton Child Development Institute)
Abstract: Behavior analysts are continually tasked with providing effective and compassionate services. There has been a recent call for behavior analysts to receive direct training in providing compassionate services, primarily focused on compassionate interactions with families (Rohrer & Weiss, 2022). A program-wide measure has been developed, based upon the work of Risley and McClannahan (1975) to assess efficacy and rapport-building between instructors and students in a one-to-one behavior analytic school setting, and has been replicated across several similar school settings. The data produced suggest a possible direct measure to assess instructor efficacy in maintaining learner engagement. Additional data were obtained to assess synchronous engagement between instructors and students, instructor, and student affect, and to obtain a sample of daily activities for students, and clinical trainer activity. Program-wide measures, such as these, may be particularly useful to provide program administrators with ongoing data to guide goal setting within the organization while continually striving to achieve positive and effective learning environments.



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