By Tom Buqo of brohavior.org
bSci21 Contributing Group
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has become best known in the United States for the treatment of intellectual and developmental disabilities with a particular focus on autism spectrum disorders. This isn’t news for anyone in the field.
The fact that a presentation at ABAI 2013 was titled “ABA Outside Autism” (Schlinger, Friman, & Alligood, 2013) should indicate how infrequently ABA is utilized to treat things other than autism spectrum disorders. Similarly, papers like “Beyond Autism Treatment: The Application of Applied Behavior Analysis in the Treatment of Emotional and Psychological Disorders,” (Ross, 2007) note that behavior analysts have often struggled with applying the science to other disorders.
Ross draws attention to a major philosophical issue regarding language, which I share as well. However, I would also like to address some pragmatic reasons behavior analysts have not been treating disorders outside of developmental disabilities:
Focus on language. Clinical work is rife with imprecise and unscientific language, which Ross refers to as euphemisms. Behavior analysts approach their work with the goal of precisely defining specific behaviors.
Yet Ross proposes a key and succinct solution when working with emotional and psychological disorders and how behavior analysts can communicate within existing clinical frameworks. He writes, “It does not necessarily mean abandoning these euphemisms, but simply defining what they mean for a particular person by describing the behaviors that lead to that label for that particular person” (p. 534).
Professional and political issues. Anyone with exposure to the field of emotional and psychological disorders know that many professions seek to treat these problem behaviors. As with any field with multiple professions doing similar work, political and competitive issues arise.
Despite the proliferation of behavior therapies in the market (as well as the proliferation of people claiming to perform “behavior therapy” when they may or may not), behavior analysts have had less impact directly. This is for myriad reasons (e.g., misconceptions about behaviorism, behavior analysts desire to break away from mainstream psychology) that are beyond the scope of this article. However, I will say this: behavior analysts may be able to survive such pressures when effective results speak for themselves.
A seemingly greater need. Throughout history, great harm, discrimination, and mistreatment has been afflicted to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These have ranged from systemic abuses to sociocultural prejudice. Behavior analysts have seen amazing success when working with these people who have faced huge historical barriers.
Therein lies why behavior analysis must continue to help people with these barriers but also why it must expand its scope. Ross states “I believe that it is imperative that behavior analysts move beyond autism and apply our technology to a broader range of conditions.” The success of behavior analysis in treatment of autism must be expanded, as its efficacy is something that should not be kept to one realm.
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Schlinger, H.D., Friman, P.C., Alligood, C.A. Professional Development Series: ABA outside autism. Symposium at the 39th Annual Association for Behavior Analysis International Conference. Minneapolis, MN. May 27th, 2013
Ross, R. K. (2007) “Beyond autism treatment: The application of applied behavior analysis in the treatment of emotional and psychological disorders. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 4(3).
Following graduation from Master’s programs many behavior analysts find themselves in a cold dark world where they are searching for the light of peers that share their approach to the subject matter of behavior. One online group called Brohavior (derived from “brotherhood”) has recently created a refuge for behavior analysts looking for the light in order to continue their own development. The group aims to create a collaborative environment where students of behavior analysis are exposed to and pursue behavior analytic literature, philosophy and research that is outside of the scope of the BACB-approved course sequence. To view the biography of any Brohavior writer, please visit brohavior.org.