By Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
About a year ago, I worked with a high schooler diagnosed with high-functioning Autism. His mother requested that the primary focus of treatment be his social skills deficits, as he did not have many friends and often chose to be alone. I added two social skills goals to his treatment plan to target the domains I perceived to be the greatest areas of weakness based on a parent interview and direct observation.
One day during a session his mother left the room so that it was just the two of us. He turned to me and asked, “Why do you keep having me talk to the other kids in school? I don’t like them.” I must admit that it took me a minute to answer his question. After all, according to our ethical guidelines, the student’s needs always come first. So why did I not consult with him before speaking with his mother? I quickly scheduled a meeting with both the mother and the student, and we revised the treatment plan to satisfy the wants and needs of all parties involved in treatment.
Very often, behavior analysts do not even realize when they are violating ethical guidelines. After all, I was not abusing the student, violating HIPAA, or committing some other equally severe infraction. But this experience pushed me to revisit the BACB ethical guidelines website, and I realized just how many of these guidelines behavior analysts often do not consider in everyday practice. The following are four BACB ethical codes often overlooked by practitioners.
Code 1.06 – (a) Due to the potentially harmful effects of multiple relationships, behavior analysts avoid multiple relationships. (b) Behavior analysts must always be sensitive to the potentially harmful effects of multiple relationships. If behavior analysts find that, due to unforeseen factors, a multiple relationship has arisen, they seek to resolve it. Sometimes behavior analysts may cross boundaries without even realizing it. This can be as seemingly benign as accepting a gift or cup of coffee, or spending 15 minutes chatting with a parent on topics not relevant to treatment.
Code 4.02 – Behavior analysts involve the client in the planning of and consent for behavior-change programs. As with the scenario above, I did not consult the primary client, the student himself, and simply conducted a direct observation and parent interview. As clinicians, we must consider what the student wants, whenever possible.
Code 4.10 – Behavior analysts minimize the use of items as potential reinforcers that may be harmful to the health and development of the client, or that may require excessive motivating operations to be effective. Very often, we as practitioners often conduct reinforcer assessments, but do not consider potential harmful effects of specific reinforcers, as well as potential side effects of reinforcement (e.g. the use of unnecessary amounts of unhealthy edible reinforcers).
Code 5.06 – a) Behavior analysts design feedback and reinforcement systems in a way that improves supervisee performance. b) Behavior analysts provide documented, timely feedback regarding the performance of a supervisee on an ongoing basis. – Many behavior analysts do not employ reinforcement procedures for the staff they supervise, and instead use various means of aversive control. In addition, many behavior analysts neglect to provide consistent and frequent feedback at all.
Ethical violations are not always blatant or apparent. Very often, they go unnoticed. It is important that we as practitioners review our ethical code on a regular basis to ensure that we are practicing within ethical boundaries. To review the BACB’s Ethics Code, click here.
Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, is a behavior clinician who works with children on the Autism Spectrum in the Greater Boston Area. She has over 3 years of experience delivering therapeutic services both in-home and in the public school system. Though she is predominantly focused on the utilization of Applied Behavior Analysis in treating individuals with disabilities, Emily enjoys examining topics such as religion, medicine, politics, and social constructs, through a behavioral lens. You can contact her at email@example.com.