Four Tactics for Improving Behavior Analytic Services

Article excerpt

Applied behavior analysts are developing and supplanting existing children's services in many states. While many elements may determine success and failure with a particular child, some practices will greatly enhance success with clients. Four tactics are considered here: (a) shared basic knowledge of behavior analytic principles (b) application of the correct behavior analytic model of child development (c) a functionalist perspective that allows for individualization of treatment; and (d) consumer profiling.

The Importance of Shared Basic Knowledge of Behavior Analytic Principles

Behavior analysis services are greatly in demand for work with children in school, home, and community settings. Behavior analysts work as members of a team. Typically, they design programs that are then implemented by other people. In a school setting, the behavior analysts may be working with teachers and teaching assistants. In home situations, they will be working with families and staff to implement programs. Usually the behavior analysts do not work directly with the children (or do so infrequently for assessment purposes). Instead, they function as consultants working with staff and family implement the programs.

For consistent and effective implementation of programs, it is essential that the individuals involved understand what they are doing and why. Therefore, it is imperative that the behavior analysts be able to communicate effectively about behavioral principles to people working directly with the child. Those implementing the plans must be able to identify the function(s) of the (problem) behaviors for the individual child and which factors in the environment are causing and/or maintaining the behaviors. It is not enough, for example, for a parent to follow a "recipe" for a token system, time out, or an incidental teaching protocol. Just as rote learning without understanding in children rarely generalizes to effective learning, so too individuals working to change problem behaviors will not be effective in doing so without understanding the principles involved. For example, using time-out when problem behavior is maintained by escape from an aversive task would likely function as a reinforcer and thus would fail to decrease problem behavior. Furthermore, motivation to follow through on all aspects of a plan, (particularly aspects which may be boring for the helper or be met with resistance from the child), often depends on understanding why these procedures are important. The premise here is that when all involved have the same basic knowledge of behavioral principles, it is easier to plan together, implement, and reassess treatment plans as a team.

In order to take the role of team leader and educator of other team members, as described above, the behavior analyst should possess certain basic competencies. Shook and Favell (1996) list basic competencies which behavior analysts should be expected to demonstrate. This list was compiled through a national survey conducted by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as a means of updating the Florida Behavior Analysis Certification Examination. Two hundred fifty-six individuals from 35 states participated in this survey. All were certified behavior analysts in Florida or Oklahoma or full members of the Association for Behavior Analysis. The results were compiled into a list of 108 competencies (divided into 12 content areas) which were judged by the respondents to be important skills in behavior analysis. These competencies, (see Shook and Favell, 1996, or Shook, Hartsfield, and Hemingway, 1995, for the complete list), include skills relating to conducting a behavioral assessment using various methods to collect assessment information, summarizing and interpreting this information and designing treatment programs based on these. In addition, credentialed behavior analysts must be able to identify the characteristics of behavior analysis (and distinguish between behaviorism, the experimental analysis of behavior and applied behavior analysis) and identify legal and ethical considerations (e. …