Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Past and Future of Behavior Analysis in Developmental Disabilities: When Good News Is Bad and Bad News Is Good

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Past and Future of Behavior Analysis in Developmental Disabilities: When Good News Is Bad and Bad News Is Good

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article provides a brief historical overview that outlines the temporal contiguity of developments in both behavior analysis and developmental disabilities, illustrating how each has contributed to the other. Consideration is then given to what the successes and failures suggest for the future. Behavior analysis has had a major impact in the field of development disabilities. This is readily apparent from an examination of the literature, where behaviorally-based interventions for individuals with developmental disabilities proliferate. This is also seen in the curricula of training programs in special education which typically contain course content and textbooks on behavioral approaches; in the number of advertisements for positions in developmental disabilities in which skill in behavior analysis is a qualification. More examples include the results of litigation mandating provision of services based on behaviorally-based practices, and from policy, regulatory standards, and legislation regarding use of behaviorally based assessment and treatment in various situations (e.g., Reid, 1991). That's the good news. On the other hand, there have been, and continue to be, notable failures and sources of dissatisfaction. As will be discussed, that is also the good news. It can therefore be useful to examine the evolution, sources, and nature of this good news. This article, then, will (a) provide a brief historical account that outlines the temporal contiguity of developments in both behavioral analysis and developmental disabilities, and (b) consider what the successes and failures suggest for the future.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES

1940s. Behaviorism began emerging as a philosophy following Skinner's The Behavior of Organisms (1938), as a result of dissatisfaction with the tradition of "seeking a solution for the problems of behavior elsewhere than in behavior itself." (As a frame of reference, this development would have been described in the parlance of the times as "the cat's pajamas.")

At the same time, a custodial model characterized the field of developmental disabilities. Many individuals with mental retardation resided in institutions, where programs were directed almost entirely to providing basic physical care and general types of stimulation. Because persons with mental retardation were considered to be uneducable, systematic training was not provided.

1950s. Developments in this decade emerged from Fuller's (1949) study with a young man with profound mental retardation who did little except lie on his back with minimal movement, and who was thought incapable of learning. Fuller injected a warm sugar-milk solution into the man's mouth following any movement of the man's right arm and, within four sessions, the man was moving his arm to a vertical position three times per minute. (To anchor it within a cultural context, Fuller would have been considered 66a cool cat.")

Following Fuller's (1949) study and the publication of Skinner's Science and Human Behavior in 1953, other researchers began to use the methodology of the experimental analysis of behavior to determine whether principles of behavior demonstrated by Skinner in the laboratory were valid with humans. The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) began in 1958 and published behavioral research (with both humans and other animals). Much of the research that occurred with society's neglected and disenfranchised members contributed to the development of behavior analysis as applied to humans but was not designed for any socially significant purpose. Thus, persons with disabilities and mental illness contributed more to behavior analysis than behavior analysis benefited them during this time. However, this development set the stage for recognition that learning could occur and behaviors could be changed in individuals previously thought to be "hopeless. …

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