Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Research Needed for Focusing on Additional Generality of Applied Behavior Analysis

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Research Needed for Focusing on Additional Generality of Applied Behavior Analysis

Article excerpt

Most behavior analysts would agree that best-practice behavior-analytic services require, at a minimum, problem identification, establishing operational definitions, establishing assessment and treatments goals, achieving accurate data collection, and evaluating treatment in a reasonably conservative experimental design. Most behavior analysts would also agree that taking those steps in the context of problem solving should occur in a single-subject design. That is, behavior analysts are likely to focus on behavior change at the level of the individual response class rather than measures of central tendency within a large group of individuals (Johnston & Pennypacker, 1980).

Interestingly, this methodology (i.e., single-subject design and the focus in the individual) is relatively rare in psychological research (Friman, 2010). Establishing functional relations typically relies on determining the likelihood that one may draw an inference about the relationship between an independent variable and dependent variable at some arbitrarily agreed upon acceptable level of error (e.g., p = .05). This is in stark contrast to behavior analytic research and practice, in which statistics are relatively rare. The criterion for drawing an inference about the relationship between an independent variable and dependent variable is usually the judgment of a "visual inspector", who must decide if a reasonable demonstration of experimental control and change of social significance are evident when the data are depicted in graphical form (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968). The advantages and disadvantages of these disparate approaches have been described, discussed, and argued elsewhere (e.g., Baer, 1977; Johnston & Pennypacker, 1980; Michael, 1974). The field of ABA, though, has almost categorically adopted single-subject methodology and logic as the core of its practice and research.

The maintenance and expansion of this adoption is not surprising, especially when the loci of service initiation are considered. Although behavior analysis includes active research agendas across many areas in psychology, contingencies have favored heavy growth of the field in the area of developmental disabilities in educational settings in particular. For example, behavior analysts in academia, private practice, group homes, and schools are very likely to be referred a school-aged (or younger) child or adolescent who engages in some form of "unacceptable" behavior. Present contingencies support this mode of service delivery. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA; 2004) mandates functional behavior assessment (FBA) for the individual, depending on the circumstances. For instance, children diagnosed with autism often receive behavior analytic services, either through the school or outside of school, to ameliorate the "symptoms" of autism or to increase communication and social interaction. School systems often hire "behavior specialists" (who may or may not technically be trained in ABA) to respond to teachers' concerns complaints about individual students who require intervention. In sum, the target for assessment and intervention that is mandated and funded is typically the behavior of individual students, which aligns well with the philosophy and practice of most behavior analysts, maintaining and increasing the need for behavior analysts and their services.

The good news is that children who are the most critically and severely in need of services are more likely than ever to obtain evidence-based, scientifically reliable and valid, and effective assessment and treatment. The bad news is that there has been, arguably, an unhealthy emphasis in ABA to providing a large portion of its collective effort to a very small proportion of people who have problems of social significance to be solved (Friman, 2010; Woods, Miltenberger, & Carr, 2006). For example, one of the most well known "procedures" in ABA is the functional analysis technology developed by Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, and Richman (1982). …

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