With the rise in access and popularity, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has recently received increased criticism. Like any other medical or mental health field, the field of ABA is not infallible. However, to fully understand and adequately address these concerns, it is necessary to understand what ABA is.
What is ABA?
ABA is a sub-discipline to the scientific approach, behavior analysis. Behavior analysis itself is a natural science, much like chemistry, physics, or astronomy. ABA, the applied branch of behavior analysis, is a scientific approach for understanding and changing socially meaningful behaviors.
For something to be considered ABA it must meet all seven of these dimensions: applied, behavioral, analytical, technological, conceptually systematic, effective, and generalized. If it is not ALL of these things, IT IS NOT ABA. That’s right, if the procedures are not clear enough to be replicated to achieve the same results, or if the behaviors are not directly and consistently measured, it’s not ABA. If all the procedures are not described in terms of behavioral principles, it’s not ABA! If it’s not working (either at all, overtime, or across contexts) or it’s not important to the individual (i.e., the consumer) then IT’S NOT ABA! However, it is poor practice!
ABA in professional practice is “the design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional and environmental modifications by a behavior analyst to produce socially significant improvements in human behavior.” (APBA, 2017, p. 17).
Therefore, saying “ABA is harmful” is synonymous to saying chemistry, physics, astronomy, or medicine is harmful. Could each of these be harmful depending on how they are practiced? I’d say so! We likely have all experienced a bad doctor, dentist, psychologist, etc. In some more serious circumstances that doctor, dentist, psychologist, whoever, may have even caused harm. Like any other field, ABA has its good and bad practitioners. Like with any other scientific approach, those who practice it may do so in ways that are harmful. Yet, when practiced well, ABA has the ability to make life-changing, positive impacts that are incredibly meaningful for the consumer. For these reasons, it is imperative that practitioners and families know the green flags that indicate quality ABA and that they seek out companies, organizations, and behavior analysts who meet these quality indicators.
Green Flags for Identifying a Quality ABA Provider
The ABA provider is clear and transparent
From intake the provider should clearly outline and explain what you can expect from their services. All goals, procedures, reports should be reviewed clearly in a way that is understandable to the client and/or stakeholder.
The ABA provider makes evidence-based, comprehensive, and collaborative treatment recommendations
All treatment recommendations are evidence-based and selected based on a comprehensive assessment, collaboration with the client and/or stakeholder, and when appropriate, other service providers.
The ABA provider is competent and remains current
The ABA provider is competent in all areas of treatment. If the ABA provider is not competence in an area of treatment, they seek guidance from a practitioner who is or when necessary refer to another provider. The ABA provider stays current with research and best practice.
The ABA provider has appropriate certification and/or training
ABA providers hold a certification or licensure in ABA (e.g., BCBA, CPBA-AP, LBA, LABA, RBT) and/or licensure in a related field with formal training in behavior analysis.
Supervisors should be certified and when applicable, licensed and have formal training in behavior analysis
Technicians should have formal and comprehensive training in behavior analysis (i.e., a minimum of 40 hours) and obtain or seek to obtain their RBT.
The ABA provider delivers adequate case oversight
The amount of oversight should be determined based on the consumers individual needs. At least 50% of this oversight should be spent directly overseeing program implementation by the technician, while the remainder of the time should be spent updating the treatment plan and procedures and tools for implementation.
The ABA provider prioritizes stakeholder/ guardian support.
While stakeholder/guardian support may seem like a burden at times, it is incredibly important for the outcome of treatment. Therefore, quality ABA providers prioritize stakeholder/ guardian support in a way that is meaningful for that stakeholder/guardian.
The ABA provider updates the treatment plan whenever necessary and develops a treatment plan that is effective and socially valid.
The treatment plan is closely monitored through consistent and direct measurement. When necessary, the treatment plan is modified in a timely manner to ensure effectiveness. These modifications are data informed and are meaningful to the consumer and/or stakeholders.
The ABA provider delivers progressive and compassionate ABA
The ABA provider is responsive to the clients needs, flexible in their approach, the procedures they use, and the format in which these procedures are implemented (i.e., not just 1:1 at a table but in the natural environment). The ABA provider uses in-the-moment decision making, and is compassionate, and adequately identifies and conditions new reinforcers.
The ABA provider listens to the client and achieves meaningful outcomes.
The ABA provider seeks consumer, client/ stakeholder input when selecting treatment goals and treatment procedures. The ABA provider selects goals that are meaningful to that consumer and gains consumer assent whenever appropriate. That is, the ABA provider considers the skills the particular individual needs to live a happy, healthy, meaningful life.
Quality ABA Resources