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The Evolution of the Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis

The practice of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is not without controversy, something most of us are

quite familiar with these days.  As with other controversial issues, there is a mix of truths, fallacies,

realities, and misconceptions. And, when it comes to some of these controversial truths, they are exactly

that--truths of a young and evolving field that has had much to learn.  ABA has the potential to be

amazing for some, while being traumatizing for others. It can be the savior in one instance and bordering

on abuse in another situation. The reality is, just like with any other discipline, there is the science and

then there is the philosophical approach seen through the lens of each individual practitioner. ABA as a

science is not good or bad, it simply is. "Good" and "bad" are the visceral responses that come from a

variety of interpretations by practitioners, as well as consumers, that influence the look and feel of an ABA

program's implementation.

 


Over the years, especially with more and more voices of adults on the spectrum being heard and

providing critical feedback, we have seen significant change in our field over the past several years.

Historically speaking, ABA has at times been a bit more doing something "to" an individual rather than

"with." Instead of forcing our way into the world of another, our methods have evolved along with our

understanding in large part to the thoughtful contributions of adults on the spectrum who experienced

ABA in their formative years.  Given the work we do is to provide support that is deemed healthy and

effective, this has been critical feedback to better understand what it means to provide a valuable service

to our client population. As a result of this process, client assent has become a big part of what we now

do. A quality behavior analyst is tasked with creating a context in which individuals want to be around us

because it feels safe, and the experience is pleasant enough that an individual will approach us on their

own. This is not always easy, but as stated before--the science is the science. If we choose to look at the

shared experience we have with an individual receiving services, then we can figure out how to get the

science to work within that framework that establishes more positive experiences.

 

At BASICS NW, we appreciate having well-rounded skill sets across a range of evidence-based

methodologies and approaches in teaching new behaviors. We certainly have and will continue to focus

on the more naturalistic approaches to develop relationships.  Our primary objective is to open as many

doors as possible for our clients. By teaching functional skills, we expand the options available to our

clients. This ensures greater choice throughout life well beyond the time spent with us.

 

I believe it is extremely important to state, quite clearly, that in no way should it ever be implied there is

something wrong with an individual with autism. We live in an extremely neurodiverse world, and each

one of us has our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. The beauty we see through the honesty

and authenticity of individuals with autism are qualities we should all endeavor towards. Our approach to

ABA with our clients with autism is no different than our approach with any other client without regard for

disability status. We want all individuals, whether on the spectrum or "neurotypical" to enjoy the

maximum level of freedom afforded by having as many options as possible in life. Our ultimate goal is for

every individual with whom we work to develop an improved skill set and a healthy self-esteem as they

move forward in life to achieve optimal levels of independence and happiness.

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