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ABA is a very new profession! Really, in the grand scheme of things, it is still in its infancy. And as infants we can learn much from our older siblings. Did you know that in the early stages of psychology, psychiatrists fought against its inception as a profession? Here is a short timeline taken from History of Clinical Psychology as a Profession in America (and a Glimpse at its Future) – Benjamin (2005) [i].
|Formed an Association||1892||1974 (ABAI) [ii]|
|Published an Ethics Code||1953||1999 (BACB’s Conduct Standards and Procedures for Appeals)|
|First License||1945 (Connecticut)||2009 (Oklahoma) [iii]|
|Last License||1977 (Missouri)||Expected 2041 (if the timeline matches psychology)|
In order to advocate, you have to be knowledgeable of the current laws in your area and the priorities of the persons with whom you are speaking. Your state ABA organization or APBA (Association of Professional Behavior Analysts) should be able to bring you up to date on the laws in your area. Many state associations have professional lobbyists working on their behalf. It is each practitioner’s responsibility to know the laws that affect him or her. Hint: it goes beyond licensure!
If you are talking with legislators, be sure to do your homework and understand their priorities. What bills have they sponsored lately? What types of events do they do? What causes are close to their heart? If you can tap into something that is important to them, you may be able to make a connection and have a powerful ally.
And any time you want to work to change the law, be sure to work with your state organization (if you have one) and not against or solo. Don’t make life harder for other behavior analysts by going rogue!
There have been a lot of claims about ABA in social media and other channels. Many of the claims are inaccurate, but some are quite valid. Take a look at your practice. Are you causing trauma? Use social validity measures and actively seek out the opinions of the population that you are treating. This most certainly does not mean to rely less on the science of behavior analysis, which is well proven and has a plethora of research backing it up. However, knowledge of the science is power and with power comes responsibility. The main goal of an ABA practitioner is to help individuals achieve meaningful outcomes and improve their quality of life, [iv] and that is something worth advocating!
The education of a behavior analyst does not generally include how to disseminate or communicate information about our science and profession. But we can use our knowledge of behavior analysis to help us become good disseminators. In his article, Ten Rules for Discussing Behavior Analysis [v], Thomas Critchfield tells us to plan our own behavior to support behavior change. He recommends in talking with non-behavior analysts, our behavior should be what the other person needs to better understand. He also reminds us that behavior changes gradually; “the idea that a single rebuttal of a mischaracterization will make everything right is folly.” Finally, he declares that skills become more fluent with practice – including your skills in communicating about and disseminating behavior analysis.
It’s no secret that most behavior analysts work in the field of autism. In fact, ABA has almost become synonymous with autism in the last several years. Trump and Ayres [vi] discuss the impact this has on our field in their 2019 article, Autism, Insurance, and Discrimination: The Effect of an Autism Diagnosis on Behavior-Analytic Services. While there are many reasons why the two have become linked (including research, advocacy, and legislation), it is necessary for behavior analysts to go beyond autism if our profession is going to flourish in the future. However, we can take a page from the book of autism advocates as they sure know how to get results!
This brings it back to you. What will the profession of behavior analysis – our profession – look like in 10, 20, 50 years? What do you want it to look like? Behavior analysis needs advocates like you if it is going to survive in the future. So get involved today by joining your state ABA association and offering to help, actively meeting with your legislators, meeting with non-behavior analytic organizations about what behavior analysis is and what we do, going to high school and college recruiting events, and continually striving to use the best of the science. Because if you aren’t at the table, then you may just be on the menu!
[i] Benjamin, L.T. (2013). History of Clinical Psychology as a Profession in America (and a Glimpse at its Future). Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 42(1), 57–71.
[iv] Attributed to Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz
[v] Critchfield, T.S. (2014). Ten Rules for Discussing Behavior Analysis. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 7(2), 141-142.
[vi] Trump, C.E. and Ayres, K. M. (2019). Autism, Insurance, and Discrimination: The Effect of an Autism Diagnosis on Behavior-Analytic Services. 13(1), 282-289.