Applied Behavior Analysis: A Counterculture of Progression

Author: Melissa Engasser, MS, BCBA

Author: Melissa Engasser, MS, BCBA

For some time now, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been making earth-shattering impacts on children with autism and other intellectual disabilities. This has caused some great notoriety to the field. I can say I love working with my clients with intellectual disabilities and their families, but I also yearn to help other humans with other areas of challenge as well.

ABA has shown positive outcomes across various populations and social situations, such as utilizing biofeedback with children with respiratory distress (Warnes, 2005), increasing the usage of sunscreen for skin safety (Lombard, 1991), and working with mental health populations such as schizophrenia (Wong, 1987).

Unfortunately, we have become products of our own environment.

Once the field found a huge (and needed) niche within Autism we have generally become complacent and have not been exploring other areas with the tenacity that we have devoted to Autism Spectrum Disorders. This makes total sense, though, and there's a LOT of variables that affect this system (e.g., funding changes, academia shifts, technological advances). Behaviorally speaking, the response effort to set up effective interdisciplinary practices with other populations is too high. This is such a great example of just how much we are influenced by our environment. Why try to pursue another area when we can wake up, help a very much needed population in the world, and make a decent living while doing it? It's understandable why so much of our collective time is with this social need. It's the option with the most funding associated with it, we are typically very effective, and we have a lot more refinement to complete in the area of creating a solid behavioral technology. However, this "complacency" could lead to a lot more potential issues for our field.

I initially think back of the counterculture movements of the 1960s. These young men and women had ideals that they stood up for, such as civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, and so forth.

What if behavior analyst began a counterculture movement to attempt to reverse this state of complacency?

We know that presenting this in a way that can facilitate counter-control isn't the best option, and that's not what I'm proposing. A prosocial approach, one which provides a place for people to expose their ideas, receive feedback, develop a plan, network with like-minded people and find the missing skill sets the need to get their project going.

Sound nice?

Presenting our field with such a "counterculture" movement could shake things around just enough for us to create something great. But the big question is:

Are behavior analyst willing to do the work?

Are they willing to go stand up to those who may oppose them, or are they willing to step up and own their losses? Are they willing to put in the work to show the world what our science truly can accomplish? I’m not sure about you, but I’m excited to give it a shot and take the journey with anyone that is willing to come on board!

Join me?


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Lombard, D., Neubauer, T.E., Canfield, D., Winett, R.A. (1991). Behavioral Community Intervention to Reduce the Rose of Skin Cancer. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 677, 686.

Warner, E., Allen., K.D. (2005). Biofeedback of Paradoxical Vocal Fold Motion and Respiratory Distress in an Adolescent Girl. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38, 529-532.

Wong, S.E., Terranova, M.D., Bowen, C., Zarate, R., Massel, K.H>, Liberman, R.P. (1987). Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 77-81.