Tip of the Week: Avoid Common Ethical Missteps in the Home Environment as a Behavior Analyst

(Beaumont Health System)

Fortunately, we have the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) as a resource. You can see the BACB’s Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts here. While this code does not take effect until January 2016, it’s important to note that many states have adopted ABA Licensure, which provides for oversight of behavior analysts and implementation of this code, or the specific ethical code that state has adopted.

Keep all identifying information confidential. First, all records should be kept in a locked filing cabinet, (not in a binder inside a tote bag or in the trunk of your car.) Furthermore, while it may be tempting at times, no photos or videos of students should be kept on cellphones or computers, or shared on social media accounts. And while you may have funny stories or great improvements you want to share with friends or loved ones, you should not share, the names, ages, or other identifying information of your students.

Only accept cases for which you have the necessary training and experience. This one can be tricky, especially if you are in a location in which there are few behavior analysts or you’ve been recommended to a parent and they are pushing for you to work with their child. However, it is very important that you follow this guideline. For example, if a child is engaging in self-injurious behavior (SIB) and you’ve never intervened with SIB, you should not take the case. Instead, you should make a referral to a behavior analyst who has the appropriate training and experience. If you are the only behavior analyst available, you should seek out the appropriate training and seek guidance from someone who does have the appropriate experience. This is more possible today with the advent and ease of video-chatting.

Don’t accept gifts or give gifts. As described below, it’s better to express this rule to parents at the beginning of your relationship, rather than when they’re handing you a gift certificate to your favorite coffee shop. While parents want to show appreciation and care for you, gift giving on either end blurs the line between professional relationship and friendship. Which brings us to our next point…

Maintain a professional relationship. This can be challenging when you’re working in the home environment, especially when you’re working in the home daily for one, two, or more years. But it’s important that you relate to the family as a professional with an expertise in behavior analysis. This means that you should not be joining the family for meals, birthday parties, or other events. It also means that information about your private life should not be provided (such as who you’re dating, any personal problems, etc.) and you are not a counselor/therapist for personal problems in the life of the family.

Provide effective treatment. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be quite easy to begin using a treatment that was recommended by another professional, only to discover that there is no scientific evidence proving its effectiveness. If you ever have a question about whether or not an autism-treatment is evidence-based, you should take a look at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment. You should also look at the research regarding interventions for specific behaviors in resources such as Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, or Behavior Analysis in Practice.

Set expectations from the very beginning of your relationship. Some of these missteps can be more difficult if you don’t provide information about what you are allowed or not allowed to do. A simple contract can be given to parents or caregivers at the beginning of the teaching relationship. In their book Ethics for Behavior Analysts: 2nd Expanded Edition, Bailey & Burch provide an excellent sample contract that can be modified for your use. (It’s worth noting that this book is a must-have for any behavior analyst. It contains explanations for each ethical guideline and case studies in an easy-to-read style.) Making it clear that you have professional guidelines to follow from the outset of your relationship is the most effective step you can take towards maintaining an ethical, professional relationship for the duration.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.