Ethics: Part Three


This is part three in a series on ethics and effective treatment. The previous installment can be found here. 

At the root of ABA is a focus on reinforcing appropriate behaviors. The goal is to provide an environment that is rich in positive interactions and enjoyable activities, rather than centering attention on inappropriate behaviors.

The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code lays out clear information about how behavior-change protocols should be implemented. Not only does it require that the client be involved in planning and consent of such protocols, but it also requires that behavior analysts recommend reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible. This is an important detail that clients should understand about ABA. There are instances in which punishment procedures may be required (more on that in Part Four of this series,) but ethically, behavior analysts are required to use reinforcement whenever possible. This means that we should:

  • Identify appropriate behaviors that are already occurring and ensure that these behaviors contact reinforcement.
  • Identify replacement behaviors for inappropriate behaviors,
  • Teach the client how to engage in replacement behaviors
  • And provide reinforcement when the client engages in the replacement behavior. (For more on replacement behaviors, you can refer to this previous Tip of the Week)

This process will look different based on the individual needs of your clients and their unique behaviors, but the basic steps are always the same. We want to create an environment that promotes appropriate behaviors. And as behavior analysts, we are required by our ethical code to do just this.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

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