ABA Journal Club #1: Response

Last week, Sam Blanco posted the first edition of ABA Journal Club. You can view that post here. This week, Dr. Cheryl Davis responds with some of her thoughts about the two articles.

You can join the conversation on our Facebook page!

Sam, thank you for selecting two of my favorite articles for your first journal club. I am a huge fan of the 7 Dimensions of ABA and strive hard to ensure I am meeting each dimension in all of my work, research, teaching and client programs. I actually re-read these articles, at least annually, to work towards this goal! You ask very thoughtful questions, a few of which I responded to.

Cheryl’s Response to Selected Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1968):

The tone of the 1968 article is hopeful. The authors express a belief that behavior analytic procedures will become more prevalent as people understand the technology. Do you think they were accurate in this belief? What has been your experience with people accepting the principles of ABA?

This is one reason why I enjoy reading the article. The hopeful tone inspires me to believe I can achieve meeting all dimensions in my work and that ABA will grow and change lives in meaningful ways. In the past 25 years, I have personally seen acceptance of people in wanting ABA services to improve the lives of children, teenagers and young adults in school, home, community and vocational settings. The area I see a need to grow in, as far as disseminating ABA more broadly, is to effectively work with all people in need. There seems to be some idea that ABA is synonymous with autism or developmental disabilities, when in reality, we can and should reach much wider. Although there are many behavior analysts working with a wider range of populations, the majority are within this realm. This is confounded with restrictions placed on behavior analysis by some state’s licensing laws, such as New York’s. I hope we see a continued growth in people accepting ABA as a behavior change procedure for all people in need of the service. We do have research on a variety of populations, including utilizing ABA with individuals with Down Syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, just to name a few. Other studies include increasing socially significant behavior for incarcerated individuals or how to increase recycling on college campuses. I am very fond of Miltenberger’s research on gun safety and teaching children not to touch them!

Do you think all seven of these dimensions hold equal importance? Why or why not?

In my graduate teaching, I have an assignment that asks students to identify the “most important” dimensions. It is a rather unfair assignment, as I myself thing it is the combination of all seven that are needed to successfully change behavior. Missing any one component does not yield socially significant changes for the individual. That said, some colleagues and myself recently reviewed all experimental articles from Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2000-2015. Of the 608 articles reviewed, only 14 met all of the dimensions. I think one takeaway point here is that when we are evaluating new procedures, we may only evaluate a few dimensions initially, such as effective. We would want to see if an intervention was effective and then look at generalization and maintenance of the results. So in actuality, we may need to prioritize the dimensions when conducting research in a new area. However, in applied programming, we absolutely need to meet all of the dimensions!

Cheryl’s Response to Selected Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1987):

The authors identify social validity as a good measure of effectiveness. However, they also identify issues with the assessment of social validity. How do you think that has changed since they wrote this article? How do you assess social validity in your own work?

Another concept near and dear to my heart is social validity. As a field, we are not good at reporting social validity results in published research and often assume if a procedure is effective, then it is socially valid. About 4 years ago, after conducting the JABA review, and seeing this was one of the lowest scored areas, it struck me that I was not doing this enough in my own practice. Given that Baer et al. (1987) discussed how relevant this is in ABA, it is imperative that we ensure social validity within the applied world as it is the basis for the field. The challenge I often struggle with in assessing social validity is that it is difficult to objectively measure, which is something that I am not entirely comfortable with (as a behavior analyst)! That said, I decided it is better to assess social validity than not, and took the leap of doing this more often! I now regularly assess social validity with clients, caregivers, trainees, supervisees and students. Although I certainly have room for improvement, I try to do this regularly and change my practice accordingly.

If you were to identify an eighth dimension that is not currently represented in these articles, what might you add?

Well, since you asked… I actually think we should separate generalization and maintenance into two different dimensions and add social validity and treatment integrity. So, I guess that means I think there should be 10! I see more often that our field addresses the main 6 dimensions; applied, behavioral, analytic, conceptually systematic, technological and effective, yet I am not entirely convinced we are always addressing generalization and maintenance. I always tell my supervisees, if the client can only do X with you, then we haven’t done our job! Ensuring our clients can engage in socially appropriate behavior across caregivers and settings, while maintaining the skill over time, is imperative. The other areas I see often neglected are social validity and treatment integrity. Ensuring clinicians are conducting these assessments would likely increase effective interventions.

Sam, thank you again for the opportunity to comment in your journal club – stellar choices of articles! I can’t wait to see what you choose next! It is imperative that we all stay current in our field and remind ourselves to utilize best practices and sound research in our applied work. You have reminded me how important professional growth is, the seven dimensions, and to ensure I am continuing to assess social validity in my practice. Thank you for that! A nice follow up may be Schreck, Karunaratne, Zane, and Wilford’s (2016) article that reviewed behavior analysis beliefs in treatments for individuals with autism, which was a follow up to a previous study. In any case, I will read the articles each month and look forward to hearing responses from club members!

About The Author: Dr. Cheryl Davis

I am a licensed and board certified behavior analyst as well as a special education teacher who received my doctoral degree from Endicott College in Applied Behavior Analysis.  I am an Assistant Professor at The Sage Colleges, as well as owner of 7 Dimensions Consulting, LLC. I received a Master’s of Science Degree in Intensive Special Education from Simmons College in Boston, MA after attending The University of Connecticut where I received a bachelor’s degree in Human Development.  I then pursued my BCBA, while working in a world renown ABA school.  With over 25 years of experience working with children and families with autism, developmental disabilities, and related disorders, I specialize in effective supervision for upcoming BCBA/BCaBA candidates.  I have a passion for supervision, in both providing it to people who are in locations with limited access to behavior analysis and working with other supervisors to develop best supervision practices.  I also specialize in skill acquisition programming for clients in need, online teaching, and active student responding. I have had experience as a supervisor, teacher, job coach, home therapist, residential supervisor, public school consultant, staff trainer and professor. I have extensive experience in developing training topics for both parents and teaching staff.  I am a self-describe radical behavior analyst with one worldview!

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