Easy Data Collection for the Classroom

Get a preview of the helpful tips found in ABA Tools of the Trade by Sam Blanco, PHD, LBA, BCBA.

From the beginning of my career, I have loved data collection. Not only does it help me track what interventions are working and how quickly my students are learning, it also provides excellent structure and organization of what needs to be done on a daily basis. Much of this love of data collection was influenced by my colleague Val Demiri. While Val and I both looked at data as a way to make our lives easier, for many of our colleagues, data appeared to be more of an obstacle than a useful tool. So we set out to change that.

We’re both so thrilled about the release of ABA Tools of the Trade: Easy Data Collection for the Classroom. Our goal is to make data collection easier, more useful, and possible considering the many tasks a teacher is already doing on a daily basis in their classroom. Here are few things we’re really excited to have in the book:

  • An overview of some of our favorite tools for data collection, including why we love them and when they might be useful for you
  • An easy-to-use guide based on the specific behavior challenges you are currently facing, with suggestions for data collection and recommended readings
  • A task analysis of the data collection process that breaks down each step for pre-data collection phase, data collection phase, and post-data collection phase
  • A wealth of strategies to use to address problem behavior before they occur
  • An entire section devoted to BCBA Supervision that not only aligns with Task List 5 but also contains lesson plans and rubrics for assessing supervisees

We hope that by making data collection methods more accessible, we can motivate you to appreciate tools for data collection as much as we do!

About the Author

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA, 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.

Focus on Generalization and Maintenance

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in the situation that a student will only demonstrate a skill in my presence. And I’ve heard from other colleagues that they have had similar experiences. This is highly problematic. When it happens with one of my students, there is only one person I can blame: myself.  A skill that a student can only demonstrate in my presence is a pretty useless skill and does nothing to promote independence.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You reteach, with a focus on generalization. This means that, from the very beginning, you are teaching with a wide variety of materials, varying your instructions, asking other adults to help teach the skill, and demonstrating its use in a variety of environments. Preparing activities takes more time on the front-end for the teacher, but saves a ton of time later because your student is more likely to actually master the skill. (Generalization, after all, does show true mastery.)

Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, though. Hopefully, you’ve focused on generalization from the first time you taught the skill. You may see generalization built into materials you already use.

Another commonly cited issue teachers of children with autism encounter is failure to maintain a skill. In my mind, generalization and maintenance go hand-in-hand, in that they require you to plan ahead and consider how, when, and where you will practice acquired skills. Here are a few tips that may help you with maintenance of skills:

  1. Create notecards of all mastered skills. During the course of a session, go through the notecards and set aside any missed questions or activities. You might need to do booster sessions on these. (This can also be an opportunity for extending generalization by presenting the questions with different materials, phrases, environments, or people.)
  2. Set an alert on your phone to remind you to do a maintenance test two weeks, four weeks, and eight weeks after the student has mastered the skill.
  3. Create a space on your data sheets for maintenance tasks to help you remember not only to build maintenance into your programs, but also to take data on maintenance.

Considering generalization and maintenance from the outset of any teaching procedure is incredibly important. Often, when working with students with special needs, we are working with students who are already one or more grade levels behind their typically developing peers. Failing to teach generalization and maintenance, then having to reteach, is a waste of your students’ time.

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen 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, and she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions.

A Spotlight On Executive Function in the Early Childhood Classroom

By: Stephanny Freeman, PhD and Kristen Hayashida, MEd, BCBA

The new year brings opportunities for introducing new ideas and refining existing techniques for young learners. This week, we’re revisiting a blog from our archives that focuses on executive function.

When kindergarten teachers are asked what skills they would like their students to have the beginning of the year, their answers might be surprising!  Parents and caregivers are often concerned with making sure their children can say their ABC’s, count to 10, and know their colors. Some may believe that their children should be reading by the time they start kindergarten.  However, kindergarten teachers often have a different set of priorities, and instead are looking for skills such as:

  • The ability to listen to and follow directions
  • Follow classroom routines
  • Control impulses
  • Resolve a conflict or solve a problem calmly with another child

Kindergarten teachers value these skills because they are critical for school readiness, paving the way for children to be academically and socially successful.  Moreover, children who are behind in these skills can require disproportionate amounts of teachers’ attention, derail classroom activities and routines, and interfere with other children’s learning.

Underlying these school readiness skills are a set of higher order thinking skills collectively referred to as Executive Functions (EFs). EFs are the cognitive control functions that help us inhibit our initial impulses and think before acting.

But while most teachers agree that EF skills are very important, they are not explicitly taught in most early education settings (or at any point in most children’s educational experiences).

What skills are part of executive functioning?

Three key skills are generally agreed upon as the core of EF:

  1. Working memory: holding information in mind to manipulate, work with, or act on at a later time.
  2. Inhibitory control: the ability to regulate one’s attention, behavior, thinking, and emotion particularly in response to distractions or temptations.
  3. Cognitive flexibility: the capacity to shift one’s thinking, such as changing one’s approach to solving a problem if the previous approach is not working or recognizing and responding when the demands of that task have changed.

Seven additional skills are also considered to fall under the umbrella of EF, often relying and building on the three foundational EF skills:

  1. Initiation: the ability to begin a task or activity or to generate ideas independently in order to answer questions, solve problems, or respond to environmental demands.
  2. Fluency: how fluidly one can access and use relevant knowledge or skills.
  3. Planning: the ability to identify and sequence all the different steps needed to achieve a specific goal.
  4. Organization: the capacity to prioritize and make decisions about which tasks to undertake, and the needed resources to complete those tasks.
  5. Problem solving: carrying out the steps to achieve a desired goal, while monitoring progress making necessary adjustments.
  6. Time awareness: part of the broader skill of Time Management, which includes to the ability to anticipate how long tasks might take, to be aware of time constraints, track one’s progress, and adjust one’s behavior in order to complete tasks efficiently.
  7. Emotion regulation: skills including identifying one’s own emotion states and responding appropriately to emotional experiences.

Why do executive function skills matter?

Executive function skills predict a host of short-term and long-term outcomes!

  • They are a stronger predictor of school readiness than IQ.
  • They are also associated with higher achievement in both reading and math throughout children’s schooling.
  • EF skills, when tested in early childhood predict outcomes later in childhood and adolescence, including psychological and physical health.

Because EF skills are so predictive of later outcomes, they are being increasingly recognized as a critically important focus of intervention. 

Early EF training is … an excellent candidate for leveling the playing field and reducing the achievement gap between more- and less-advantaged children.

Diamond and Lee (2011, p. 6)

Can executive function skills improve?

Yes! All young children (typically developing and those with difficulties) can benefit greatly from instruction in EF!  Frequent practice of these skills and gradually raising the difficulty benefits children most in generalization and increasing gains. Practitioners and parents should consider:

  • Providing focused instruction in EF skills.
  • Combining explicit targeted instruction in EF skills with other activities in which they can then apply and practice those skills.
  • Building targeted EF skills into daily routines.
  • Providing multiple opportunities every day, particularly for children with disabilities, to test out and practice EF skills.

Most experts consider the development of self-regulation skills, of which executive functions are the crown jewel, to be the most important objective of high quality preschool—to help children focus attention, be emotionally expressive, not be impulsive, and to engage in purposeful and meaningful interactions with caregivers and other children.

Blair (2017, p.4)

About The Authors

Dr. Stephanny Freeman is a clinical professor at UCLA, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Co-Directs the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For 20 years, she has educated children with ASD and other exceptionalities as a teacher, studied interventions for social emotional development, and designed curriculum and behavior plans in school and clinic settings.

Kristen Hayashida is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the UCLA Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For the last 10 years she has served as a therapist, researcher and educator of children and families living with autism spectrum disorder through the treatment of problem behavior.

How do you figure out what motivates your students?

This ASAT feature comes to us from Niall Toner, MA, BCBA of the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a special education teacher working with students with autism. At times I find it difficult to figure out what motivates my students and what they’re interested in. Can you make some suggestions about the best way to do this?

This is an excellent question and one that highlights a challenge often experienced not only by teachers but also by family members of individuals with autism. We know that the interests and preferences of individuals with and without autism vary significantly over time. Also, we know that effective teaching of skills and behavior change are predicated upon the timely use of powerful reinforcement (i.e., positive consequences of skilled behavior that motivate and strengthen that behavior). As discussed below, identifying an individual’s preferences is a critical first step in teaching new skills because these preferences often lead to the identification of powerful reinforcers; but how we do this can be easier said than done, especially when the learner has a limited communication repertoire or very individualized interests. The best way to identify preferences is through ongoing preference assessments.

The value of preference assessments

Since many individuals with autism may have difficulty identifying and communicating their preferences directly, we must consider alternative methods of obtaining this information. At the onset, it is important to keep in mind that what may be rewarding or reinforcing for one individual may not be for another. For example, one child may enjoy bubble play, crackers or a particular cause-and-effect toy while a classmate may find one or more of these uninteresting or even unpleasant. Furthermore, an individual’s preferences change across time. For example, an individual may have demonstrated little use for music at age 11, but she may demonstrate a keen interest in music at age 13.

Preference assessments provide a systematic, data-based approach to evaluating a host of potential interests (e.g., food, toys, activities) for an individual. Although preference assessments do require time and effort up front, their use can decrease the time and energy, required to change behavior in the long run. Research indicates that when caregivers use a presumed preference that, in fact, is not the learner’s actual preference, valuable time, energy and resources are lost (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

Types of Preference Assessments

Preference assessment can be conducted in three distinct ways: (1) Interviews and Formal Surveys; (2) Direct observation; and (3) Systematic assessment.

Interviews are a straightforward technique that can be used to gather information quickly. They involve obtaining information from the individual’s parents, siblings, friends, and teachers (and
from the individual, if communicative) by asking both open-ended and comparison questions. Examples of open-ended questions include: “What does he like to do?” “What are his favorite foods?” and “Where does he like to go when he has free time?” Comparison questions might include: “Which does he like better, cookies or crackers?” and “What would he rather do, go for a walk or eat chips?” Resultant information is then compiled in a list and identified items and activities can be piloted out as possible reinforcers.

Formal surveys can also be used to guide these discussions. One widely used survey is the Reinforcement Assessment for Individuals with Severe Disabilities (RAISD; Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, & Amari, 1996). This interview-based survey gathers information about potential reinforcers across a variety of domains (e.g., leisure, food, sounds, smells), and ranks them in order of preference. It should be noted that, although simple and time-efficient, using interviews alone can result in incomplete or inaccurate information. In fact, some studies have shown that, for the same individual, staff interviews did not reveal the same information as using a survey (Parsons & Reid, 1990; Winsor, Piche, & Locke, 1994).

Direct observation involves giving the individual free access to items and/or activities that he or she may like (presumed preferences) and recording the amount of time the individual engages with them. The more time spent with an item or activity, the stronger the presumed preference. In addition, positive affect while engaged with these items and activities could be noted (e.g., smiling, laughing). During these observations, no demands or restrictions are placed on the individual, and the items are never removed. These direct observations can be conducted in an environment enriched with many of the person’s preferred items or in a naturalistic environment such as the person’s classroom or home. Data are recorded over multiple days, and the total time spent on each object or activity will reveal the presumed strongest preferences. Direct observation usually results in more accurate information than interviews but also requires more time and effort.

Systematic assessment involves presenting objects and activities to the individual in a preplanned order to reveal a hierarchy or ranking of preferences. This method requires the most effort, but it is the most accurate. There are many different preference assessments methods, all of which fall into one of the following formats: single item, paired items, and multiple items (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

Single item preference assessment (also known as “successive choice”) is the quickest, easiest method. Objects and activities are presented one at a time and each item is presented several times in a random order. After each presentation, data are recorded on duration of engagement with each object or activity.

Paired method or “forced-choice” (Fisher et al., 1992) involves the simultaneous presentation of two items or activities at the same time. All items are paired systematically with every other item in a random order. For each pair of items, the individual is asked to choose one. Since all objects and activities have to be paired together, this method takes significantly longer than the single-item method but will rank in order the strongest to weakest preferences. Researchers found that the paired method was more accurate than the single item method (Pace, Ivancic, Edwards, Iwata & Page, 1985; Paclawskyj & Vollmer, 1995).

The multiple-choice method is an extension of the paired method (DeLeon & Iwata, 1996). Instead of having two items to choose from, there are three or more choices presented at the same time. There are two variations to this method: with and without replacement. In the multiple choice with replacement method, when an object is selected, all other objects are replaced in the next trial. For example, if the individual is given a choice of cookies, crackers, and chips, and he chooses cookies, the cookies will be available for the next trial, but the crackers and chips are replaced with new items. In the without replacement method, the cookies would not be replaced and the choice would only be between the crackers and chips. No new items would be available.

A few final recommendations

When conducting preference assessments, consider testing leisure items/activities and food assessments separately because food tends to motivate individuals more than toys and other leisure items (Bojak & Carr, 1999; DeLeon, Iwata, & Roscoe, 1997). Also, be sure to assess preferences early and often. Preference assessments should be conducted prior to starting any new intervention or behavior change program. And remember that preferences change over time and require continuous exploration. Therefore, assessments should be updated monthly or whenever an individual appears tired of or bored with the preferred items. Keep in mind too, that the identification of one type of preference may provide ideas for other potential reinforcers. For example, if an individual loves a certain type of crunchy cereal, he/she may like other cereals or crunchy snacks. Or if an individual enjoys coloring with crayons, consider exploring whether he/she may enjoy coloring with markers or using finger paints.

Finally, when selecting a preference assessment method, a practitioner or parent should consider the individual’s communication level, the amount of time available for the assessment, and the types of preferred items that will be available. Taken together, these preference assessment methods can provide the valuable information necessary to help motivate and promote behavior change in individuals with autism.


Bojak, S. L., & Carr, J. E. (1999). On the displacement of leisure items by food during multiple stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 32, 515-518.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward W. L. (2006). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

DeLeon, I. G., & Iwata, B. A. (1996). Evaluation of multiple-stimulus presentation format for assessing reinforcer preferences.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 29, 519-533.

DeLeon, I. G., Iwata, B. A., & Roscoe, E. M. (1997). Displacement of leisure reinforcers by food during preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 475-484.

Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., & Amari, A. (1996). Integrating caregiver report with a systematic choice assessment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101, 15-25.

Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Hagopian, L. P., Owens, J. C., & Slevin, I. (1992). A comparison of two approaches for identifying reinforcers for persons with severe to profound disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 491-498.

Pace, G. M., Ivancic, M. T., Edwards, G. L., Iwata, B. A., & Page, T. J. (1985). Assessment of stimulus preference and reinforcer value with profoundly retarded individuals. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 249-255.

Paclawskyj, T. R., & Vollmer, T. R. (1995). Reinforcer assessment for children with developmental disabilities and visual impairments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 219-224.

Parsons, M. B., & Reid, D. H. (1990). Assessing food preferences among persons with profound mental retardation: Providing opportunities to make choices. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 183-195.

Windsor, J., Piche, L. M., & Locke, P. A. (1994). Preference testing: A comparison of two presentation methods. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 15, 439-455.

About The Author

Niall Toner MA, BCBA, LBA is a licensed behavior analyst and board certified behavior analyst with over 10 years experience working in the fields of applied behavior analysis and developmental disabilities. Niall is currently the Clinical Director for Lifestyles for the Disabled. Prior to the position he served as a consultant to various organizations including the New York City Department of Education. He also held the position of Assistant Director at the Eden II Programs. Niall has presented locally, nationally and internationally. His interests are Preference Assessments and Functional Analysis, which he presents and publishes.

Originally reposted to Different Roads to Learning on September 28, 2017

Developing Socially Significant Goals

Written by Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA. Reposted with permission from Dr. Anton Shcherbakov, BCBA, Co-founder of ThinkPsych

Behavior analysts and other professionals in the ABA field are tasked with the job of creating behavioral and skill acquisition goals for their learners. Choosing behaviors and skills to target can be challenging, with many considerations to make. One vital consideration when developing goals is to determine whether they are socially significant.

What is Social Significance in ABA?

Social significance refers to goals that are, first and foremost, important to the learner. If your learner can verbally communicate what’s important to them, this should take the highest priority. Some clinicians may not consider a learner’s goals due to their age or communication barriers. However, by monitoring for signs of assent, you can learn a great deal about what is important to the learner, even if they cannot verbally answer what goals they want to work on. 

Beyond what’s important to the learner, social significance considers what goals are important to stakeholders and to society as a whole. Socially significant goals are behaviors and skills that will improve your learner’s overall quality of life and well-being. Goals should never be chosen simply for the convenience of others.

Considerations to Determine if a Behavior is Socially Significant

You may find yourself asking a number of questions when contemplating targeting a particular goal. Let’s review several considerations to make when evaluating whether to target a particular goal.

Is this behavior important to my learner? 

As previously stated, this is the most important aspect of social significance. If the skill is something your learner is interested in or a behavior that they are motivated to modify, this would be considered a socially significant goal. Goals that are important to your learner should almost always be prioritized.

Will the skill cause harm or distress?

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to carefully consider. Many ABA practices that were commonplace even just a few short years ago are now known to be potentially harmful, with advocates and autistic adults bringing concerns to light. For example, a lack of eye contact is common in people with autism. Some professionals consider eye contact to be an important social skill to target. However, many autistic individuals report adverse physiological reactions to eye contact. In other words, forcing eye contact may physically hurt. Research on this topic found that autistic adults and teens experience a wide range of reactions when engaged in eye contact including dizziness and headaches, increased heart rate, and nausea. Many also reported sensory overload when making eye contact, resulting in an inability to process and integrate visual and auditory information at the same time. Taking into consideration this information, one would likely determine that eye contact is not socially significant unless it is a skill the individual reports a desire to improve upon. When developing goals, determining whether targeting the skill may cause harm is vital. 

Does the goal support the learner’s social-emotional development?

Social-emotional development is vital for a happy, healthy life. Research has found that a strong foundation of social-emotional skills can significantly improve a child’s future social, emotional, and academic success. 

Social-emotional learning encompasses a wide range of skills related to self-awareness, self-control, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Due to the social communication challenges that autistic children commonly experience, the development of these skills often takes more strategic planning and effort on the part of therapists, educators, and caregivers. 

Make social-emotional learning enjoyable for your learner by engaging them in games and other preferred activities that support the development of these vital skills. Chat Chains, for example, is a unique game that targets developing conversational skills, teaches emotional awareness, and practices important social skills, all while having fun! 

Will the skill enhance safety?

A staggering 28% of deaths of autistic people result from accidental injury. This includes causes such as suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning. Of the general population, 6.5% of deaths result from accidental injury. This likely plays a significant role in the drastically reduced life span. The average age of an autistic individual at death is about half that of the general population, 36 years of age. 

While these statistics are bleak, they highlight the need for a focus on skills that will keep your learner safe. Following crucial safety instructions, navigating situations such as getting lost, communicating personal information, identifying hot and poisonous items, and water safety are all socially significant skills that can keep your learner safe. 

Will the skill increase independence?

Promoting independence can build self-esteem, increase the generalization of skills across environments, and improve your learner’s overall satisfaction in their life. There are countless socially significant skills that can promote independence. Teaching communication and self-advocacy skills are arguably the most important skills necessary for enhancing independence. Self-help skills, money management, household chores, and vocational skills are also important to consider when developing goals that will increase your learner’s independence. 

Has the child acquired the necessary prerequisite skills?

Oftentimes, caregivers and professionals have big goals for their children or clients. This might result in jumping the gun a bit in implementing big-picture goals such as toilet training. However, it’s important to consider whether the child has developed the necessary prerequisite skills before targeting a goal. A simple example of this is following multiple-step instructions. Perhaps a parent asks you to target instructions such as putting away their shoes and backpack when they arrive home. While these may be socially significant goals, if the child cannot yet follow simple single-step instructions, then it would not be appropriate to target multiple-step instructions. 

Final Words

Developing socially significant goals for your learners takes time and consideration. Ensuring that the goal will improve the learner’s quality of life and well-being should always be at the forefront.

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.

About ThinkPsych and Dr. Anton Shcherbakov

ThinkPsych is a company committed to making fun and evidence-based toys for social emotional learning. Co-founder Dr. Anton Shcherbakov is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst. He has co-authored peer-reviewed research on topics that include depression and suicide prevention. He is also a nationally recognized expert and frequent presenter at national conferences on the treatment of anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum, OCD, and related conditions. He previously taught at the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. In addition to his work at ThinkPsych, he provides psychotherapy to children, adolescents, and adults at The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. In his free time, he enjoys traveling with his family, cooking meals with too many ingredients, and watching the latest Netflix documentary series.

What is the Importance of Engagement When Working with Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities and Autism?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Karen Parenti, MS, PsyD CEO/Executive Director, and Heather Rothman, BS, LBS, Director of Day Services, Special Friends Foundation. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am the parent of an adult with autism, who will soon transition from a school program to adulthood. I am reading about engagement as an indicator of good programming. What does it mean and how can I tell if a program promotes it?

Answered by Karen Parenti, MS, PsyD, CEO/Executive Director, and Heather Rothman, BS, LBS, Director of Day Services, Special Friends Foundation

Transition into adult programming is an important, but often stressful, process for families and individuals to experience. Adult programming should be designed to build skills and to promote happiness. Essentially every parent wants their adult child to have a high quality of life, to be offered activities they find enjoyable, and to be self-determining. For this to happen, the individual needs to be fully engaged in the program. Family members, clinicians, behavior analysts, program specialists, administrators, and social workers who provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism (ID/A) need to remember the importance of active engagement when planning and implementing programs as well as when designing goals.

Imagine for a minute the perspective of an individual receiving services. In most cases, this means the individual has had a diagnosis of some kind since childhood. The current model for treatment in children may result in a consistent feeling of “other-ness,” whether that looks like segregated classrooms, peer mentors, wraparound therapists, or specialized activities dependent on the label. From the perspective of the individual, this can look like endless task demands, shallow or contrived social interactions, decreased opportunities for genuine relationships, and severely limited access to the community. In addition, for a lot of the individuals served, the ability to protest “appropriately” is diminished, either because of communication barriers or skill deficits, or because they are not given opportunities to practice these skills. Empowering individuals to become architects of their experience and to express dissent and discomfort are crucial goals to ensure agency, assent, and quality of life. In addition, providing more choices can be part of a trauma-informed focus of care, and can ensure that individuals are served in a humane and compassionate manner (Rajaraman, 2021).

Although engagement as a clinical construct has yet to be deeply researched in applied behavior analysis (ABA), there has always been an ongoing interest in social validity, which is an emerging interest in the field (Morris et al, 2021). It should be noted that in the workforce, engagement has been defined for employees and became understood as a configuration of vigor, dedication, and absorption that motivates exceptional work performance (Leiter, 2019). Engagement, just like all metrics of success in the human services and special education fields, is personal and individualized for everyone. It is therefore important that engagement is individually assessed and monitored for everyone; from a parental or caregiver perspective, it is important to help the team understand how your family member expresses happiness, dissatisfaction, and protest. Teams may work to ensure high levels of satisfaction by ensuring that individuals attend the program regularly (or determine why there might be issues with attendance), and that preferences are identified in goals addressing the social, work, and living environments. It is imperative that teams ask themselves important questions such as is assent gained, routinely assessed, and honored? Moreover, does the individual seem happy while in the adult setting?

In recent years, the focus on engagement has altered the way in which quality programs are identified. Historically, there was a common focus on productivity and on compliance. While productivity remains relevant, engagement can become a main focus of intervention. In addition, the quality of interactions with individuals is also highly valued. Providers should focus on engaging the individual first by developing a positive relationship and pairing themselves with reinforcement. Individuals served, like all people, will always respond to genuine respect and regard, and this should be a foundation of service provision.

This value on engagement is consistent with heightened awareness in the field of ABA to ensure that all intervention is humane and compassionate, and that self-determinism is maximized for all individuals. In the context of adult intervention, such qualities can be seen in the extent to which engagement is observable. Some questions can be asked, and some behaviors associated with engagement can be observed.

Engagement is observable when a person is enthusiastically participating in their program. Choice has emerged as a necessary piece of engagement; individuals should be offered a range of meaningful activities from which to select, while still retaining the right to refuse. This is closely related to the Positive Approaches paradigm defined by Guy Legare (2002), who “encourages us to see clearly and honestly the good reasons and adaptive qualities of even the most troubling behavior, no matter whose behavior it is.” Provider agency staff and special education school personnel who excel at this skill set seem to be the ones to whom an individual is a person first, and these professionals never see an individual as a “case” or “set of behaviors.”

Although clinicians have considerable access to different types of preference assessments, as well as training on how to use them, it’s valuable to keep in mind all the factors that influence the efficacy of reinforcers with regards to engagement. For example, an individual may be more likely to be engaged in an activity in which they are participating with others, in a novel location. Engagement is a reinforcer unto itself but requires a deep knowledge of the individual and their preferences as well as focusing on the relationship between the individual and the staff member. As with any other treatment focus, engagement depends heavily on a positive, nurturing, and entertaining relationship between two people.

Engagement has to be individualized so that it can be maximized. It is observable, able to be defined and measured, and important to consider in placement, goal development, and in the ongoing assessment of progress. Programs can follow some general guidelines to increase the likelihood of enthusiastic participation, build active engagement, and foster self-determinism. These concepts include but are not limited to:

  1. Demonstrating unconditional positive regard – Staff and clinicians need to ensure that the individual they are working with is always treated with respect and dignity. Building rapport with each individual and communicating with those individuals regularly is essential to creating a compassionate, humane treatment environment.
  2. Attain Assent – Assent is emphasized in the Ethics Code (BACB, 2022), and should be secured whenever possible. Recent research indicates that this is an area that can improve and can also be done with individuals who are non-vocal (Morris, 2021). The team should ensure that the individual is continually involved in making choices regarding their daily activities. Attain assent for activities, and regularly check in about whether the individual is still willing to do the tasks. Honor withdrawal of assent.
  3. Solicit and accept feedback – Being receptive to feedback means allowing individuals to critique and course-correct staff behavior. Although feedback can be directly solicited, individuals provide feedback in lots of indirect ways as well. It is important to ensure there is reciprocal shaping of interactions between staff and individuals. Being open to changing the approach, based on cues from the individual, allows for the individuals served to have a measure of control over their own treatment, which increases the likelihood they will be enthusiastic participants, and therefore engaged.
  4. Prioritize needs – Staff and clinicians need to ensure that the individual they are working with has their basic needs always met.
  5. Respect all forms of communication – Staff and clinicians need to respect all verbal and nonverbal communication from that individual. These subtleties can be missed if the staff is not paying close enough attention. It’s important to remember that challenging behaviors are often an important form of communication.
  6. Create a supportive environment – An environment where the individual is supported and connected is one where they will be actively engaged, will thrive, will learn, and will master skills and increase competencies. Individuals can get discouraged easily and can become disengaged. In these situations, a little support or assistance can go a long way. Other considerations for a supportive environment could include instruction and activities in novel locations, with persons that are preferred by the individual, and by attending to the individual’s preferences to the maximum extent possible.
  7. Create Novelty – As stated earlier, novelty also helps increase engagement. When educators introduce something new, they provide opportunities for learning skills with a new item. In many cases, exploring a new item (or scenario, song, story, etc.) creates new opportunities for thinking, for understanding how things work, or connecting existing concepts in a new way. Novelty can also allow staff to engage the individual in a new way.
  8. Be willing to share control of the instructional context – Clinicians or staff can ensure that choices are presented as often as possible. There is always a choice to be offered. For example, instead of saying “now it’s time to get dressed”, a staff can say, “Would you rather put on your shirt or your socks first?” It’s also important to find a way to say “Yes” to a request as often as possible. If an individual is asking for something that is unavailable, instead of saying “No,” staff can offer a different time when the item/activity is available. It is important to be as specific as possible.

In summary, if a provider, agency, or special education school wants to increase active engagement while being genuinely helpful, staff and clinicians should partner with the individuals and their team members in selecting goals, developing instructional procedures, and identifying meaningful outcomes. This is the essence of social validity and is essential to compassionate care.


Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Ethics code for behavior analysts. https://bacb.com/wp-content/ethics-code-for-behavior-analysts

Legare, G. (2002). Positive approaches as a paradigm. In Positive approaches: Identifying mental illness in people with developmental disabilities, (2nd Ed.) OMR Statewide Training and Technical Assistance Initiative.

Leiter, M. The psychology of work engagement. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved 20 Oct. 2022, from https://oxfordre.com/psychology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-36.

Morris, C., Detrick, J. J., & Peterson, S. M. (2021). Participant assent in behavior analytic research: Considerations for participants with autism and developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis54(4), 1300-1316. doi: 10.1002/jaba.859.

Rajaraman, A., Austin, J., Gover, H., Cammilleri, A., Donnelly, D., & Hanley, G. (2021). Toward trauma‐informed applications of behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 55(1), 40-61. 10.1002/jaba.881

Schramm, R. (2011). Motivation and reinforcement: Turning the tables on autism. Pro-ABA.

Tennant K., Long A., & Toney-Butler, T. J. (2022, May 8). Active Listening. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK442015.

Citation for this article:

Parenti, K., & Rothman, H. (2023). What is the importance of engagement when working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism? Science in Autism Treatment, 20(01).

About the Authors

Dr. Karen Parenti works as the CEO/Executive Director of Special Friends Foundation.  She has extensive experience in ABA and in developing and overseeing group homes, day services, and rehabilitative programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism. She also serves as the treasurer of the MAX association’s board where she continues to advocate for the needs of the individuals she serves. Karen earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from York College of PA, her Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration from Springfield College in Wilmington, DE and her Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology from Immaculata University.

Heather Rothman works as the Director of Day Services for the Special Friends Foundation. She has worked with individuals with disabilities in a variety of settings and roles for over twenty years. Heather is committed to helping individuals with disabilities and Autism access choices, connect with their communities, and design the life they want. She is a Licensed Behavior Specialist with extensive experience with behavior support services in early intervention, school-aged, and adult populations. She designed and built a school-to-work transition program that won an international award for Variety-The Children’s Charity. She has taught at Penn State, developed trainings for the Public Health Management Corporation, and worked with Merrill Lynch on accessibility and community inclusion programs. She is passionate about universal accessibility and designing programs that create strong communities. Heather has her Bachelors of Arts in Organizational Management from Ashford University and a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Saint Joseph’s University.

This article was reposted with permission from ASAT from https://asatonline.org/research-treatment/clinical-corner/engagement/

A Better Way to Say “No”

By Morgan van Diepen, M.Ed., BCBA, Co-owner of ABA Visualized

Hearing “no” or “wait” can be challenging for kids of all ages! In fact, as a BCBA, this is one of the most common requests for support that I hear from families. Luckily, researchers have tested out three ways to say “no” when something is unavailable, and the results show how slightly changing our response can actually prevent challenging behaviors! Let’s look at the scenario of a child asking to play a computer game, but the parent is currently using it for work. Which of the three methods do you think was the most effective? 

  1. “No” + Explanation. In this common approach, the parent says it’s not available and gives the honest reasoning: “Not right now. I’m working on the computer.” 
  2. “No” + Explanation + Alternative. Now, we’ve added an extra suggestion of something that is available: “Not right now. I’m working on the computer, but you can play basketball outside with your brother.” 
  3. “Yes” + Contingency. Here, even though our answer is “no,” we’re actually saying “yes!” This can be described as a “yes, when…” statement, where you are describing when the requested item or activity will be available: “Yes, you can use the computer when I’m finished with this meeting at 2:00.” It can also be used to set expectations of what they need to accomplish before the request is available: “Yes, you can use the computer when you finish your homework.” 

So, which do you think resulted in the fewest challenging behaviors?

In this research study, the 2nd and 3rd approaches were equally successful at almost completely preventing vocal protests, aggression, and threats! By just changing the way we say “no,” we can help our learners accept this answer more easily. Little changes that create big results! Strategies like these are perfect for parent training sessions during ABA. Here’s a template parent training goal you could use with families who would like more support in this area:

When (client name) requests for something that is unavailable (provide examples specific to the client), parents will either respond with “No” + Explanation + Alternative (provide example specific to the client) or with “Yes” + Contingency (provide example specific to the client) in attempts to prevent challenging behaviors relating to tolerating “no,” in at least 80% of opportunities across 2 consecutive weeks. 

Looking for a more engaging way to lead parent training sessions and teach effective strategies like this one? Check out our 2nd edition ABA Visualized Guidebook, where we’ve visualized 27 evidence-based strategies (including this one!) as step-by-step illustrations, making behavior strategies easy! 

Article reference: Mace, F. C., Pratt, J. L., Prager, K. L., & Pritchard, D. (2011). An evaluation of three methods of saying “no” to avoid an escalating response class hierarchy. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 44(1), 83–94.

How to Teach Children to Wait

Reposted with permission from How To ABA

All kids have trouble waiting for things that they want. They even have trouble waiting in line at the grocery store. Waiting is a huge skill. So once our learners have mastered some early instructions, like come here or sit down, then we typically start working on the skill of responding to waiting. Today’s topic is all about how to teach children to wait. 

When my children were young and they started learning how to ride their bikes, they felt a huge sense of independence. I stayed way behind them while they rode their bikes so fast that they were about 20-30 feet in front of me. I needed them to stop at the curb because they were too young to cross the street safely. So something that we worked on was my kids listening to me saying “wait” from 20 feet behind them. They knew to wait for me and stop at the curb before crossing. 

How to Teach a Child with Autism to Wait

Waiting is a huge safety skill and a huge life skill. You don’t always get what you want right away. Being able to wait a little bit of time to get what you want is really important. We also want our learners to stay safe and not run and dart away from adults. So we developed a program about teaching kids to respond to the verbal instruction of “wait,” with the response of waiting quietly.

We want to start really small and with an amount of time that the student can be successful doing. Don’t expect a student to wait for 5 or 10 minutes when they’re used to not waiting at all. Start by having a preferred item that you know that this student wants and then support them in being able to wait. 

Possibly initially say the word “wait” and also hold up your hands and count aloud with the student. Starting with three seconds is a great amount of time and it’s highly supported. Be there with them and help them wait. If they could do that successfully, then you can fade the hands up, and then eventually not count with them. Do all of this while sticking with three seconds. 

Once you fade the signal, you fade the counting, and you’re just saying “wait,” then you would start to slowly increase the amount of time that the student is expected to wait before accessing the preferred item. 

Waiting Program for an Early Learner

Here is an example of the program that we would use for a very early learner. This is a learner who has really only started mastering some basic one-step instructions. Start by teaching the highly supported “wait” with your hands up and counting. You can make it really fun. Sometimes we’ll play red light green light or have a race and tell the student to stop and wait. It doesn’t have to be done just at the table. 

Do 10 trials of the first teaching step and graph it. They can be in a row or they can be spread out over time. They can also be done naturally. As soon as they are able to show mastery (80% over two consecutive sessions) you increase the amount of time the learner waits and so on. 

Waiting Program for an Older Student

A waiting program for an older student who needs to learn to wait before accessing something that they really, really want isn’t as highly supported. 

The first step would be to have the learner sit and wait for something that they want. We’d start with five seconds before giving them the reinforcement. As soon as they’re successful for two intervals in a row over two days, then we increase the time. 

Go at the pace of the student and if the student shows that 10 seconds is too long, go back to five seconds. 

Check out the How To ABA website for additional resources and free downloads.

About the Authors

Shayna Gaunt, MA, BCBA | With over 20 years in the field of ABA, Shayna is a master program developer. She has a unique knack for finding the practical application of ABA to real-life so that the interventions are doable and successful!

Shayna has been practicing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) since 1997. In 2005, after graduating with a Masters Degree in ABA from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR), she was one of the first in Ontario, Canada to obtain her BCBA. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Kid Mechanix, Inc. in Toronto, Canada, where she met Shira Karpel.

Shayna also has international experience, providing clinical expertise and training workshops to clients in Canada, United States, Costa Rica, England, Egypt and Qatar.

Because of her extensive training in a wide variety of interventions over the years, Shayna has a knack for developing unique, practical programs that teach across operants. She seriously thinks in data sheets!!!!

Shayna’s super-power is her ability to explain complex ABA principles in practical, relatable terms. She is a master program-developer and most of what you see in The Bx Resource is her ABA-mind put down on paper.  As a member of The Bx Resource, you get the privilege of learning from her and leveraging all that ABA knowledge for your own practice!

Shira Karpel, M.ED, BCBA | As a former teacher, Shira is passionate about spreading the benefits of ABA to more children.  She envisions a world where ABA is the go-to, accepted intervention in classrooms and homes everywhere!  She is the co-founder of How to ABA which was started to create a community where all BCBAs and ABA professionals can get support and resources so that clients can get the best treatment possible.

Shira has a Masters in Special Education and then went on to pursue her BCBA.  With extensive supervision and training (ahem, thanks Shayna!!), she has been working in the field of ABA since 2011.  Together with Shayna, they trained, and taught many therapists, clients, and parents and collected a massive bank of ABA programs and resources.  One day, the light bulb went off and Shira said, “We should be sharing all of this!” Hence, How to ABA was born!

Her passion is in creating positive, comprehensive learning environments for all students.  She loves that with her knowledge in ABA, she can now support teachers in their classrooms.  She is the Director of Behavioural Services at a private school in Toronto and is loving getting to make a difference in the lives of children and families daily. She is passionate about making the principles of ABA practical and doable and relevant to every child in any situation.

Review of Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams

Reviewed by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D and William L. Heward, EdD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Association for Science in Autism Treatment and William L. Heward, EdD, BCBA-D, Professor Emeritus, the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Parents of children with autism face many challenges beyond those directly associated with raising a child who may have a myriad of needs. They face a dizzying array of treatment options with interventions lacking any scientific basis, which are cleverly marketed and often eclipse those interventions enjoying scientific support. Access to qualified, compassionate providers may be difficult or delayed, particularly for children in rural communities, children of color, individuals who age out of the educational system, and families outside of the United States. Misconceptions and misinformation about autism and ways to help people with autism abound and those messages often distract and derail many parents from obtaining accurate information, support, and intervention. Parents who seek help for their children are often harshly criticized and labeled by some bloggers as lacking love or acceptance. Taken together, these realities can weigh heavily on parents who are just trying to help their children with autism develop independence and purpose, pursue their dreams, and live their best lives.

Fortunately, a new book provides a break from the vitriol, snake oil, and antagonism. Between Now and Dreams thoughtfully and artfully explains the complementary concepts of responsible and responsive parenting of children with autism. It provides a space for parents to reflect, to engage, and to look ahead.

Prior to offering details about this book, the first reviewer would like to share some background. I first met Shahla Ala’i-Rosales and Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe thirty years ago at the University of North Texas (UNT) when I was a newly hired Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. Shahla was a behavior analyst, researcher, and practitioner in early autism intervention; Peggy, the mother of a son with autism, held an administrative job at the University. With a few other UNT colleagues, we formed a small working group to support each other in our individual efforts as well as to develop a community in which future collective efforts could take root. My time at UNT was brief, but I am so pleased (and a tad jealous) to know that Shahla and Peggy continued to collaborate and form a long-term friendship and professional alliance. Their book, Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams is a timely, and much needed gift to the autism community. Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe share a series of interrelated events – challenges, plans, setbacks, and victories, large and small – in the lives of real children and their families (including their own). These stories demonstrate the importance of recognizing and celebrating children’s capabilities while encouraging and nurturing their self-actualization, individuality, and independence.

The authors put forth that raising a child with autism with an abundance of joy, purpose, and serenity relies on three interconnected powers: learning, connecting, and loving. Although the authors state that these powers are interconnected and that they influence and strengthen each other, Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe have used them to organize their book into three unique parts. Each part is composed of several chapters; each chapter opens with a thoughtful quote that sets the stage for the lessons and wisdom that follows.

Part One: The Power of Learning  

Between Now and Dreams opens with a section devoted to principles of learning and how those principles can guide parents’ efforts to help develop their child’s fullest potential. The authors stress the need for creating and implementing carefully planned, intensive, positive applied behavior analysis (ABA) interventions in the home to keep children learning and moving forward in their lives. The abundance of examples discussed throughout this section showcase the vast applications of the science of behavior. Parents who are new to the autism journey will gain comfort in learning about principles that can be readily incorporated into their daily lives and appreciate a shift away from resolving problems to one of promoting empowerment and skill building, both for themselves, as well as for their children.

This section also chronicles the journey of ABA from its early applications to autism treatment, and to what the discipline has become today. The authors provide a sensitive and honest discussion of the bumps along the way.

Part Two: The Power of Connecting

This section of Between Now and Dreams will be invaluable for caregivers who may struggle with feelings of isolation, associated with both raising a child with many needs and experiencing the loss or shift in other relationships and career pursuits that may have followed their child’s diagnosis. Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe beautifully capture the pursuit of supportive relationships, including with those who offer expertise and experience, as well as with other parents on very similar journeys. How one seeks and nurtures these relationships, as well as opting out when needed, is described with the same compassion and generosity reflected throughout the book.

Part Three: The Power of Loving 

The third section of Between Now and Dreams ties together the two prior sections. On its surface, a reader may assume that the section might focus myopically on positive emotions. Instead, the authors are realistic and don’t sugarcoat the challenges parents of children with autism face. Loss, fear, and disappointment are discussed openly in the context of numerous experiences, observations, and epiphanies. We left this section feeling grateful to the authors for being so incredibly transparent and vulnerable, yet insightful and encouraging in guiding us to be more active and loving parents.

Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams is an important, eloquently written, and engaging book for parents of children with autism of any age and who fall anywhere on the spectrum. It does not provide a cookie cutter approach, but rather a compassionately delivered collection of useful and practical suggestions that parents can select and tailor to their own home and goals.

Aside from behavior analysts, this book is also a must-read for teachers, therapists, medical providers, and others who work with children with autism. The content is accessible to those who are new to ABA and autism intervention, yet impactful for professionals with extensive training and experience.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D., & Heward, W. L. (2023). Book Review: Between Now and Dreams. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(3).

About the Authors

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

William L. Heward, Ed.D., BCBA-D, is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University. He has taught at universities in Brazil, Japan, Portugal, and Singapore and lectured and given workshops in 23 other countries. A Past President and Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, Bill’s publications include co-authoring the books, Let’s Make a Contract: A Positive Way to Change Your Child’s Behavior (2022), Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd ed., 2020), and Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education (12th ed., 2022). Awards recognizing Dr. Heward’s contributions to education and behavior analysis include the Fred S. Keller Behavioral Education Award from the American Psychological Association’s Division 25, the Ellen P. Reese Award for Communication of Behavioral Concepts from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, and the Distinguished Psychology Department Alumnus Award from Western Michigan University.

5 Ways to Support Your BCBAs

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) are instrumental in the development and oversight of ABA services. Working in the ABA field can be incredibly rewarding, but also isolating and exhausting. One recent study found that 72% of ABA professionals experience moderate to high levels of burnout. Burnout can have serious implications for the individual, their clients, and the organization as a whole. One of the leading risk factors for burnout is a lack of support. By supporting your BCBAs, you can greatly reduce the risk of burnout in your organization. Let’s review 5 ways you can support your BCBAs.

1.   Provide Access to Stimuli, Technology, and Assessments

BCBAs need many things to be successful in the workplace. Data collection software and other forms of technology can greatly improve efficiency, streamline administrative tasks, and increase job satisfaction. Similarly, providing access to teaching stimuli can make a BCBA’s job much easier, allowing them to spend less time creating stimuli and more time doing what matters most–caring for their learners.

2.   Seek Feedback

Supervisors and employers regularly provide their employees with feedback on their performance. However, it’s important to remember that employers should also seek feedback from their employees, including their BCBAs. Feedback should always go both ways.

Just as ABA clinicians are continuously growing and improving, so should employers and organizations as a whole. While you may not be able to please every staff member all the time, seeking feedback from your team shows that you value their input and are motivated to improve the working conditions of your organization. Encourage open and honest feedback, but also create a system for anonymous feedback, as your staff may feel more comfortable providing feedback anonymously.

3.   Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

While your BCBAs have dedicated so much of their lives to this field, their life revolves around more than solely work. Ensure your BCBAs have a healthy work-life balance. You can do this by establishing working hours and encouraging boundary setting outside of those hours. For example, if your BCBA’s work day ends at 5 pm, they should not feel obligated to answer client or staff phone calls after this time. A healthy work-life balance also includes taking time off. Encourage and honor your staff’s requests for time off.

4.   Provide Opportunities for Continuing Education

Continuing education is a requirement of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) for biennial recertification. The field of behavior analysis is vast and is constantly evolving. Ensuring your BCBAs have access to high-quality CEUs to expand their knowledge, keep up with the literature, and grow as clinicians will benefit your BCBAs, their learners, and your organization. It will also show them that you value their professional and personal growth.

5.   Set Realistic, Data-Driven Expectations

When setting workplace expectations (i.e., billable hours), ensure they are realistic and manageable. Furthermore, determine what is needed to help your BCBAs achieve these expectations and ensure you are providing support in those areas.

ABA professionals know the importance of following the data when making treatment decisions. This should extend into business practices as well. When establishing and modifying expectations, let the data lead the way. Let’s use billable hours as an example. Imagine you need to establish a billable hours expectation for your BCBAs. Using a behavior analytic approach, you would first identify the baseline number of hours that your BCBAs are currently achieving. If they have been successful at 20 hours/week, but you want them to hit 25 hours/week, approach this as you would with a client. Reinforce systematic approximations toward your end goal! You could first increase the expectation to 21 hours/week, then gradually increase the expectation as your BCBAs are successful.

Supporting your BCBAs using the above recommendations may significantly improve your BCBAs’ job satisfaction, improve client outcomes, and ultimately benefit your practice.


Camille Plantiveau, Katerina Dounavi & Javier Virués-Ortega (2018) High levels of burnout among early-career board-certified behavior analysts with low collegial support in the work environment, European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 19:2, 195-207, DOI: 10.1080/15021149.2018.1438339

Slowiak, J. M., & DeLongchamp, A. C. (2021). Self-Care Strategies and Job-Crafting Practices Among Behavior Analysts: Do They Predict Perceptions of Work-Life Balance, Work Engagement, and Burnout?. Behavior analysis in practice, 15(2), 414–432. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-021-00570-y

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.