Welcome to Behaviorbabe

Ethical Advocate for Accurate Application & Dissemination of Behavior Analysis

Ask Behaviorbabe

This page is dedicated to the "Dear Abby"-style behavior analysis inquiries that you may have. Select questions (and answers) asked of Behaviorbabe will be featured here.  To submit a question, you may send a message on Facebook or do so via email.

Why can't BCBA's accept gifts?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: We were just talking about ethics involving receiving gifts at a meeting the other day at work, and how ridiculous it is that even accepting a lei is considered unethical if it's from a client or family. Kelly was trying to brainstorm ideas of how we can come together as a field to not have to decline such a gesture from the people we spend so much time with. Any ideas on that? I was hardcore playing devil's advocate until Sara brought up the lei topic. It's just culture here (in Hawai'i).

The BACB - Behavior Analyst Certification Board's stance (BACB 1.06) about not accepting or giving gifts is to prevent dual relationships from occurring. If one arises, then our ability to be an effective and objective behavior analyst is compromised. In situations where gift giving (in the form of flowers or fruit) is culturally appropriate, one could argue a dual relationship does not exist. If it is common cultural practice to accept flowers and fruit from neighbors, patients, the mailman, aunty at the store, and the guy at the bus station, then giving these items to a therapist would not increase the odds of a dual relationship or conflict of interest from forming. As a matter of fact, refusing these items may be disrespectful and could constitute discrimination based on cultural practices (BACB, 1.05). But, where do we draw the line? If the family gives the therapist a lei, will they expect one back? It's tricky. Ethics are never black or white; often times there are many shades of grey in between. The best thing to do is to continue these discussions and to constantly ask ourselves 1) what is the right thing to do, 2) what is worth doing, and 3) what does it mean to be a good #behavioranalyst (Cooper, HeronHeward, 2007).


In regards to declining gifts outside the the realm of cultural appropriateness, I find antecedent strategies work best. We inform families from the start of services (during our intake process). We also have a statement about dual relationships that covers things like a) sorry, we cannot be your Facebook friend, b) gifts of gratitude are not allowed (we care for your child, but we are also doing our jobs, which we are paid to do), and c) sorry, we also cannot attend any family functions as guests (e.g., birthday parties). Very infrequently do any of the families I work with require reminders.

Should children with special needs be held back a year?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: Recently, there has been a heated discussion on retention of a child with special needs. I've searched to see if there is any literature re: this and so far, I've only found literature that seems to be against retention but target population are children that either categorized with Emotional disturbance or children not formally identified as having some kind of disability. What about children diagnosed with autism? Is there any literature that will guide me on some sort of "matrix" on making a decision that is the best interest of my student? Funny thing is that a parent claimed retention is supported by "ABA" but I don't recall any such thing. 

I do not think the literature will answer such a broad question for you, but you might want to look at literature about social skills and such as it pertains to typical peers. By that I mean if a child is held back, what is the impact on his/her ability to make friends, develop skills needed and so forth? Should we move a student forward and increase our support? This is something that is student-specific, but you might find some helpful information and guidelines HERE. I would start with the Literature and Links page. 

Functional behavior assessments - how helpful are they?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: Thanks so much for sharing your FBA sample...I'm wondering if you have had any success managing extreme fixations and obsessions in spectrum kiddos; specifically, when it leads to quite a bit of anxiety. FBA says function is escape from demands; any thoughts?

Typically, true anxiety-style behaviors serve a primary internal/automatic function and are not merely maintained by external stimuli in the environment. I would recommend data collection (descriptive and quantitative) that might shed some light as to whether it is primarily more automatic or maintained by escape from demands. None-the-less, I feel that we can always worsen or improve a situation by manipulating external stimuli. I encourage others to consider that escape from demands often goes hand in hand with denied access or termination of a more-preferred activity. If this is the case, I would try to 1- provide predictability for the client 2- program for flexibility (rather than hope) 3- allow access to preferred items naturally in the environment (rather than always contingently), 4- provide choice with negotiable aspects of the activity and 5- possibly consider a DRL (differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior) procedure. You could also consider allowing perseverative conversations or some version of the obsessive behaviors in a limited context (e.g. during break, while alone, in the bathroom, etc.). These are just general comments about how I might approach a situation similar to what you described. It is not intended to be used as advice on a particular client.

Is behavior analysis "booming" or "barely getting by"?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: Are there plenty of jobs for BCBAs? I read on forum for example where somebody said that California is saturated with BCBAs. I would hate to take this route and not be able to get a job. Thank you.

You can see the number of BCBAs in each state by clicking on "FIND A BCBA" website. It will allow you to search by state or zip code. In Massachusetts there are 900+ certificants. But there is still more demand for BCBAs which exceeds the number of BCBAs who exist in the state. However culture matters immensely. In Nebraska there are less than 100 BCBAs, but jobs are harder to come by because BCBAs aren't widely recognized as a resource in the state. Legislation for autism insurance or licensing BCBAs also greatly influences the climate. You can read more about ABA Advocacy here. Also check out Association for Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA), the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, and Autism Speaks.

What is Incidental Teaching?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: I was wondering if anyone could help me discriminate between incidental teaching and natural environment training. From what I am experiencing the lines are blurred and most people in our field are unable to tell the difference. From the research I have done, back to Hart & Risley (1975), I understand incidental as being initiated by the child and the trainer "captures" the learning opportunity. Natural environment training consists of teaching within the context of the child's interest including "capturing and contriving". I have heard some people say that incidental teaching consist of contriving as well. However, I would think if you are contriving, it would no longer incidental. Right? I thiconfused may be confusion with "sabotaging the environment" (i.e., rearranging the environment to promote child initiations) and contriving motivation. For example, I would say "sabotaging the environment" consists of putting preferred toys up high or hiding them before the teaching session (or when the child is not present). Where as contriving motivation may be, playing cars with a child and driving your car in the way of the child's to teach him how to ask for you to move or say "beep, beep!" So from my recent research, I now look at these teaching procedures as a spectrum. Incidental teaching is learner directed, DTT is teacher directed, and NET is a combination of both. What are your thoughts?

"Incidental teaching provides structured learning opportunities in the natural environment by using the child’s interests and natural motivation. Incidental teaching was developed to increase language and social responses by maximizing the

 power of reinforcement and encouraging generalization (Hart & Risley, 1968, 1974)". The idea behind incidental teaching is an elaboration of language (e.g. instead of "car", you may ask, "which car" to increase the likelihood that the chid will say "blue car" or "big car".) "Those primarily focused on developing and using strategies embedded in natural settings that promote generalization refer to their interventions as naturalistic teaching approaches (NTAs)" (Leblanc et al., 2006). 

Where Can I Find a BCBA?

If you go to the BACB website and select Find a Certificant, you can find BCBA's in your geographic region.  

THIS example shows results for Hawai'i. You can also search by name, if you know who you are looking for. The image to the right is a screenshot of the information you will see the person you click on when you conduct a search at  BACB.com.

Can you explain the ABLLS and VBMAPP to me?

The ABLLS helps break down skills across 24 domains (including receptive and expressive communication, reinforcer readiness, gross motor and more). To conduct the assessment, run each sub skills and stop once you score three zero's (0) in a particular section. Keep going until all sections (or all relevant sections) are complete. Then, look at the gaps. They will show you the splinter skills. This is where most people begin deriving objectives. Go right to the ABLLS and see the criteria or step the learner did not meet and plug in targets to address those needs. Keep in mind, you will not be able to target all deficits at the same time, so some prioritization is still required. You may find the WebABLLS demo helpful which you can access from this home page


Another assessment to consider is the VB-MAPP (Verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program). It assess communication (pointing, gestures, speaking, etc.). The assessment is norm-referenced and is intended for students who are performing skills that fall between the range of 0-48 months old (0-4 years old).

Interviewing Behavior Analysts - any suggestions?

Some common questions that schools/companies may ask include: 


1) Walk us through your process of completing an FBA.

2) How do you handle conflicts on teams? Provide an example.

3) How comfortable are you supervising others, observing them and providing constructive feedback?

4) How would you handle a teacher/therapist who was not following treatment plans or academic programs as they were designed?

5) What researcher/expert in the field do you reference/read the most?

6) How do you stay current in the field of behavior analysis? Do you attend local conferences?

7) What types of behavior analytic teaching programs are you familiar with? DI? PSI? ASR? DTT?

8) How would you go about transferring stimulus control from you to a parent/teacher/etc?

9) Are there particular age groups/functioning levels that you are most/least comfortable servicing?

10) Do you have any research interest? Or sub areas of expertise in the field of behavior analysis? 

What resources do you recommend for parents new to ABA?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: Do you have any resources that are aimed at helping parents understand behavioral principles, specifically for children with Asperger’s Disorder.

I would begin by visiting the Caregiver’s Corner on my site. Some recommended YouTube channels are: Behaviorbabe (me), Behaviorbrain (ABA from the perspective of a 12 yr old w/Aspergers), and The A-Word (CARD following around child/family through treatment). Animal trainer Amy Sutherland writes a GREAT book that illustrates the applicability of ABA across species and behaviors. "What Shamu taught me about Life, Love, and Marriage" / Access article from New York Times

What are your thoughts on exclusionary time-out?

DEAR BEHAVIORBABE: What are you thoughts on using exclusionary time-out as an effective consequence for an 8 year with Asperger's Syndrome? Client engages in verbal and physical aggression when technology is removed or limit placed. Parent thinks child can use the time-out to pull it together. Child would then be permitted to return to technology which is preferred activity. As a BCBA wanna be, I think loss of preferred item will decrease aggressive behavior more effectively.

It is an empirical question that can be evaluated. What works for one student will not work for another unless certain conditions are analogous to the other. The BACB guidelines state that behavior analysts have to employ reinforcement procedures before we explore punishment procedures (except in some specific exceptions). Given the situation you described, we would want to assess why challenging behaviors are occurring. If it is because of denied access to tangibles and escape from demands from others, then we could try other techniques that may be more effective first...such as pairing ourselves with highly preferred items, allowing access to items only contingent on desired behavior, offering non-contingent reinforcement, or manipulating the motivational states (e.g. if a child hasn't eaten, edibles are more likely to be momentarily reinforcing, if a child is tired, they are more likely to go to bed and sleep through the night). However, you also have to consider what is the likelihood that the family will adhere to your recommendations if they disagree or don't fully buy in? There are many variables to consider. You are asking worthy questions.