Birthed by behaviorism and the experimental analysis of behavior, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) first stepped into the eyes of the public in the 1960s. This was mostly due to the efforts of some of our biggest role models in the field: Baer, Wolf, and Risley.
Following all of the bizarre and inhumane experiments that were conducted in the early 1900s (Little Albert ring a bell?), research in the 1960s focused heavily on upholding ethical standards and procedures. Baer, Wolf, and Risley wanted to make certain that standards were maintained in practical settings as well – particularly in regard to ABA therapy. They published what is now the most referred-to article in the field of ABA: Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis – and with reason.
Their three biggest key points aimed toward ABA practitioners being that of generality – teach behaviors that will maintain even once intervention is removed; behaviors that are therefore useful for the learner. Don’t just program something because an assessment told you to, but because it fits within the context of that learner’s life.
Then there’s effectiveness. Is the treatment prescribed really working? As providers, we must see the value in constantly analyzing the data we gather. We must habitually scrutinize our work. This job is selfless; no room for arrogance! In the words of one of our founding fathers (and one of my personal favorite quotes), “Change and be ready to change again” (Skinner, 1979, p. 346). That is how we create better outcomes for our clients.
There’s five others, but the last one worth mentioning pertains to social significance – what Baer, Wolf, and Risley refer to as the applied dimension. It’s all about providing services that align with the values of the individual we are treating, and those that are of importance to them.
Even if the practitioner believes that they’ve made a difference by meeting all their programmed goals, what good is it if the learner or their families are left unsatisfied? I once came across a 6-month long program that focused on teaching a nonverbal child to communicate through sign language. The teachers and parents were not yet ready to adopt this new form of communication. In the end, it had no benefit to the child. Understandably, I can see where there’s room for argument because I struggle with this dimension the most.
Sadly, but truthfully, the quality of ABA services has decreased due to high demand. That can change by staying educated. Providers, professionals outside of our field, parents, teachers, and our learners, let’s continue to spread and put into practice the 7 dimensions that Baer, Wolf, and Risley so genuinely brought into existence years before.