• Interdisciplinary Collaboration and ABA

    This week, Dr. Val Demiri PhD, BCBA-D, LBA offers some helpful advice on how to improve collaboration between professionals from different disciplines.

    As professionals, collaborating with others in your work environment is an essential skill that may have been historically overlooked as part of the specific training you received as a behavior analyst. Currently, becoming credentialed as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) does not entail any coursework requirement in collaboration, however collaboration is mentioned as part of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) 4th Edition Task List under Section II, and The BACB Code of Ethics as follows:

    TASK LIST Section II: Client-Centered Responsibilities
    G-06: Provide behavior-analytic services in collaboration with others who support and/or provide services to one’s clients.

    BACB CODE: 2.0 – Behavior Analysts responsibility to clients:
    2.03 (b) When indicated and professionally appropriate, behavior analysts cooperate
    with other professionals, in a manner that is consistent with the philosophical
    assumptions and principles of behavior analysis, in order to effectively and
    appropriately serve their clients.

    BACB CODE: 7.0 Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues.
    Behavior analysts work with colleagues within the profession of behavior analysis and
    from other professions and must be aware of these ethical obligations in all situations.
    (See also, 10.0 Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to the BACB)

    These current ethical codes and task lists must be adhered to by behavior analysts and should raise questions on how to obtain the skills required for collaboration. Because we are an evidence-based and empirically oriented field, we may often find ourselves in the midst of conflict when presented with non-behavioral and non-evidence based treatments to our clients that other professions may be using or want to use. How do we resolve the ethical dilemma in the best interest of our client?

    One suggestion is to seek supervision and training in collaboration. Over the years, the need for training (both didactic and hands-on) on collaboration with other professions has increased. Perhaps perspective and understanding of other professions and their ideologies are good places to start so that we put ourselves in better positions to present our understanding of what will help our client. Let’s face it, behavior analysis can seem stuffy and arrogant, if not cold, to other professions who pride themselves in helping clients and building connections and who may have little understanding of our field.

    The research on collaboration is beginning to emerge within our field (Kelly & Tincani, 2013; Broadhead, 2015) and we can certainly look to fields outside of ABA who have taken it upon themselves to educate their profession on what applied behavior analysis is and how to forge collaborations as well as find common ground between fields (Donaldson & Stahmer, 2014). Donaldson & Stahmer (2014) published an article explaining the philosophy and principles of ABA to the speech and language profession, while also emphasizing common ground, mutual objectives and understanding of ABA. Within our own field, some initial steps in understanding collaboration was undertaken by Kelly and Tincani (2013) who conducted a survey of behavior analysts regarding collaboration using the following definition:

    “A component of consultation involving voluntary, interpersonal interactions comprising of two or more professionals engaging in communication modalities for the purposes of shared decision-making and problem solving toward a common goal and resulting in changes to tasks and solutions that would not have been achieved in isolation.”

    Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that 67% of respondents reported no coursework with “collaboration” in the coursework title and most surveyed agreed that they would want more training in collaboration (Kelly & Tincani, 2013). Even more striking were findings suggesting that behavior analysts were not necessarily team players during the collaboration process as collaboration was reported to be uni-directional (Kelly and Tincani, 2013). Unfortunately, the lack of collaboration may subsequently create conditions in which interventions are less likely to be implemented, simply because other professionals involved in the care of the client were not part of the decision making for those interventions (Kelly & Tincani, 2013).

    More so than ever before, researchers, clinicians and educators find themselves working in settings with diverse professional disciplines that are responsible for treating the same individual. Nowhere is this example made clearer for behavior analysts than the settings in which a host of related services from varying professions are provided to students as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Understanding the dilemmas that behavior analysts might be faced with in terms of evidence-based interventions that are empirically sound, Broadhead (2015) offered a decision-making model for determining whether or not the proposed non-behavioral treatment is worth addressing. Broadhead (2015) suggested that gaining skills in systematically evaluating whether or not you question a treatment (which runs the risk of eroding relationships) vs. not addressing clearly dangerous and unhelpful therapies that have been debunked, (e.g., facilitated communication) can serve as clear guidance and decision making strategies when faced with such ethical dilemmas.

    Understanding collaboration and gaining the skills needed to collaborate across disciplines should be both a professional goal and a goal within our field. In that spirit, the following tips for collaboration are offered:


    1) Get to know the profession of others you work with in your setting. Ask for and offer others basic readings about your field, philosophy, and profession.

    2) Talk about your own training and how you learned the skills you have and ask questions about training that other professionals have received in their field and how they came to acquire their skill set.

    3) Be honest about philosophical underpinnings of how you have been trained (e.g., behaviorism, applied behavior analysis).

    4) Discuss common goals you have for your client and how you can collaborate.

    5) If appropriate, ask for a demonstration of a strategy or intervention, so you can see for yourself what is being done and offer to show how you would implement interventions for the same goal and discuss the commonalities or differences in strategies.

    6) Set regular collaboration meetings and have an agenda where concerns, successes and progress are discussed.

    7) Agree on a plan of intervention as a team.

    8) Offer help with your skills that are applicable across all fields–such as data collection strategies, graphing, operational definitions, measurement of behavior, skill acquisition and progress.

    9) Create a collaboration goal with someone outside your field.

    10) Stay open to learning from others without compromising your ethical obligations as a professional and seek supervision.

    Board, B. A. C. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts.
    Brodhead, M.T., (2015). Maintaining Professional Relationships in an Interdisciplinary Setting: Strategies for Navigating Nonbehavioral Treament Recommendations for Individuals with Autism. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 8: 70-78.
    Donaldson, A., & Stahmer, A. C. (2014). Team Collaboration: The use of Behavior Principles for serving students with ASD. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 45: 261–276
    Kelly, A., & Tincani, M. (2013). Collaborative training and practice among applied behavior analysts who support individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 120-131.


    About The Author

    Dr. Demiri received her doctorate in Clinical and School Psychology from Hofstra University in 2004 and her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA) from Rutgers University in 2005.  She currently serves as an adjunct professor at Endicott College in the Van Loan School of Graduate & Professional Studies and she is the district-wide behavior specialist at Hopewell Valley Regional School District in New Jersey.  Previously she served as the Assistant Director of Outreach Services at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where she spearheaded the Early Intervention Program.  Her professional interests include diagnostic assessments, language and social skills development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders as well as international dissemination of Applied Behavior Analysis.  She has presented on Applied Behavior Analysis and autism locally, nationally and internationally.  Val is the co-author of the book, Jumpstarting Communication Skills in Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide to Applied Verbal Behavior: Woodbine House.

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