Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #203
CE Offered: BACB
Finding the Baby in the Bathwater: A Behavioral Systems Approach to Child Development
Sunday, May 27, 2012
2:00 PM–3:20 PM
4C-2 (Convention Center)
Area: DEV/TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Gary D. Novak (California State University, Stanislaus)
Discussant: Sigrid S. Glenn (University of North Texas)
CE Instructor: Gary D. Novak, Ph.D.

Behavioral development can be seen to be a large open chaotic system with nearly infinite sources of influence. The behavioral systems approach presented by Novak & Pelaez (2004) provides a perspective on how behavior analysis principles apply to the maelstrom of development. This symposium will describe basic principles of behavioral development and apply them to emergent behavioral patterns seen in typical and atypical development. Pelaez will provide the basic concepts underpinning the behavioral systems approach. Important behavioral development principles such as multiple determinism, equifinality, cusps, phase shifts, and levels of systems will be among the principles described. Novak's paper will show how the behavioral systems approach can be used to explain the process of language acquisition and other communication. The role of ever-changing child-caregiver reciprocity will be given a central role. Suchowierska will apply the behavioral systems approach to the development of autism. Autism will be characterized as a diverse constellation of organized behavior patterns overlapping, but deviating from developmentally typical ones. Early behavioral interactional deficits in the development of autism will be identified.

Keyword(s): Autism Development, Behavioral Development, Behavioral Systems, Language Development

Behavior Systems in Development: From Simple to Complex Levels of Analysis

MARTHA PELAEZ (Florida International University)

Behavior systems theory suggests the impossibility of complete prediction and control of human behavior. Nevertheless, one can apply the principles of behavior systems to examine behavior development and its complexity (Novak & Pelaez, 2004). Multiple determinism suggests that human behavior is determined by: 1) the genetic constitutional make-up of the individual; 2) the interactional history of the person with his/her environment; (3) current physiological and environmental conditions; and 4) the influence of earlier behavioral trajectories on current learning (behavioral dynamics), including behavioral momentum. As viewed from a behavioral systems approach, different levels exist contemporaneously, with increasing complexity in the system as we move up the level of analysis. These include System Level I: Basic processes of development; System Level II: Emergent characteristics; System Level III: Social interactions; and System Level IV: Societal and cultural contexts. Biological structures such as organ systems can be seen as another level of systems. While the organized patterns of behavior that we call, for example "autism" are often observed during our functional analysis at Systems Level II, it is important to recognize the role of multiple determinants and the contribution that analysis of the other systems levels can provide.

Martha Pelaez is Frost Professor in the College of Education at Florida International University (FIU). She received her Ph.D. in 1992, in developmental psychology, winning the International Dissertation Award from the International Society for Infant Studies. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, in 1994, she joined the faculty at FIU, and was appointed full professor in 2005. She has studied mother-infant interactions and early social learning processes, as well as designed applied interventions with children at risk of language delays and developmental and learning problems. Her recent publications include two research articles published in JABA (2011, 2012) and one in EJBA (2011). She co-authored a textbook with Novak (2004) entitled “Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach.”  Dr. Pelaez has more than 70 publications in books and mainstream refereed journals (including the American Psychologist and Child Development).  She founded the Behavior Development Bulletin in 1990, and currently serves as Associate Editor with M. Commons.  She has served on nine editorial boards, as well as serving as past Program Chair for the American Psychological Association, Division 25, and past Program Co-Chair for the Association for Behavior Analysis.  

First Language, Taught and Learned: A Behavioral Systems Account of the Development of Language and Communication

GARY D. NOVAK (California State University, Stanislaus)

In a broad sense, the study of behavioral development is concerned with just two basic questions. The first is "What develops?" The second is "How does this development occur?" Traditional developmental psychology focuses primarily on the first question, which is fundamentally descriptive in nature. The behavioral systems approach follows the tradition of behavior analysis and is primarily concerned with the second question, and is essentially explanatory. However, both the "What?" and the "How?" of development are necessary to provide a satisfactory account. This paper will describe a behavioral systems approach to typical and atypical communication and language development. The roles of genetic-constitutional, historical, and environmental factors will be described. Special emphasis will be placed on the role of the social environment as provided by caregivers and interventionists. Behavioral cusps that are pivotal in typical and atypical language development will be identified. The important role of hidden skills and deficits will be explained and detailed. The role of the caregiver as language acquisition device will be emphasized.

Gary Novak is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Child Development at California University, Stanislaus. He has a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University, a M.A. in Psychology from Temple University, and earned his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Gary Novak was Founding Dean of the College of Human and Health Sciences at CSU, Stanislaus, where he taught for more than 35 years. He was twice Psychology Department Chairperson, founded the campus Child Development Center, and received the University's Outstanding Professor Award. His publications include two books on a behavioral approach to child and adolescent development: Developmental Psychology: Dynamical Systems and Behavior Analysis (also published in Italian as Psicologia Dello Sviluppo: Sistemi Dinamici e Analisi Comportamentale) and Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach. He has many publications and professional presentations on language, cognitive, and behavioral development and on behavioral systems approaches to development. His most recent publication is: Novak, G & Pelaez, M. (2010). Autism: A Behavioral Systems Approach in Mayville, E.A. and Mulick, J. A. (Eds.) Behavioral Foundations of Effective Autism Treatment. He is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Perceiving Autism as Organized Patterns of Characteristic Behaviors

MONIKA M. SUCHOWIERSKA (Warsaw School of Social Psychology)

For behavior analysts, it is obvious that autism should not be treated as an internal disorder that causes a child to behave in a certain way. Rather, we look at it as a label describing the child's many behaviors. Taking into consideration a behavioral systems approach—autism is perceived as organized patterns of characteristic behaviors that are shaped by multiple environmental factors in reciprocal interaction. The concept of equifinality, coalescent organization of biological and learned characteristics as well as behavioral cusps will be discussed with regards to autism. Due to a very important place of early intervention for children with autism, the presentation will focus on early mother-infant non-vocal and vocal communication that forms the basis for such core skills as joint attention, social referencing and relational responding.

Dr Monika Suchowierska received her Ph.D. in Developmental and Child Psychology from the University of Kansas—Human Development and Family Life Department—in 2003. During her studies in the U.S., Monika became interested and trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA), and particularly in the application of behavioral principles to working with people with developmental disabilities. Upon her return to Poland in 2003, she embarked on the goal of disseminating the knowledge about ABA in Poland. In 2004, she joined the faculty of Psychology Department at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities (SWPS). In 2005, she founded Center for Early Intervention "Step by Step" - the first behaviorally oriented private institution in Warsaw that provides early intensive intervention to children with autism. As a faculty member, Dr. Suchowierska teaches courses on applied behavior analysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy, autism and developmental psychology. She works with master thesis students on projects relating to educating children with and without disabilities. In 2006, Dr. Suchowierska established the first in the country post graduate studies in applied behavior analysis and is a member of the only Faculty of Behavior Analysis in Poland. In the years 2006-2009, Dr. Suchowierska served as the President of Polish Association for Behavior Analysis and currently is the Vice-president of the Polish Society for Behavioral Psychology. Monika is the first Board Certified Behavior Analyst in Poland. Dr. Suchowierska is the Director of Psychology in English studies at SWPS, and a coordinator for two US-EU exchange programs—the Atlantis program and the Excellence in Mobility program. In 2010, she became the Vice-Dean of the Psychology Department at SWPS. In 2010, she was a Fulbright Scholar at California State University Stanislaus.



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