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.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #487
CE Offered: BACB
Automatic or Undifferentiated Functional Analysis Results for Individuals With Challenging Behavior: Digging Deeper
Monday, May 25, 2020
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level 1, Salon H
Area: DDA/AUT; Domain: Translational
Chair: David R Donnelly (In Private Practice; Webster University)
Discussant: David R Donnelly (In Private Practice; Webster University)
CE Instructor: David R Donnelly, Ph.D.

Abstract: Since first published (Iwata et al., 1982), the process of Functional Analysis (FA) has profoundly changed the process and effectiveness of Applied Behavior Analytical (ABA) treatment for individuals with challenging behaviors. Across ages and diagnoses, ABA has provided empirically validated evidence based treatment for behaviors maintained by attention, escape from demand, or tangibles. Yet in the years that have followed, the identification of automatic (assumed to be sensory) or undifferentiated findings has not kept pace, and this has left Behavior Analysts without a clear approach to treatment. This often results in needing to rely on default technologies that are often controversial, and less effective. In this symposium, we will discuss the potential significance of behavioral history on understanding the individual’s idiosyncratic function(s) of behavior; Looking at biological variables as potential motivating operations in further clarification of the function(s) of behavior; and working toward moving to more environmentally mediated variables informed by fine grained analysis of automatic reinforcement maintaining the behavior. Practical suggestions regarding more effective practice and research to address challenging behavior will be included.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: Participants will: 1) increase awareness of biological antecedents of challenging behavior; 2) explore the contribution biological and physiological data to functional analysis; 3) become familiar with the application of Matching Law to development of treatment strategies for challenging behavior

What Does Toward a Functional Analysis of Problem Behavior Look Like Today?

(Service Delivery)
ELIZABETH ANDRESEN (Autism Learning Partners), David R Donnelly (In Private Practice; Webster University)

The field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was dramatically influenced by Iwata and colleagues (1982/1994) when they established a systematic method to analyze and understand challenging behavior through standard functional analysis (FA). In the years that followed, the field of ABA has greatly progressed. With the hundreds of published studies demonstrating the value of FA in developing function-based treatment, has also come clarification of limitations and areas where the FA process as initially described was not as effective. Rather than an end in-and-of itself, FA as originally described was intended as a starting point. Dr. Michael Dorsey (2018) reminded us that the purpose of their seminal work was to go toward a functional analysis of self-injury, indicating that additional revision and contribution would be expected. Unfortunately, some behavior analysts have elevated the standard FA as the only and final method for assessing and treating challenging behaviors; the “gold standard”. As the field has progressed, FA results leading to inconclusive results, or not effectively conceptualizing establishing idiosyncratic evocative events in the individual’s natural environment have been identified. Additionally, despite a significant literature base supporting biological components of complex behaviors, little behavioral research has been done in this area in recent years, and little has been incorporated into functional analysis methodologies. This presentation will propose the synthesis of biological and environmental variables when analyzing function. Possible methods of incorporating diagnostic characteristics of developmental disorders and physiological correlates of problem behavior into the functional analysis process will be discussed.

Functional Analysis, Treatment Analysis, and Physiological Measures to Investigate the Role of Positive and Negative Automatic Reinforcement in the Treatment of Problem Behavior
(Applied Research)
NANCY I. SALINAS (Harmony Behavioral Health)
Abstract: The diagnostic severity of ASD is partly based on restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities (APA, 2013). Automatic reinforcement function accounts for 16.9% of restrictive and repetitive behaviors and 25% of self-injurious behaviors (SIB) based on functional analyses (Beavers, Iwata, and Lerman, 2013; Hagopian, 2015). The types of behaviors within this category include 1) stereotyped or restrictive motor movements or vocalizations, 2) insistence in sameness, inflexibilities with routines, ritualized vocal or non-vocal behavior, 3) highly restricted/fixated interests, and 4) hyper-/hypo-reactivity to sensory factors (APA, 2013; CDC, 2013). Due to the nature of automatically reinforced behaviors, it is recommended that physiological assessments be used to determine relationships between physiological events and behavior (Romanczyk and Gillis, 2006). Tools that are sensitive to biological activity may help to discern sources of automatic reinforcement. The current investigation is a continuation of the utilization of functional analysis, treatment analysis, and physiological measures to investigate the role that positive and negative automatic reinforcement play in the treatment of problem behaviors. The results show an association between non-socially mediated behaviors and physiological events and adds to the empirical basis for differentiating operant psychology principles for operant and respondent conditioning.
A Habituation Protocol for Increasing Tolerance for Measuring Physiological Responses
(Applied Research)
SHAWN E. HAPPE (Harmony Behavioral Health)
Abstract: Some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) manifest hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition [DSM-V], 2013). Due to this, physiological measures that require contact with the skin may present problems for individuals with atypical responses to tactile stimulation. In order to address this concern, a habituation protocol was used to assess participants’ tolerance to wearing a vest for the collection of physiological measures. Specifically, a repeated presentation procedure was conducted to decrease possible sensitivity to a vest (Thompson & Spencer, 1966). The results indicated that all six participants in this study successfully completed the habituation protocol and none required a lengthy fade in protocol for wearing the vest. Based on these results, apparatus using these types of physiological measures are feasible for conducting research. These findings should encourage other researchers interested in assessing physiological responses with individuals with possible sensory sensitivities.
Rethinking Automatic Reinforcement: Matching Law Contribution to Developing Effective Treatment
(Service Delivery)
ZHICHUN ZHOU (Webster University )
Abstract: The lack of immediate external socially-mediated consequences has led people to use cognitive structures or other mental processes in explaining complex behavior (e.g., self-injurious behavior, pica, rumination) observed in clinics, schools and/or homes. But how can behavior analysts not be compelled to accept hypothetical constructs as explanations? B.F. Skinner’s extensive use of automatic reinforcement and the perplexing undifferentiated result derived from functional analysis (FA) have provided good enough justifications for us to take a closer look at the concept of automatic reinforcement. Indeed, the concept of automatic reinforcement can provide us a parsimonious explanation to complex behavior. The current presentation discusses the parsimony featured in automatic reinforcement from an angle that has not yet been explored in the field of applied behavior analysis. That is, the matching law. More specifically, the presentation provides a nuanced understanding of the concept of matching law and explores how it can be integrated to the development of interventions for behavior that is maintained by automatic reinforcement. The presentation further examines how to program the schedule of socially-mediated reinforcement to compete and wane the effects of the schedule of automatic reinforcement produced by certain behavior.



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