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.


16th Annual Autism Conference; Seattle, WA; 2022

All times listed are Pacific Standard Time (UTC -8 at the time of the convention in March).

Event Details

The terminology utilized in the presentation titles and abstracts for this conference was selected to adhere to the seventh edition of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual and to be inclusive of those who prefer person-first as well as identity-first language.

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Invited Paper Session #9
CE Offered: BACB
Autism, BA, ABA, RFT, and ACT: What I Have Learned and Understood So Far
Sunday, March 6, 2022
2:30 PM–3:20 PM
Fourth Floor; Grand Ballroom 1/2
Area: AUT; Domain: Theory
Chair: Joseph H. Cihon (Autism Partnership Foundation)
CE Instructor: Giovambattista Presti, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: GIOVAMBATTISTA PRESTI (Kore University)

Autism and applied behavior analysis (ABA) seem to be strictly chained terms, although their function, when mutually related, can vary from adverse sentiments from fervent detractors to stadium-like cheers of enthusiastic zealots. We can read about both poles of reaction, and anything in between, everywhere from scientific journals to newspaper and magazines and on social platforms as well. These reactions are embedded in cultural, legal, and educational pillars that vary from nation to nation, from continent to continent. These contexts will be the background scene of the presentation which will address acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and relational frame theory (RFT) within what can be called mainstream ABA as commonly coded in two points of reference: the Cooper et al. (2020) manual and the description of the BA practice offered by the BACB and other US credentialing boards. ACT flourished from a branch of behavior analytics studies in the late 1980s on stimulus equivalence and rule governance as a behavioral application to psychotherapy of a theory of cognition and language known as RFT. Growing evidence has recently advocated for an expansion of the professional profile of behavior analysts (e.g., Tarbox et al. 2020) to include ACT model of intervention in their practices. In an ever-evolving scientific context there are at least two levels of analysis that this consideration of the contributions of ACT to the professional field can offer, and which will be analyzed in detail: (1) the role that RFT and ACT play in the bigger picture of behavior analysis at the scientific level, and (2) the impact that the application of protocols derived from the studies in the field can have on expanding, ameliorating, or differentiating the available sets of assessment and training procedures, with a special focus on Autistics/individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Ultimately, the reflections that will be shared will pose an interesting question from a non–US-centric perspective: Is there such a thing as a professional profile for a behavior analyst?

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) characterize the relationship between BA, ABA, ACT, and RFT; (2) distinguish the critical aspects connected to the application of ACT within the scope of professional practice of applied behavior analysis; (3) frame the practice of applied behavior analysis in a worldwide context; (4) identify the skills where ACT and RFT can offer training protocols for Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD; (5) identify the limits and the goals of the research and data available on ACT and RFT with Autistics/individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Giovambattista Presti earned his Ph.D. in behavior analysis in 2010 from IULM University Milan. His research focuses on language development and training in children with special needs. Clinical research is devoted to development of ACT-based protocols in the treatment of obesity, pain, and clinical disorders in children. He has published on special education, experimental analysis of verbal behavior, clinical applications of third-wave CBT protocols, theoretical analysis of complex human behavior, application of computer science to clinical and educational psychology and medicine, and behavioral rehabilitation of cognitively impaired elderly individuals. He has written or edited several books in Italian on behavior analytic topics.



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