WHAT DO YOU CALL A BCBA WHO NEVER DOES ABA?
You can call me Wendy.
Yes, I am a BCBA. I’m also a neurodiversity affirming professional and family member. I’ve never done ABA, nor do I recommend it. I don’t consider neurodiversity to be a problem to be fixed, or an ailment to be cured. Rather, I see it as a completely natural human difference to be celebrated.
How is it possible to be a neurodiversity affirming BCBA, I hear you say?
I’m glad you asked.
I studied the science of behavior and became a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) because I love learning about the science of behavior.
Behavior is what we do as humans, it’s basically “peopling.”
I find that fascinating.
There are all kinds of BCBAs in the world. The majority of them in the last decade or so have worked with autistic children in ways that, however well-intended at the time, we now know to have been harmful to many autistic people. The idea of forcing children to be 100% compliant does not respect or affirm who they are as individuals. It is a dangerous idea for children to grow up believing that they must do whatever an adult tells them to do even if it makes them uncomfortable.
Compliance itself is not the problem. We all learned compliance as young children when we learned not to run out into the street, or how to read. Typical ABA, as it has been used with many autistic children, has been a real problem. We have learned by listening to autistic people that the way ABA has been used has been injurious. We need to really hear and believe autistic adults sharing their lived experience, and then change how we teach autistic children. I can’t overstate how important this is.
It’s also important not to lump all of behavior science into one idea, as if all BCBAs are the same. There’s a lot more to being a BCBA than doing ABA with autistic children.
Some BCBAs specialize in city planning, helping make decisions that could reduce traffic accidents based on how people respond to different stimuli. For instance, they might study data to determine whether a warning sign for elderly people crossing the road should show a couple bent over and walking with canes, or sprightly people stepping forward off a curb. If the sprightly image resulted in more people slowing down, they would recommend that as the preferred warning sign. If more drivers slowed down for the hunched over couple with canes, that would be the recommendation. Relying on common sense, rather than testing and taking observational data at intersections, might not give us the best result. Maybe we assume that drivers would slow down more for the hunched over couple because they look so vulnerable. Or, we could assume they would slow down more for a sprightly couple who might be approaching the crosswalk rapidly. We don’t really know how the majority of drivers would respond unless we test it, take data, analyze drivers’ behavior in both situations. Only then can we apply it to the real world of purchasing warning signs, through ABA. Yes, this is actually ABA: applied behavior analysis, because we are analyzing drivers’ behavior related to different signs, and applying what we learn to the real world by installing the kind of signs that are more likely to result in fewer accidents.
And there’s even more to behavior analysis.
Some BCBAs work with athletes to help them make changes in their own behavior to improve their performance. Others work with businesses and organizations, or with animals. Some do forensic analysis such as profiling for the FBI. We’re not all the same.
The way I use my BCBA certification is by observing, analyzing, and documenting a person’s reported and observed behaviors to determine if they meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 5th edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). I use the diagnostic knowledge I gained as a Licensed Educational Psychologist (now retired) together with my training as a current board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) to conduct a respectful, formal diagnosis with a comprehensive written report. I’ve hand-picked and trained the other professionals on my growing team, and they’re awesome! I stand behind our ability to provide a neurodiversity-affirming assessment that looks behind masking to get to the heart of our clients’ questions and give them the honest and accurate answers they deserve.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, or if you have any questions for me, head over to the Contacts section to get in touch.
Wendela Whitcomb Marsh, MA, BCBA, RSD