I’ve had the pleasure this semester to incorporate new knowledge into the foundation I currently have on disability studies, health policies, cultural competency, and treatment options. One thing I have thoroughly enjoyed in my LEND experience has been learning about new disciplines and what they all have to offer in this broader field of education in neurodevelopmental and related disabilities.  It has also inspired me to fuse together the topic of cultural competency within my own field of practice, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

My own educational background is relatively diverse, in that I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Humanities, which primarily focused on community and civic engagement, cultural competency, power and privilege, and how to engage with individuals that have different needs. My Master’s degree on the other hand is in Behavior Analysis and Therapy which is a science based on the philosophy of behaviorism, which includes a variety of different sub-fields, including autism research and treatment. By combining the knowledge from both of these backgrounds and through my experience in LEND, I’d like to discuss how ABA can be applied to all individuals from various cultures and with differing backgrounds.

Photo Above: Three children holding puzzle pieces with the letters A, B, and A. Credit: William and James College ABA Resource Page

For those who are unfamiliar with ABA, it is a field in which the goal is to apply the scientific principles of behavior to increase positive and adaptive behavior change and decrease challenging behavior in a way that will produce independent and socially important life skills. These principles of behavior have been proven through time and across cultures to explain human behavior. For example, by positively reinforcing behaviors, you are able to increase and maintain behaviors and shape or build new skills.

Although these principles are applicable to all human beings (and other organisms), it’s important to take into account cultural differences when actually implementing a treatment or intervention. As an ABA therapist, you would need to tailor and to individualize a treatment so that it includes the values that are socially important to the culture of the individual you are treating. The term “Applied” in applied behavior analysis means that the treatments must be socially important to that individual, and if a therapist does not take into account an individuals’ culture and value differences then they are ignoring the “Applied” aspect of ABA!

It would also be important to make sure that an intervention is being utilized in the appropriate language. For example, non-native English speakers would probably not benefit from English-based ABA curriculums, rather a curriculum that has been written in their own language.

Additionally, behaviors are valued differently across cultures and interventions would need to account for this. But the scientific principles of behavior remain the same, across cultures. It is the skills being taught, interventions taking place, changes in environmental variables, and reinforcers being chosen that should change in accordance to culture. For example, reinforcement for a middle class child in the US might be a statement such as “Good job!” or “Way to go!”, but a child in a more collectivist culture may not value individual praise, as the society itself does not value it. That does not mean the principle of reinforcement is ineffective for a child in this culture, rather it just means that praise may not function as a reinforcer!

A good ABA provider, or any treatment provide should be able to appropriately address individual needs, which would include creating interventions for teaching skills that are important to the culture they are a part of.

Photo Above: ABAI Logo-The Association for Behavior Analysis International Credit: Abainternational.org

For more information on the use and research in the field of behavior analysis around the globe, please check out the following journals:

Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis: http://rmac-mx.org/

Brazilian Journal of Behavior Analysis: http://www.periodicos.ufpa.br/index.php/rebac/index

Japanese Journal of Behavior Analysishttp://www.j-aba.jp/english/publications.html#anchor436323

European Journal of Behavior Analysishttp://www.ejoba.org/