Speech Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis:
Opportunities for Collaboration
Celiberti, Ph.D., BCBA
An interview with
Barbara E. Esch, CCC-SLP, BCBA
Chairperson of the Speech Pathology and
Applied Behavior Analysis SIG
appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with you about your interest in ABA and the development of the SIG. I would like to start off with some
more personal questions. How did you initially become interested in using
applied behavior analysis asan
individual speech pathologist?
My initial interest was probably the result of having an undergraduate minor
in Psychology from
WesternMichiganUniversity. The Psychology
Department at WMU is behavioral so I was already oriented to the benefits of
behavior analysis when I started working as a speech pathologist. Sometime
later, the positive impact of well applied
analysis was evident to me in observing the clinical work of my behavior
analyst husband, Dr. John Esch. His influence provided the impetus for me to
obtain the credential as a certified behavior analyst and eventually to pursue
a Ph.D. in behavior
I’ve also been extremely fortunate to learn from noted behavior analysts
such as my doctoral advisors Jim Carr and Jack Michael, as well as Mark
Sundberg, Dave Palmer, and others who have been strong exemplars for how to
integrate behavior analytic concepts and principles with actual teaching.
understand that you are also a certified behavior analyst. How has this set of
competencies enhanced your work as a speech pathologist?
behavioral training and experience represented by the BCBA are highly valuable
for enhancing the delivery of speech pathology services. Overall, these
competencies allow us to identify and assess various environmental events
(i.e., antecedents andconsequences)
that may influence many clinical problems. Through careful identification of
these environmental factors, it’s possible to chart a data-driven clinical
course of action to help individuals acquire stronger repertoires as
efficiently and effectively as possible.
is your perspective on dual certification as a speech pathologist and a
present, there’s somewhat of a mismatch between the competencies represented
by the BCBA credential and the marketability of the credential itself. We see
that many professionals are taking it upon themselves to become certified in
the absence of
requirements (in many states) to do so. Unfortunately, many agencies do not
reimburse for the services of behavior analysts. This probably means the value
of these services is not yet well recognized, or perhaps this value has not
been clearly articulated to policy makers. As has already happened with the
pathology credential (CCC-SLP), the BCBA will undoubtedly become more valuable
as third-party payors (i.e., insurers), program administrators, and
legislative agencies across the country (not just particular states) recognize
and require the competencies it represents for individuals providing
professional services to consumers. I think the Board [Behavior Analyst
Certification Board] is working hard to
led up to the development of your SIG?
really grew from a desire to promote collaboration between behavior analysts
and speech pathologists, particularly in conducting and disseminating
research. The field of behavior analysis provides important areas of
overlapping interest with speech pathology. A major goal of applied behavior
analysis is to help individuals learn
important behaviors (perhaps one of the most important of these behaviors is
communication). Treatments are positively focused and are based on the
application of behavioral principles derived from scientific inquiry. A
cornerstone of applied behavior
treatment is identifying possible environmental factors (e.g., motivation,
instructions and other contextual cues, prompts, consequences) to determine
why certain behaviors occur and then adjusting those factors in order to help
individuals make positive behavior change.
speech pathologists, behavior analysts work with diverse problems of
individuals across a wide variety of settings including educational
(schools/universities), medical (clinics/hospitals), business and industry,
institutions and group homes, and private
venues. With over 100,000 practicing speech pathologists in the US alone, there are nearly
unlimited opportunities for collaborative research that could ultimately
benefit consumers of our collective services.
collaboration of speech pathologists and applied behavior analysts is critical
to the treatment of autism. What other areas or clinical applications do you
believe can be positively impacted by such an alliance?
new SPABA SIG provides an important opportunity to expand the potentially
fruitful interaction between speech pathology and applied behavior analysis.
Such an alliance could inform the delivery of services related to a number of
important issues including speech/language acquisition and assessment, program
outcomes, swallowing and feeding disorders, voice disorders, issues related to
hearing impairment, prosthetic adjustment (e.g., hearing aids, laryngeal
prostheses, communication devices), accent and dialect modification,
speech/language rehabilitation related to neurological problems,
rehabilitation of oral-motor problems related to oro-facial anomalies, issues
related to aging in normal and disabled (e.g., Alzheimer’s) populations,
public speaking (e.g., theater, business), fluency (e.g., stuttering),
conservation (e.g., noise reduction), college teaching, and business
management applications (e.g., practicum supervision,
analysis in speech/language departments in clinics, hospitals, and schools).
many school districts and agencies the relationship between behavior analysts
and speech pathologists is less than optimal, and in some instances actually
adversarial. What misconceptions do many behavior analysts have for speech
pathologists and vice
by misconceptions, you mean lack of information, I would say we may not fully
appreciate what each brings to the therapeutic setting.Hopefully, professionals in these two fields are knowledgeable about,
and respectful of, one another’s training and they value the unique skills
that each brings to the clinical or research setting. Both groups
a mutual goal of trying to help individuals change behavior in some way and
this professional team certainly has the composite skills to identify and
treat the complex behaviors that fall within their shared scope of practice.Whether we work with our clients as a team, or parallel to other
professionals, it is useful to focus on a therapeutic plan that maximizes the
strengths of each person providing services. Behavior
approach problem solving by dealing with the effects of environmental stimuli
on behavior; this is what they’re trained to observe, identify, measure, and
modify. Thus, they tend to propose (and value) interventions that are based on
an analysis of such events.
based on other interpretations of a behavior’s cause or function (such as
“mental way-stations”) would be less of a priority simply because those
“causes” might not as easily lend themselves to scientific manipulation.
One example might be the preference by behavior analysts for language
treatments arranged according to a
taxonomy of function where controlling antecedents and consequences are
identified and adjusted as necessary in contrast to particular remedial or
habilitative approaches in which hypothesized causal variables for language
skills may be less “testable” and, thus, skill improvement may be more
difficult to achieve.Speech
pathologists, like behavior analysts, are well trained to identify behaviors.
Moreover, some of these behaviors may be highly idiosyncratic (for example,
articulation, voice quality, chewing/swallowing actions). The speech
pathologist’s expertise in identifying
of a wide array of speech, communication, and swallowing behaviors makes it
much easier to plan effective treatments according to the most efficient
hierarchy of tasks (i.e., responses to be trained).Further, because of their clinical training and experience, speech
pathologists often find it quite easy to identify subtle changes that can be
made in specific treatments to make interventions more effective.
ability to “tweak” treatments at a very detailed level reflects the speech
pathologist’s specialized knowledge in important areas related to behavior
such as anatomy, physiology, and the impact of certain processes (e.g.,
disease, trauma) on brain function.As
a team, it seems to me that behavior analysts and speech pathologists are well
prepared to provide state of the art treatments of choice for individuals
within their care. Their ability to do so depends upon mutual recognition of
the unique skills each can offer.
you know, the theme of this issue is early intervention. What are some
overarching suggestions or considerations that you would have for behavior
analysts working with children with autism under the age of 3?
first thing I would recommend is that professionals (behavior analysts or any
thers) learn to listen to parents and other caregivers and to respond
effectively, within the scope of professional practice, to their concerns.
Parents of recently diagnosed young children are dealing with an overwhelming
number of stressors. They’re working against the clock, trying desperately
to find affordable, reliable educational services for their children and
working hard to determine which of these treatments may be most effective. At
the same time, they may be dealing with grief, anger, sleep-deprivation, or
other significant challenges such as parenting other children, being a spouse,
and holding a job. Their concerns need to be recognized by care – and
service-providers. I’m not suggesting we work outside our scope of practice.
On the contrary, we need to adhere to guidelines for ethical practice. But,
within these parameters, we must listen carefully to identify our clients’
needs and priorities, then we must work hard to effectively address those
concerns according to our particular expertise. Any professionals who have not
had clinical training (and some behavior analysts have not) may need to add
these important skills to their repertoires.Related to this, we must recognize that young children with a diagnosis
of autism (or any other disability) are, first and foremost, children. Their
learning should be normalized as much as possible. One of the most important
ways we can do this is by teaching them how to play.For little ones, play is their “work.” Typically developing
children learn an enormous number of foundational skills (e.g., early
language, imitation, problem-solving) while playing, both alone and with
others. For children with disabilities, we need to know how to design
educational programs that maximize skill acquisition in normalized
environments and one of the most important of these environments is the play
you, now what about for speech pathologists working with children with autism
under the age of 3?
young children with autism often have severely restricted behavioral repertoires
(e.g., language, social skills, following instructions), they may engage in
challenging and inappropriate behaviors (e.g., hitting, crying) that can
interfere with therapy programs. These behaviors often function to produce
important reinforcers (e.g., attention, escape from task demands, tangible
items) but, typically, speech pathologists
are not trained to identify how antecedents and/or consequences can be
analyzed and adjusted in order to teach replacement behaviors that will
provide the same reinforcers in more socially acceptable ways (e.g., asking).
Speech pathologists who have acquired these skills may find it easier to
deliver their therapy programs by first training functionally equivalent
behaviors that fall within the spectrum of speech/ language skills.
you direct us to a few journals in the area of speech pathology that may be of
interest to behavior analysts working with individuals with autism?
you know, there’s a lot of research at present in the area of autism and it
seems to span not only specific issues of interest to speech pathologists and
behavior analysts (e.g., speech, language, social communication, eating) but
it also extends across a variety of professional journals. I would refer
readers to their particular topics of interest in peer-reviewed publications,
particularly those reporting empirically based investigations.Some examples might be Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Journal of Speech, Language, and
Hearing Research, International Journal of Eating Disorders, Pediatrics,
Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Lancet, and Research in Developmental
and speech pathologists may be interested in an article by Goldstein (2002)1
reviewing treatment efficacy of speech and language interventions for children
understand that you launched your SIG this past May.How did your meeting go?
organizational meeting in Chicago (ABA 2005) was a great
success with an initial membership of 18 SLPs and behavior analysts from the United States, Canada, and Australia – not bad for an meeting on Sunday
morning! It was clear that attendees welcomed the formation of this unique
SIG, providing a long-awaited opportunity to expand the potentially fruitful
interaction between these two related professions. As speech pathologists, we
salute ABA for providing us this
for collaboration. As behavior analysts, we welcome this group of dedicated,
knowledgeable professionals who share our interest in applying behavioral
analyses to speech and language problems.
comprises your SIG?
SIG is comprised of speech pathologists, behavior analysts, and students in
these two fields who advocate a behavioral approach to address speech/language
problems both clinically and through empirical research.
is the mission and short-term objectives of the SIG?
mission is to promote communication and collaboration between speech
pathologists and behavior analysts in the dissemination of behaviorally
oriented speech and language research and in the application of evidence-based
top priorities for current action are to announce the formation of the SIG in
speech pathology media (e.g., national magazines, newspapers, state/regional
organization publications), develop a SIG brochure, and increase student
SIG related activities do you have planned for upcoming years?
of our effort this year will be directed toward publishing articles of
interest on our website and in mainstream professional outlets accessed by
speech pathologists, behavior analysts, or both. We will also work to organize
regional SLP-ABA groups.
ABA offer CEU credits
for speech pathologists? If not, that may be another endeavor of your SIG to
increase the SLP presence at ABA.
present, ABA does not offer CEU
credits for speech pathologists.As
more speech pathologists attend ABA, this may become a
you know, there is an abundance of non-empirically validated treatments used
by occupational therapists in the treatment of autism. Do you think your SIG
can serve as an example to occupational therapists who are concerned about the
what is known empirically and what is actually being practiced?
of the great advantages of training in behavior analysis is learning to
separate empirically validated treatments from those that may make “common
sense” but that may not provide clinical benefit efficiently or effectively.
We hope all professionals who offer clinical services will strive to
critically evaluate the utility of any new treatments that may be proposed, or
reported in the press, or popularized through other media (the internet is a
prime example). Pseudo-treatments can have disastrous effects. They can
exhaust a family’s financial and emotional resources, waste valuable
learning time, and lessen the impact of more useful treatments. We all have a
professional responsibility to educate ourselves, and to help educate others,
about which treatments are most effective and to offer those treatments to
consumers of our services.
you please give me more information about your discussion group? What are some
topics that get discussed? Who can join and how do they go about doing that?
discussion group is a forum for speech pathologists with an interest in ABA and ABA professionals with an
interest in speech and language to discuss issues of clinical or conceptual
interest. Membership is open to clinically certified speech pathologists, behavior
analysts, or students of either field. To join the discussion group, email email@example.com.
you for taking the time to discuss the SPABA SIG and I wish you all the best!
How can interested parties obtain more information or join your SIG?
invite interested individuals to learn more about the SPABA Group SIG at
www.behavioralspeech.com or contact the SIG Chair: Barb Esch: firstname.lastname@example.org
H. (2002). Communication intervention for children with autism: A review of
treatment efficacy. Journal of Autism
and Developmental Disorders, 32, 373-396.
from the Special Interest Group
Newsletter Autism And Related Developmental Disabilities of ABA & ABCT –
22 Issue 1 Winter 2006 available in the original format at:http://gsappweb.rutgers.edu/dddc/winter_2005-2006_newsletter.pdf
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