ABAI Meets Challenges Posed by COVID-19

President’s Column


Like many organizations making difficult choices this year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, ABAI had to decide whether to cancel its annual convention, or, with great effort, pull together its first-ever online event by May.

I witnessed with amazement the efficiency and success of the ABAI staff, led by the CEO, Maria Malott, in pulling off this 100% digital convention. My certainty that ABAI will not only withstand the challenges of COVID-19, but thrive as an organization, was strengthened.

Convention attendees witnessed what I did: an outstanding and user-friendly five-day schedule of 39 workshops, 303 presentations, and 465 posters across three poster sessions—all digitally delivered to nearly 3,750 attendees. There were also business meetings and reunions that allowed for planning, networking, and socializing. Help was available from the capable ABAI staff via a few keystrokes, and continuing education credits were available quickly. The Presidential Scholar’s Address, by Alan Kazdin, was one of the highlights, as he discussed his impactful body of work on behavioral treatment of antisocial behaviors in children and adolescents.
While attendees may have been disappointed to not connect in person with friends and colleagues, they had access to novel benefits; the live chat function during events, for example, allowed interaction with presenters and other audience members. Importantly, sessions were recorded, allowing for convenient viewing. In addition, the carbon footprint of this convention was much lower than that of previous events—perhaps suggesting that online and hybrid events may occur more frequently, as part of efforts to address climate change.

ABAI’s next two conferences will also be online: the first Culturo-Behavior Science for a Better World Conference October 7–9, 2020, and the 15th Annual Autism Conference February 28–March 2, 2021. The 47th Annual Convention will be May 27–31, 2021, in San Francisco, California, and the 11th International Conference September 12–14, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland—both planned to be live and in person.

We also continue to foster education and research dissemination through our six journals, under the guidance of Donald Hantula, Publications Board coordinator. Our flagship journal, Perspectives on Behavior Science (which Don also edited, and now is in the capable hands of Chris Newland), now has an impact factor of 3.25—a new record! In addition, we have seen a rise in impact of The Psychological Record (editor: Mitch Fryling)—it now has an impact factor of 2.3. We continue to publish rigorous empirical and theoretical papers in our other four journals as well, with their proficient editors, associate editors, and editorial board members. These journals are The Analysis of Verbal Behavior (editor: Mark Dixon), Behavior Analysis in Practice (editor: Jonathan Tarbox), Behavior and Social Issues (editor: Mark Mattaini), the newly acquired Education and Treatment of Children (editor: Claire St. Peter).

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
ABAI is committed to fostering a climate of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. To this end, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Board was formed in 2019. This board, headed by ABAI President-Elect, Carol Pilgrim, has already proposed to the Executive Council a DEI paper competition and an award for achievement in innovations in DEI—look for further details in the near future.

The October Culturo-Behavior Science (CBS) Conference is designed to showcase the rapidly growing area of CBS, where behavior analysis intersects with other disciplines focused on behavioral change at the cultural level. Important social justice issues, such as racial inequality, economic inequality, health disparities, and climate change will be some of the featured topics.

Billing Codes for Applied Behavior Analysts
We continue to work toward improving insurance billing for applied behavior analysts, building on efforts that started more than 10 years ago. ABAI has recently joined forces with other organizations to form the Applied Behavior Analysis Billing Codes Commission (ABABCC). (Other member organizations are the American Psychological Association Services, Inc., the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence, the Behavioral Intervention Certification Council, the National Coalition for Access to Autism Services, and the Qualified Applied Behavior Analysis Credentialing Board.)

The commission’s mission is to facilitate evidence-based applied behavior analysis by advancing the multi-disciplinary understanding, dissemination, and standardization of the adaptive behavior CPT billing codes. ABABCC has written multiple letters on behalf of practitioners in response to issues reported via the website; resources are updated on www.ababillingcodes.com for practitioners encountering challenges in their efforts to be reimbursed by insurers and health plans. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ABABCC also launched a web page dedicated to the use of telehealth, with links to relevant published articles, billing and cost-sharing information, and state licensure laws.

Currently ABAI has 34 accredited programs, as well as 670 Verified Course Sequences (VCSs) for fulfilling the education requirements to take the BACB exam. An exciting new development is that ABAI is also offering VCSs in culturo-behavior science; thus far six universities in the United States, Latin America, and Europe are offering this sequence. Please see more information about course content at www.abainternational.org/vcs/culturo-behavior-science.aspx.

To further support education efforts, this year we are launching a book series. The first book, coming this fall, is Behavior Science Perspectives on Culture and Community, edited by Tracy Cihon and Mark Mattaini. To be released in spring 2021 is Applied Behavior Science in Organizations: Consilience of Historical and Emerging Trends in Organizational Behavior Management, edited by Ramona Houmanfar, Mitch Fryling, and Mark P. Alavosius. Two other books are slated for 2021.

Coalition of Behavioral Science Organizations
ABAI is also committed to contributing to the well-bring of society at large, and to this end remains a leader in the Coalition of Behavioral Science Organizations (other member organizations are the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, the Association for Positive Behavior Support, the Evolution Institute, the National Prevention Science Coalition, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine). The coalition’s goals are to promote health and well-being for all, using scientific evidence as the basis for societal decision making and public policy as a mechanism for fostering change. ABAI endorsed a long-term plan for decreasing concentrated disadvantage in areas of the United States, and information on how this endorsement will translate into action is forthcoming.

We are in an historic period and likely a zeitgeist change—a time when a pandemic, racial injustice, and a warming climate have the world on edge. In the midst of the unrest that accompanies this cultural shift, I believe our organization is doing its part to contribute to positive change in ABAI culture and in the world beyond.

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