Puerto Rico Association for Behavior Analysis

By Yaniz Padilla Dalmau & Ethel Rios Arroyo
Puerto Rico (PR) has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since 1898 and its people have been US citizens since 1917. PR has a population of over 3.2 million people, approximately 84% of the population reports not speaking English “very well”, and it is one of the poorest jurisdictions in the US with over 40% of the population falling under poverty (Census, 2020). Puerto Rico has a high incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (Cordero, et. al., 2012), however, behavior analytic services for this population are highly inaccessible due to a lack of providers (14 BCBAs as of 2022), no graduate-level programs, limited availability of information and services related to ABA in Spanish, and few mechanisms for funding the services. To alleviate some of these challenges, a group of Puerto Rican behavior analysts have informally worked together since 2017 to disseminate ABA in Puerto Rico and to support each other in the delivery of services. This group of providers was solidified into a formal chapter in 2021, and the Puerto Rico Association for Behavior Analysis (PRABA) became an official ABAI affiliate chapter on July 22, 2022.

PRABA’s first accomplishment was to successfully hold the first ABA conference in Puerto Rico on July 23-24, 2022. PRABA’s president, Yaniz Padilla Dalmau, had the honor of announcing our affiliate chapter status during the opening remarks of this event. PRABA’s inaugural conference had the mission of disseminating information about behavior analysis and the efforts local behavior analysts have engaged in to increase accessibility to ABA services in Puerto Rico. The hybrid and bilingual 2-day event were attended by 104 people in person and 85 people virtually. Presenters included David Wacker from the University of Iowa who delivered the keynote address, Yaniz Padilla Dalmau who delivered the presidential address, and invited speakers from the mainland and from Puerto Rico including Patricia Kurtz, Haydee Toro, Kelly Schietlz, Matthew O’Brien, Hector Ruiz, Ethel Rios Arroyo, Iris Pons, Norielys Pons, Dagmar Millan, Laura Maldonado, and Marta Riviere. Presentation topic areas included the state of ABA in Puerto Rico, translational research, interdisciplinary interventions for severe behavior, telehealth, verbal behavior, early intensive behavioral interventions for young children with autism, ethics and more. Registrants included BCBAs and behavioral therapists, both from Puerto Rico and other states, psychologists, speech and language pathologists, students,, and consumers. This event contributed to one of PRABA’s main goals which is to establish a cohesive professional community of behavior analysts in PR. For some attendees, the PRABA conference was their first contact with behavior analysis and the conference served the purpose of awakening the interest of some of these professionals in becoming part of this community and obtaining additional training in behavior analysis.

Three months after the conference and using the funds gained from it, PRABA officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico. Becoming a nonprofit organization will allow PRABA to more easily advocate for public policy changes to help the profession of behavior analysis and our consumers. For example, PRABA aims to work towards recognition of behavior analysis as a profession in PR, work towards licensure for behavior analysts, and advocate for insurance coverage for ABA. PRABA’s board of directors has begun working towards these goals in the first few months of the organization. For example, the board members have participated in meetings with the Special Education division of Puerto Rico’s Department of Education to promote ABA services as related services covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and promote continuing education and seminars to special education teachers and school psychologists. In addition, PRABA’s board of directors has written memorandums with professional opinions about ABA services in Puerto Rico (needs, accessibility, efforts, etc.) to inform public policy and legislative work.

During 2023, PRABA will develop a series of in-person and virtual seminars and workshops to continue disseminating ABA in Puerto Rico. Additionally, PRABA is developing its membership and benefits package to increase the professional community, continuing to develop visibility of ABA, provide continuing education to interested professionals, and overall increase access to information to our colleagues, consumers, and those interested in becoming part of our community. The board is also conducting research into necessary processes to promote regulation and licensing of the practice of applied behavior analysis in PR with the goal of drafting an action plan towards licensure. Finally, PRABA is planning its next bilingual, hybrid conference in Puerto Rico to be held in October of 2024. The board aims to continue disseminating behavior analysis in Puerto Rico and to extend its reach to other Spanish-speaking communities.

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