Science-Informed Applications in Autism Spectrum Disorders 

Submitted by Christopher Newland and Terry S. Falcomata  

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has long been regarded as the standard of care for treatment of individuals with autism. It was among the first, if not the first (and we will hear about this at the conference), to employ empirically-based interventions to address the disabling signs and symptoms associated with the autism spectrum. Applied behavior analysts have consistently delivered humane, data-driven care that is grounded in a peer-reviewed literature. It is also characterized by the degree to which its practitioners scrupulously collect data to ensure that the course of treatment is working.  

Over the years, our understanding of autism and of what constitutes appropriate treatment has grown and evolved, as it should. ABA looks very different today than it did at the beginning and it will certainly change in the years to come. At the 2024 conference we will hear from practitioners, scientists, and a historian about some of the best of contemporary interventions as well as some of the first attempts to apply our nascent understanding of the experimental analysis of behavior to the treatment of autism and developmental disorders. The 18th ABAI Autism Conference will take place at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas from March 18-20. The evenings will be free because, Vegas! 

The first day of the conference will feature workshops that focus on practical topics pertaining to ABA. The first workshop will be conducted by Dr. Matthew Brodhead (Michigan State University) and will focus on the application of behavioral systems analysis to promote and maintain professional and ethical behavior in the workplace. Dr. Brodhead will provide practical guidance on the implementation of procedures aimed at the promotion of ethical behavior of employees. The second workshop, presented by Dr. Mark Dixon (University of Illinois at Chicago), will focus on assessment and intervention practices for assisting Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD to acquire and sustain practical skills.   

In the morning of day two of the conference, two presenters will discuss several important and timely topics regarding ABA practice as well as historical perspectives pertaining to ABA. First, Dr. Timothy Vollmer (University of Florida) will present on the topic of severe behavior disorders displayed by Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD. Dr. Vollmer will review important previous findings and discuss future avenues of research as they pertain to clinical application. Next, Dr. Edward Morris (University of Kansas) will provide a historical account of ABA and the assessment and treatment of Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD within the context of the contributions of Charles B. Ferster. Later in the morning, Dr. Alice Shillingsburg will present on the topic of direct instruction (DI) and language learning for Autistics/children diagnosed with ASD. Dr. Shillingsburg will provide an overview of DI as an evidence-based practice as well as the procedures application to language skill acquisition by Autistics/children diagnosed with ASD. 

Day two, in the afternoon, will see four presenters address an assortment of topics. First, Dr. Thomas Critchfield (Illinois State University) will discuss the topic of derived stimulus relations. Specifically, Dr. Critchfield will provide an introductory presentation on the topic with a focus on skill acquisition and other gains produced by the procedures. Next, Judith Ursitti (Council of Autism Service Providers) will present on the topic of advocacy for autism services. Ms. Ursitti will discuss quality and sustainability of ABA services with an emphasis on advocacy at state and federal levels and the empowerment of individuals (including novices) to be effective advocates. Third, Dr. Brian Boyd (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) will discuss the potential reconceptualization of how we, as researchers and practitioners, approach the assessment and treatment of repetitive behaviors exhibited by Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD. Dr. Boyd will provide comments several important facets of the topic of assessment and treatment of repetitive behaviors including diverse viewpoints, including that of Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD, and recent findings on relations between repetitive behaviors and other ASD-related conditions. Finally, Julie Kornack will discuss issues pertaining to ABA and applied behavior analysts in the role of health care providers. Ms. Kornack will provide insights on this very important topic including the implications of widespread insurance funding of ABA services as a medically necessary mental health benefit in the treatment of Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD and the potential interference of payor guidelines that affect applied behavior analysts’ ability to apply practices consistent with established standards of care.  

Day 3 of the conference begins with a pair of presentations that will cover diverse topics pertaining to the assessment and treatment of issues faced by Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD. Eileen Lamb (The Autism Cafe) will present on the topic of autism advocacy and her experience as an autistic person with autistic children. Next, Dr. Cynthia Anderson (May Institute) will present on a recent randomized clinical trial in which she and her team carefully compared conventional EIBI with briefer, modular interventions. Using a community sample, they ask whether 40 hours is really the gold standard. The results could affect how EIBI is constructed and delivered. Dr. Jennifer Austin (Georgia State University) will discuss trauma-informed care and how it can be viewed in a behavior-analytic framework. She will discuss ways that this perspective, which is growing in human service delivery, can be incorporated into applied behavior analytic practice. Dr. Mark Dixon will provide an introductory-based presentation on the application of acceptance and commitment therapy-based procedures to increase quality of life Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD. 

The aim of the conference is to enhance the range of attendees’ knowledge and understanding across a diverse array of important topics relevant to Autistics/individuals diagnosed with ASD. We hope to see you in Las Vegas! 

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