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  • Kandace Little-Hahn

How to Find an Empathetic, Effective, and Ethical ABA Provider: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the Series: How to Find an Empathetic, Effective, and Ethical ABA Provider. Join me as I walk through the BACB Ethics Code and highlight important characteristics of quality ABA Providers. I am a Behavior Analyst with 7 years of experience in the field, 4 of those years certified as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). I currently provide behavior analytic consulting for families, businesses, and remote supervision for individuals accruing their hours for the BCBA exam, among other activities. I started my own practice in order to pursue projects that I am passionate about and have the ability to practice in the way that I find most ethical, effective, and empathetic to the people I serve.

Last time we talked about some indicators of effective and ethical behavior analysts. This time, let’s focus on how to identify an empathetic provider. Empathy at its core involves a person seeking to truly understand another person. People are complex so true understanding does not come easy. Within the realm of behavior analysis, we strive to thoroughly understand our clients through an assessment process. The most successful assessments utilize a variety of sources, including but not limited to: interviews, direct observation, records review, standardized checklists, among other sources. The best assessments include multiple sources of information!

Throughout this assessment process your provider should also be assessing the goodness of fit between you as a client and their own competency. While behavior analysis ought not be limited to certain populations, age groups, or diagnoses, your specific provider might have a unique scope of practice: their experience might be limited to certain populations, age groups, or diagnoses. In order for us to thoroughly understand you, behavior analysts sometimes need supervised experience relevant to your complex needs. Behavior analysts are called to practice only within their scope of practice, and when in a situation that calls for interventions outside of our scope, we must pursue outside supervision, consultation or co-treatment with other professionals, or refer the client to providers better suited for the client (BACB Ethics Code 1.05).

Additionally, Behavior Analysts must only accept clients if they have the capacity and resources to provide effective services (BACB Ethics Code 3.03). Some companies have built their profit models on unsustainably high hours for their staff, though Behavior Analysts are called to only accept clients if they have sufficient time to devote to them. Behavior Analysts also make sure they only commit to providing services when they have the staff to provide the hours. A major, major red flag for an ABA company is if you find yourself waiting month after month following intake for services to begin. This may mean that the company conducted your intake and assessments without making sure they had the staff to provide the services. Or worse, their staff turnover is so high that they cannot be sure of staffing for your child by the time they are ready to start direct therapy. This situation is particularly coercive in light of the fact that many families wait on waitlists for extended periods of time; it may feel too risky to change providers once the intake and assessment have been completed. A few good questions to ask a prospective provider may include, “How long does it take between intake and the first day of services?” “Do you currently have staff ready to work with my child? If so, how long have they worked with your company?” And on a related note: “How long have they worked in ABA?”

Finally, Behavior Analysts, when acting in accordance with our ethical code and BCBA Task List (the document that describes the foundation of knowledge and skills for BCBAs), select socially valid interventions and supports. This is a jargon-filled way of saying that we select goals and interventions based on what is relevant and important to you as a client. In order to build empathetic, “socially valid” programming for our clients, we have to seek to truly understand them. To change behavior safely, we must thoroughly understand it!

I hope this latest installment helps you in your decision-making process when meeting new clinicians. As always, Autism Vision volunteers, board members, and community partnerships are here to help you find the best resources and supports. You can always reach me personally at



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