Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

Defining, Measuring, and Ensuring the Social Validity of Skills in Interprofessional Collaboration, Compassionate Care, and Cultural Humility in Behavior Analysts

Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College)

Invited Paper




Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA, is a Professor at Endicott College, where she has been for 10 years, and where she serves as the Executive Director of ABA and Autism Programs, including overseeing the master’s programs in ABA and directing the Ph.D. Program in ABA. She also does research with the team at Melmark. She has worked in the field of ABA and Autism for over 35 years. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University in 1990 and she became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2000. She previously worked for 16 years at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University. Her clinical and research interests center on defining best practice ABA techniques, exploring ways to enhance the ethical conduct of practitioners, teaching social skills to learners with autism, training staff to be optimally effective at instruction and at collaboration, and maximizing family members’ expertise and adaptation. She serves on the Scientific Council of the Organization for Autism Research, is on the board of Association for Science in Autism Treatment, is a regular contributor to the ABA Ethics Hotline, and is an advisor to the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. She is a regular reviewer for several professional journals, and is a frequent member of service committees for a variety of organizations.


Abstract: In recent years, there has been some discussion of the need to increase the training of behavior analysts in soft skills. Examples of soft skills that have been discussed include active listening, engagement, empathetic statements, and the provision of support. Specifically, some sources of data indicate that behavior analysts may be less skilled in these areas than is ideal (e.g., Taylor et al., 2018; LeBlanc et al., 2019). Given the humanitarian foundations of the field, the focus on the improvement of the human condition, and the associations between consumer satisfaction and outcomes, it is important to maximize the extent to which behavior analysts master and demonstrate these skills. Challenges include operationally defining terms that may be mentalistic in nature, and measuring behaviors that are inherently somewhat subjective. Additional challenges include ensuring that there is a genuineness and authenticity to the demonstration of the skills, and that social validity measures support that they are received well by clients. In recent years, progress has been made in issuing calls to action in the realms of interprofessional collaboration (e.g., Brodhead, 2015), compassionate care (e.g., Taylor et al, 2018; LeBlanc et al, 2019) and cultural humility (e.g., Fong et al, 2016; Miller et al, 2019; Wright, 2019). Models from other fields have been reviewed, adaptations of existing tools and models have been suggested, and the BACB Code of Ethics has been expanded to include these obligations (BACB, 2020). Several recent empirical explorations of work in these areas will be shared, and directions for future research and training will be suggested. Reasons for enthusiasm and hope will be reviewed, as the field both returns to its roots and meets the challenges of the future in this endeavor to expand the skill sets of practicing behavior analysts.


Modifed by Eddie Soh