The field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) has served both our area and the greater scientific community very well. In the early days, pioneers like Mont Wolf, Todd Risley, and Don Baer from the Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas addressed issues across a broad range of topics such as: (a) treatment of juvenile delinquents; (b) teaching language skills to inner city children; (c) increasing learning in the school setting; and (d) establishing a wide variety of functional skills of persons with intellectual disabilities. As important as the impact and acceptance of ABA has been in the field of psychology is the application and adoption of its principles by other major professional groups. Closely related to my work has been the application of ABA to problems in pediatric practice, including the treatment of common presenting problems such as disruptive behavior and elimination disorders, as well as for more complex problems with serious medical sequela such as adherence to complicated treatment regimens for diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and childhood cancer.
ABA has accomplished much by doing a few basic things very well: defining the functional variables for a population, gathering as much data as practical, and using that data to direct the application of ABA to new and unique settings, problems, and challenges. The same basic methodological approaches used to solve important social problems were used to gain acceptance into new areas of investigation and to new professional areas, in my case, in pediatric medicine. Getting ABA accepted into mainstream pediatrics was facilitated by publishing research of direct interest to pediatricians in their journals (e.g., pediatrics), as well as presentations at literally dozens of meetings of the American Academy of Pediatrics and being seated on grant study sections with pediatricians. The publication of such investigations in journals traditionally thought to be outside of the domain of ABA was key in advancing the science of psychology and medicine outside of the research setting. Acceptance of ABA into mainstream medicine will be reviewed as well as new areas where ABA is making contributions.
Edward R. Christophersen, Ph.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine and the University of Kansas Medical Center. He has written and co-written several books on parenting, including Parenting That Works: Building Skills That Last a Lifetime and Treatments That Work With Children: Empirically Supported Strategies for Managing Childhood Problems. A fellow in clinical psychology in the American Psychological Association, he was elected an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics because of his unique and substantial contributions in the area of child health.