Ethics and ABA

Ethics and ABA

Ethics is extremely important in any educational or social service setting. Ethical dilemmas arise quite often in these types of situations so it is important that a practitioner be a moral person, well versed in the ethical guidelines of the field in which they work.

The field of ABA is no different. Ethics should guide each decision made by a behavior analyst. When deciding upon a course of action, the behavior analyst must decide if it is morally right or wrong, and must be able to make decisions independent of outside demands, such as financial or time pressures. For example, say you are a behavior analyst and your client’s teacher takes you aside and asks you to not recommend certain interventions at an upcoming IEP because the school is on a budget. You want to help your client with autism reach her full potential, but you also want to maintain a friendly working relationship with the teacher and school. You also want the school to continue to use you as their contracted behavior analyst. What do you do?

Ethical practices stem from moral and cultural influences and professional standards in the field, and address three basic questions: What is the right thing to do? What is worth doing? And, what does it mean to be a good behavior analyst?

There are many, many guidelines for an ABA practitioner to follow (you can find the full list at the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s website, but the following is a brief summary of what it means to be an ethical behavior analyst:

  • The client’s wellbeing should always be at the forefront of decision making. The client’s dignity, health, and safety come first! The client is also entitled to a therapeutic treatment or environment, the right to refuse therapy, and the right to make choices. (Many behavior analysts work with children, and therefore the parents are the ones making decisions for their child. But choices can and should be given to the child whenever possible.)
  • The behavior analyst should design behavior-change programs that are based on proven behavior analytic principles. Furthermore, informed consent should always be obtained (from parents, guardian, or clients) and the right of the client to terminate services at any time should be respected. Again, these rights are often given to parents or legal guardians.
  • The behavior analyst should be competent. They should participate in continuing education and stay on top of advancements in the field. They should only treat conditions within their field of expertise, and should avoid overzealous and unrealistic promises.
  • The behavior analyst should be truthful in all interactions with the client(s) and other professionals.
  • Records of services rendered must be maintained and kept confidential.
  • When deciding to treat your child, the behavior analyst should rule out medical issues. They must be confident that ABA services are needed, while ensuring that the child’s environment (home, school, caregivers, etc.) will support the program.
  • Dual relationships and conflicts of interest should be avoided.

In summary, a good behavior analyst has your child’s best interests at heart. He or she avoids conflicts of interest and dual relationships at all costs. He or she is truthful in all situations, and keeps accurate records, reports, and data pertaining to your child. He or she possesses the skills and education necessary to carry out ABA in an effective manner. He or she will do what’s best for your child, and not be pressured by outside forces when making treatment decisions.



Applied Behavior Analysis. Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007

Behavior Analyst Certification Board (