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Positive Behavior Support and Applied Behavior Analysis

Authors:
  • Penn State University Harrisburg

Abstract

This article reviews the origins and characteristics of the positive behavior support (PBS) movement and examines those features in the context of the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA). We raise a number of concerns about PBS as an approach to delivery of behavioral services and its impact on how ABA is viewed by those in human services. We also consider the features of PBS that have facilitated its broad dissemination and how ABA might benefit from emulating certain practices of the PBS movement.
Positive Behavior Support and Applied
Behavior Analysis
J. M. Johnston
Auburn University
Richard M. Foxx
Penn State Harrisburg
John W. Jacobson and Gina Green
San Diego State University and University of North Texas
James A. Mulick
The Ohio State University
This article reviews the origins and characteristics of the positive behavior support (PBS)
movement and examines those features in the context of the field of applied behavior analysis
(ABA). We raise a number of concerns about PBS as an approach to delivery of behavioral
services and its impact on how ABA is viewed by those in human services. We also consider the
features of PBS that have facilitated its broad dissemination and how ABA might benefit from
emulating certain practices of the PBS movement.
Key words: applied behavior analysis, positive behavior support, developmental disabilities,
special education
Over the past dozen years or more,
an approach to delivery of behavioral
services known as positive behavior
support (PBS) has emerged as a high-
ly visible movement. Although PBS
has been substantially influenced by
applied behavior analysis (ABA),
other factors are also part of its
history. In response to an article by
Anderson and Freeman (2000) that
described PBS as consistent with
behavior analysis, J. Carr and Side-
ner (2002) noted growing evidence
that PBS is being represented as
a distinct ‘‘discipline’’ and concluded
that ‘‘now is the time to consider the
ramifications of separating PBS from
applied behavior analysis’’ (p. 251).
That suggestion raised fundamental
issues about the origins and features
of PBS, its relation to ABA, and the
implications of its development for
the ongoing development of ABA. As
well, the undeniable success of PBS in
the human services marketplace may
provide the ABA community with
some strategic examples of ways to
promote ABA interests more effec-
tively.
The purpose of this paper is to
examine the origins and characteris-
tics of PBS, particularly in relation to
ABA. Unlike some recent treatments
of PBS addressed to behavior ana-
lysts (e.g., Anderson & Freeman,
2000; Anderson & Kincaid, 2005),
this paper provides a general de-
scription of PBS as seen by outsiders
and considers some key differences
between PBS and ABA. Although the
origins of PBS in ABA are clear, we
view the differences as important and
problematic. Perhaps partly because
of those differences, efforts to estab-
lish PBS as a ‘‘brand name’’ and to
disseminate PBS as a service delivery
model have been enormously success-
This article is dedicated to the memory of
John W. Jacobson, whose invaluable contri-
butions to this paper reflect those he made to
behavior analysis throughout his remarkable
career.
Address correspondence to J. M. Johnston,
215 Thach, Psychology Department, Auburn
University, Auburn, Alabama (e-mail: johnsjm
@auburn.edu).
The Behavior Analyst 2006, 29, 51–74 No. 1 (Spring)
51
ful. Because PBS has largely been
marketed as an approach that is
distinct from, if not superior to,
ABA, however, its increasing accep-
tance in developmental disabilities
and education has not furthered the
acceptance of ABA.
On the other hand, the effective-
ness of PBS dissemination activities
might benefit ABA if it encourages
the ABA community to improve the
way it describes, promotes, and
delivers its service model. Our review
of the features of PBS that might
have contributed to its relatively
rapid adoption by many agencies
and individuals reveals both charac-
teristics that are worthy of emulation
by the field of behavior analysis
and characteristics that should be
avoided. In examining PBS, the
principal question that the behavior-
analytic community must answer is:
How can the field of behavior anal-
ysis improve communication of the
nature and benefits of ABA to di-
verse user communities and thereby
increase their support for ABA ser-
vices?
POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT
Origins and Development
Positive behavior support (also
referred to as positive behavioral
support or positive behavioral inter-
ventions and supports) emerged from
the controversy surrounding the use
of aversive consequences with people
with developmental disabilities. A
seminal article by Horner et al.
(1990) began with the statement that
‘‘In recent years, a broad-based
movement has emerged in support
of nonaversive behavior manage-
ment’’ (p. 125). The authors cited
various articles to indicate that this
support emerged during the 1980s
(e.g., Berkman & Meyer, 1988; Don-
nellan, LaVigna, Negri-Shoultz, &
Fassbender, 1988; Donnellan, La-
Vigna, Zambito, & Thvedt, 1985;
Evans & Meyer, 1987; Horner, Dun-
lap, & Koegel, 1988; LaVigna &
Donnellan, 1986; McGee, Menolas-
cino, Hobbs, & Menousek, 1987).
Horner et al. (1990) asserted that
‘‘Nonaversive behavior management
… has developed … as an alternative
to the use of more extreme aversive
events’’ (p. 126) and coined the
phrase ‘‘positive behavior support’’
to refer to nonaversive behavior-
management procedures. They stated
that ‘‘many people … are being …
subjected to dehumanizing interven-
tions that are neither ethical nor
beneficial’’ (p. 125), citing sources
that contained strong statements of
opinion but little objective data to
support that assertion (e.g., Durand,
1988; Guess, Helmstetter, Turnbull,
& Knowlton, 1987).
1
Despite their assertions of a broad
popular and empirical foundation for
the nonaversive approach, Horner et
al. (1990) were tentative in their
depiction of PBS. They noted that
‘‘There is no specific technique or
procedure that distinguishes the ap-
proach. … Different proponents of-
fer varying procedural recommenda-
tions … [and] different theories of
behavior in its support’’ (p. 125).
Moreover, Horner et al. remarked,
The development of a well defined technology
of behavioral support will take time. There is
too little information available to assert that
positive approaches are capable of solving all
behavior problems or documenting that one
approach is superior to any other. Both well-
controlled empirical analyses and less con-
trolled clinical analyses are needed. (p. 128)
There are numerous definitions of
PBS. Although most are complemen-
tary to the original Horner et al.
(1990) definition and to each other,
1
Since that time, several empirical analyses
have suggested that the use of punishment
procedures involving aversive consequences
was, and remains, uncommon (e.g., Jacobson,
1992; Jacobson & Ackerman, 1993). Further-
more, research has shown that individuals
with moderate to severe behavior problems
are more likely to go without behavioral
intervention than they are to be treated with
contingencies involving aversive consequences
(e.g., Jacobson, 1998).
52 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
there are some interesting differences.
For instance, E. Carr, Levin, et al.
(1999) stated that ‘‘From the stand-
point of the independent variable, the
PBS approach refers to those inter-
ventions that involve altering defi-
cient environmental conditions … or
deficient behavior repertoires’’ (p. 7).
‘‘The remediation of deficient con-
texts also helps to define the PBS
approach with respect to dependent
variables: (a) increased positive be-
havior, (b) improved lifestyle, and (c)
decreased problem behavior’’ (p. 8).
More recently, E. Carr et al. (2002)
described PBS as ‘‘an applied science
that uses educational methods to
expand an individual’s behavior rep-
ertoire and systems change methods
to redesign an individual’s living
environment to first enhance the
individual’s quality of life and, sec-
ond, to minimize his or her problem
behavior’’ (p. 4). Warren et al. (2003)
stated that ‘‘PBS is intended to
enhance quality of life and mini-
mize/prevent problem behavior
through the rational integration of
(a) valued outcomes, (b) behavioral
and biomedical science, (c) empirical-
ly supported procedures, and (d)
systems change’’ (pp. 80–81).
Horner (2000) has further typified
PBS as ‘‘an approach that blends
values about the rights of people with
disabilities with a practical science
about how learning and behavior
change occur’’ (p. 97). In an attempt
to specify the parameters of PBS,
Horner et al. (1990) asserted that it
encompassed many distinctive ele-
ments, including emphasis on lifestyle
change, functional analysis, multi-
component interventions, manipula-
tion of ecological and setting events,
antecedent manipulations, teaching
adaptive behavior, building environ-
ments with effective consequences,
minimizing the use of punishers,
distinguishing emergency procedures
from proactive programming, and
social validation, with a special role
for preserving the dignity of the
recipients of interventions. It should
be noted that most of those emphases
have long been accepted features of
mainstream ABA (APA Division 33,
1990; J. Carr & Sidener, 2002; Mulick
& Butter, 2005).
The development of PBS was
bolstered from 1987 to 1992 by
a U.S. Department of Education
National Institute on Disability and
Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
grant of $670,000 for a ‘‘Rehabilita-
tion Research and Training Center
on Community-Referenced Technol-
ogies for Nonaversive Behavior Man-
agement.’’ The grant was awarded
to a consortium of universities, in-
cluding the University of Oregon,
the University of California at Santa
Barbara, the State University of New
York at Stony Brook, the University
of Minnesota, and the University of
South Florida, among others. This
center later became the Rehabilita-
tion Research and Training Center
(RRTC) on Positive Behavior Sup-
port. At present, the RRTC-PBS is
funded through the University of
South Florida. Its purpose is ‘‘to
develop and disseminate effective,
practical and empirically validated
procedures for improving support
for individuals with disabilities’’ (see
http://rrtcpbs.fmhi.usf.edu/rrtcpbsweb/
rrtcpbsinfo.htm).
The RRTC’s activities are comple-
mented by the Office of Special
Education Programs (OSEP) Center
on Positive Behavioral Interventions
and Supports. Participants include
the Universities of Oregon, Kansas,
Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, North
Carolina, and South Florida, as well
as some nonacademic provider agen-
cies. Dissemination of the PBS
‘‘brand name’’ is augmented by the
OSEP Center, with its stated mission
‘‘to give schools capacity-building
information and technical assistance
for identifying, adapting, and sus-
taining school-wide disciplinary prac-
tices’’ (www.pbis.org/main.htm).
In addition, PBS is now represent-
ed at most special education and
developmental disabilities confer-
PBS AND ABA 53
ences, including regional and nation-
al meetings of the Council for Excep-
tional Children and the American
Association on Mental Retardation
(see www.pbis.org). In 2003, dissem-
ination activities were further diver-
sified by an international conference
on ‘‘The World of PBS: Science,
Values, & Vision’’ in Orlando, Flor-
ida. At that meeting, the Association
for Positive Behavior Support
(APBS) was founded as ‘‘an interna-
tional organization dedicated to the
advancement of positive behavior
support. APBS strives to expand
application of this approach with
children, adolescents, and adults with
problem behavior’’ (http://apbs.org/
main.htm). A second international
conference was held in Florida in
2005.
Dissemination efforts expanded
further with publication in 1999 of
the first issue of the Journal of
Positive Behavior Interventions, which
publishes descriptive and experimen-
tal studies. Dissemination of PBS was
also bolstered by its inclusion (as
positive behavioral interventions) in
the recodification of the federal
Individuals with Disabilities Educa-
tion Act (IDEA) in 1997. Some
authors have suggested that inclusion
of PBS in IDEA is consistent with
a policy of specifically discouraging
the use of punishment procedures as
an element of behavioral interven-
tion, with the possible specter of
liability associated with such proce-
dures (Turnbull, Wilcox, Stowe, Rap-
er, & Hedges, 2000; Turnbull, Wil-
cox, Stowe, & Turnbull, 2001).
PBS is now mandated by Kansas
law for children who are eligible for
medical health screening; the service
is funded by Medicaid (Freeman et
al., 2005). Although some recent
statements suggest that PBS focuses
mainly on disciplinary problems in
schools (e.g., Anderson & Kincaid,
2005; www.pbis.org), others assert
that PBS can be extended to serious
problem behaviors like ‘‘self-injury,
aggression, property destruction, pi-
ca, defiance, and disruption’’ (Hor-
ner, 2000, p. 97) and to a variety of
populations (Freeman et al., 2005).
These groups include children with
autism (e.g., Becker-Cottrill, McFar-
land, & Anderson, 2003; Dunlap &
Fox, 1999), abused or neglected
children (Buschbacher, 2002), fami-
lies (e.g., Boettcher, Koegel, McNer-
ney, & Koegel, 2003), children with
traumatic brain injury (Ylvisaker,
Jacobs, & Feeney, 2003), preschool
children (Fox, Dunlap, & Powell,
2002), at-risk and adjudicated youth
(Scott et al., 2002), and urban chil-
dren (Warren et al., 2003).
Emphasis on Selected Values
It is clear that PBS emphasizes
certain values in its approach to
services (see Anderson & Freeman,
2000). These values include commit-
ments to respect for the individual,
meaningful outcomes, social valida-
tion, dignity, normalization, inclu-
sion, person-centered planning, self-
determination, and stakeholder par-
ticipation, among others (e.g., E.
Carr et al., 2002; Horner et al.,
1990). These values are well known
in the field of developmental disabil-
ities and have long been accepted by
diverse professions serving this pop-
ulation, including ABA. Within the
PBS community, however, these val-
ues are part of the origin and
definition of its approach to behav-
ioral services (e.g., Anderson & Free-
man, 2000; E. Carr et al., 2002;
Horner, 1990). This priority seems
to risk allowing values to serve as
a filter through which research find-
ings and effective treatment alterna-
tives must pass. Such an emphasis
can encourage clinical decision mak-
ing to be guided more by cultural
values than by research findings.
The role given to cultural values in
PBS contrasts with how such values
are treated within ABA, where they
might be described as secondary
rather than primary. For the ABA
practitioner, the research literature
54 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
on the efficacy of various procedures
is the primary source from which
clinical interventions are selected.
Cultural values serve more as a con-
text for clinical decision making than
an a priori criterion for evaluating
research findings. The well-trained
behavior analyst begins consideration
of an intervention with the full range
of empirically supported procedures
on the table.
There is no question, however, that
cultural values have substantially
influenced the evolution of ABA.
The development of much of the
ABA literature in the context of
developmental disabilities services
has exposed applied behavior ana-
lysts to all of the values-based social
movements that have arisen in this
service sector over the last few
decades. Those movements include
deinstitutionalization and institution-
al reform (Burg, Reid, & Lattimore,
1979; Scheerenberger, 1981), normal-
ization (Blatt & Kaplan, 1974; Wol-
fensberger, 1973), client rights and
protections (Stolz, 1977), educational
movements such as mainstreaming
(Alberto, Castricone, & Cohen, 1978;
MacMillan & Borthwick, 1980), per-
son-centered planning (Holburn,
1997; Osborne, 2005), and many
others.
Those values have had consider-
able influence on the field’s research
directions, the general focus of inter-
ventions, the selection of behavioral
targets, the form of intervention
procedures, standards for behavioral
outcomes, and underlying profession-
al values. The influence of cultural
values on ABA is particularly appar-
ent in the history of the aversives
controversy (Foxx, 2005a, 2005b;
Newsom & Kroeger, 2005). Although
the process was not always pretty,
concerns about the general approach
to treatment that was typical of the
field’s early years, as well as the form
of some intervention procedures,
gradually led to major changes in
ABA. Those changes were compre-
hensive and involved the rationale for
interventions, the interests of other
parties, the selection of behavior-
change procedures, and the research
literature underlying the technology.
Treatment Model
Antecedent control. One of the
prominent characteristics of PBS is
its emphasis on interventions that
involve manipulations of antecedent
stimuli (e.g., E. Carr et al., 2002;
Horner & Carr, 1997), including
substantial lifestyle adjustments in-
tended to achieve multiple outcomes
(see Becker-Cottrill et al., 2003). The
approach to antecedent control de-
scribed in PBS training materials is
relatively general, focusing on broad
changes in the environment and
typically lacking a technical rationale
for why such changes might be
expected to produce targeted out-
comes (for examples of this point, see
Dunlap et al., 2000; Kemp, 2000).
That is, antecedent changes tend to
be considered without comparable
attention to the role of consequences
(see Dunlap et al., 1994, for an
example). It should be noted, howev-
er, that this priority does not mean
that consequences are unimportant in
the PBS model.
Although ABA also shares consid-
erable interest in the antecedent side
of the three-term contingency, the
focus in ABA is appropriately bal-
anced in that antecedent influences
and procedures are characteristically
considered in the unavoidable con-
text of consequences (e.g., Cooper,
Heron, & Heward, 1987; Martin &
Pear, 2003; Miltenberger, 2004), in
keeping with the standard set forth
by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) that
ABA must be conceptually systemat-
ic. Furthermore, well-trained behav-
ior analysts appreciate that mechan-
isms underlying the effects of general
changes in the environment involve
the full three-term contingency, are
quite complex, and require consider-
able expertise to anticipate and man-
age successfully.
PBS AND ABA 55
This difference in emphasis be-
tween PBS and ABA may lie in the
desire of PBS leaders to provide an
intervention model that appears to be
relatively nontechnical in nature.
Because PBS is marketed largely to
service providers who typically lack
formal training in ABA, it may be
important to avoid presenting a com-
plex body of procedures as the core
of its approach to services. ABA, on
the other hand, has a multitiered
approach to intervention in which
formally trained and certified profes-
sionals are, in principle, available to
provide guidance, assistance, and
monitoring to those who lack such
expertise.
Supports. Another key aspect of
the PBS treatment model is its
emphasis on behavioral supports.
Defined as adjustments to the envi-
ronment to provide accommodations
for disabilities, supports are an epon-
ymous feature of PBS. The concept
of supports was described and in-
corporated into service delivery in the
American Association on Mental
Retardation (AAMR) manual on
definition and classification of mental
retardation (Luckasson et al., 1992).
The supports model set forth by
AAMR in 1992 and in the sub-
sequent revision of its manual (Luck-
asson et al., 2002), which has been
embraced by PBS, might appear to
increase the range of an individual’s
activities, and implies that supports
can substitute for training or skill
development. Describing interven-
tions as supports thus enables the
PBS movement to market PBS to
agencies and providers that lack
expertise in ABA, because it mini-
mizes the technical requirements of
service delivery.
Although supports tend to be
effective in the short run, they often
do not require changes in competence
or performance by consumers or staff
(Foxx, 2005a; Kemp, 2000). The
emphasis on supports can create
tension between providing supports
and providing training, and by dis-
couraging skill development, can
perpetuate consumer dependency.
Further, reconceptualizing clinical
services as supports risks minimizing
the need for expertise in ABA and
otherwise encouraging the deprofes-
sionalization of developmental dis-
abilities services (Baumeister, 2004).
In contrast, although the design
and implementation of prosthetic
environments to provide accommo-
dations and adaptations for people
with disabilities has been a longstand-
ing component of ABA interventions
(e.g., Lindsley, 1964), for behavior
analysts that concept has not sup-
planted or replaced professionally de-
signed procedures for teaching new
skills or addressing specific problem
behaviors.
Practitioner Competencies
and Training
Given the disciplines and proce-
dures PBS is said to encompass, it
seems to follow that competent prac-
tice of PBS requires substantial ex-
pertise in multiple areas. That is, it
might be argued that preparation of
PBS practitioners should involve
training in aspects of systems analy-
sis, ecological psychology, environ-
mental psychology, community psy-
chology, biomedical science, human
development, and education, as well
as the ‘‘values’’ embedded in various
social movements such as normaliza-
tion, full inclusion, person- and family-
centered planning, wraparound mod-
els, and self-determination (E. Carr
et al., 2002; Horner, 2000; Horner et
al., 1990; Knoster, Anderson, Carr,
Dunlap, & Horner, 2003; Warren
et al., 2003).
Furthermore, if PBS is equivalent
to or derived principally from ABA,
as some proponents suggest, then
PBS practitioners should also master
the full array of basic competencies in
ABA. In particular, because PBS
emphasizes manipulating broad an-
tecedent variables, it follows that
PBS practitioners need to be espe-
56 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
cially competent in designing and
implementing such interventions ef-
fectively. In fact, research suggests
that there are substantial challenges
to implementing and sustaining com-
plex antecedent-based interventions
in educational and developmental
disabilities service settings in the
absence of adequate competence in
behavioral assessment and behavior-
change technologies (e.g., Huberman
& O’Brien, 1999; Peterson & Mar-
tens, 1995). Basic competencies in
ABA and the training required to
develop them have been well defined
by the behavior-analytic community
and are enumerated in the require-
ments of the Behavior Analyst Certi-
fication Board, Inc. (BACB; see
Johnston & Shook, 2001; Shook,
Hartsfield, & Hemingway, 1995;
Shook, Johnston, & Mellichamp,
2004; www.bacb.com). Those re-
quirements specify that ABA practi-
tioners must exhibit both a sophisti-
cated approach to functional
assessment and a firm grounding in
operant conditioning principles and
behavior-change methods as they
apply to the complexities of daily life.
Despite the apparent need for
comprehensive skills on the part of
PBS practitioners, the PBS service
model is based on providing training
directly to ‘‘end users’’—individuals
who provide direct services to con-
sumers and those who supervise these
individuals. There is no general
mechanism for academic training of
professionals, as in the ABA model.
Although at least one model for
master’s degree training in PBS has
been proposed (O’Neill, Johnson,
Kiefer-O’Donnell, & McDonnell,
2001), periodic in-service training is
the primary format for preparing
PBS practitioners. Because PBS
training is usually offered in non-
academic settings to individuals with
varied backgrounds, the curricula are
necessarily constrained in breadth
and depth (see Dunlap et al., 2000;
Freeman, Smith, & Tieghi-Benet,
2003; Freeman et al., 2005; Reid et
al., 2003; Scott, Nelson, & Zabala,
2003; Shannon, Daly, Malatchi,
Kvarfordt, & Yoder, 2001). For
instance, the California Department
of Developmental Services requires
all direct support professionals to
receive training in PBS as part of
a 70-hr training program (spread
over 2 years) that also covers many
other topics (California Department
of Education, 2004; www.dds.ca.gov/
DSPT/DSPT_trpr.cfm).
Training provided by behavior
analysts to direct providers under
such conditions is often similarly
limited. However, the BACB, guided
by extensive input from practitioners
and academics, has held that the
competencies required for practicing
behavior analysis cannot be acquired
through nonacademic training experi-
ences because those experiences tend
to lack many important features, such
as prerequisites for admission, inten-
sive supervised involvement with
course material and recipients of
behavior-analytic services over a
period of months, and systematic
measurement of performance.
The availability of numerous aca-
demic ABA training programs that
focus on systematically developed and
consensually validated baccalaureate
and graduate curricula, along with an
established program for certifying
individuals by examination, makes it
at least possible for ABA services to
be designed and supervised by profes-
sionals who have meaningful training
in the basic principles of operant
conditioning and their application. It
should be noted that availability of
this cadre of professionals does not by
itself resolve the question of how their
expertise might lead to effective ser-
vices by the much larger community
of direct service providers who do not
have this background. The PBS ap-
proach to dissemination provides
some interesting ideas for behavior
analysts to consider in this regard.
Nonetheless, the differences in how
PBS and ABA approach practitioner
training are significant. The risk
PBS AND ABA 57
inherent in the PBS approach is that
services may not adequately incorpo-
rate the findings of decades of re-
search in behavior analysis because
its practitioners lack the necessary
training in ABA. This risk is exacer-
bated by the failure of many propo-
nents of PBS to acknowledge the
foundation of PBS in ABA. Al-
though the PBS approach to practi-
tioner training presumably makes it
easier to sell PBS to federal, state,
and local service agencies, it is likely
that interventions implemented by
such practitioners will not be as
effective as the research literature
shows they can be. If the PBS
community openly acknowledged ex-
pertise in ABA as the foundation for
PBS services and encouraged practi-
tioners to obtain such expertise, their
strategy of disseminating directly to
end users would be less problematic.
Finally, it should not be expected
that training in PBS will motivate
recipients to pursue formal training
in ABA. It is not surprising, there-
fore, that a recent job analysis survey
of BACB certificants and many
members of the Association for
Behavior Analysis revealed that only
7% of board-certified behavior ana-
lysts described their work as PBS
(Shook et al., 2004). Interestingly,
PBS seemed to appeal more to those
with less training in ABA: 13% of
board-certified associate behavior
analysts identified their primary fo-
cus as PBS, whereas only 3% of the
surveyed members of the Association
for Behavior Analysis (93% of whom
held the doctorate) listed PBS as
a primary focus.
2
As of this writing,
only one of the 10 authors of a recent
description of PBS (E. Carr et al.,
2002) holds BACB certification.
Evaluation of PBS Efficacy
If PBS is a new applied science or
discipline, as some have argued (e.g.,
Bambara, Mitchell-Kvacky, & Iaco-
belli, 1994; E. Carr, 1997; E. Carr et
al., 2002; Sisson, 1992), it would be
reasonable to expect it to have pro-
duced new research questions, meth-
ods, findings, and applications that
can be evaluated. Such an evaluation
is complicated by the difficulty of
identifying research that is clearly
and uniquely PBS in character. For
example, J. Carr and Sidener (2002)
and Mulick and Butter (2005) noted
that the majority of the studies
included in what were represented
as meta-analyses of the PBS literature
(E. Carr et al., 1999; Marquis et al.,
2000) were actually published in the
ABA literature. Moreover, many
studies published in the Journal of
Positive Behavior Interventions are
also indistinguishable in focus and
style from typical ABA studies.
An additional complication in
evaluating PBS is that it has been
described by Sailor and Paul (2004)
as ‘‘flexible in its engagement of
scientific procedures’ (p. 10). Ac-
cording to those authors, in addition
to ‘‘positivistic experiments and di-
rect observation … other methodol-
ogies, including subjectivist methods
of science, have found legitimacy [in
PBS]. These include correlational
analyses, naturalistic observation,
and case studies’’ (p. 10). Sailor and
Paul also stated that ‘‘PBS thus
departs from the traditional modern
perspective on research in order to (a)
inform professional practice by sub-
jugating methods of science applica-
tions in natural social contexts and
(b) address problems from the stand-
point of the individual affected’’
(p. 10). They further stated that
‘‘Where ABA has historically been
almost wholly focused on interven-
tions that can be evaluated with
positivist methods (i.e., single-subject
designs), PBS increasingly is relying
on multi-method investigations that
2
It is interesting to note that most academic
centers of PBS activity are located in colleges
of education, typically in departments of
special education. In contrast, most ABA
training programs are located in departments
of psychology.
58 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
sometimes include subjectivist meth-
odologies’’ (p. 10).
The difficulty with the methodolo-
gies described by Sailor and Paul
(2004) is that they produce informa-
tion that is especially likely to reflect
personal opinions, impressions, and
beliefs, which are problematic be-
cause they are prone to influence by
many variables that may have little or
nothing to do with the actual effects
of the intervention under study. Thus
they may not yield credible, reliable
evidence about changes in behavior
or what is responsible for any docu-
mented changes (Favell, 2005; Green,
1996; Newsom & Hovanitz, 2005;
Schick & Vaughn, 1999).
Among the relatively few pub-
lished studies that appear to be
explicit evaluations of PBS, there is
considerable variability in methods.
Evaluations of PBS interventions are
often more descriptive than experi-
mental. Not infrequently, they in-
volve subjective personal impressions
(e.g., naturalistic observations, ‘‘field
notes,’’ anecdotal reports) and in-
direct measures of behavior (e.g.,
interviews, surveys, checklists, and
rating scales) rather than data pro-
duced by direct, objective measure-
ment methods. Some research on
PBS is also marked by incomplete
or ambiguous descriptions of inde-
pendent variables (e.g., Dunlap &
Fox, 1999; Kincaid, Knoster, Har-
rower, Shannon, & Bustamante,
2002), failure to measure key vari-
ables (see E. Carr, McLaughlin,
Giacobbe-Greico, & Smith, 2003;
Jensen, McConnachie, & Pierson,
2001), and omission of data on
successful and unsuccessful cases.
These methodological issues make it
difficult to determine the critical
features and effects of interventions
offered under the rubric of PBS.
This general assessment should not
be interpreted as indicating that there
are no sound studies in the PBS
literature. Some evaluations of
school-wide interventions have uti-
lized reasonable designs and proper
longitudinal methods (e.g., McCurdy,
Mannella, & Eldridge, 2003). Never-
theless, many studies of school-wide
interventions have relied heavily on
quasiexperimental designs (e.g., AB
comparisons) and indirect and sub-
jective measures of behavior, such as
discipline referrals by teachers (see
Anderson & Kincaid, 2005).
A meta-analysis of PBS research
by proponents found little evidence
that the approach has produced
positive lifestyle change for people
with disabilities—one of the hall-
marks of PBS. The authors acknowl-
edged that lifestyle change was a stat-
ed intervention goal for only 10% of
all participants (24 of 230) across
studies, was targeted with formal
intervention procedures for only 8
participants, was measured for only 6
participants, and was documented by
data showing improvement over
baseline for only 2 participants (E.
Carr, Horner, et al., 1999).
Relationship to ABA
Identification and description. It is
clear that PBS evolved from and
remains similar to ABA in certain
ways. Several of its leaders were
trained in behavior analysis, and its
literature has notable similarities to
the ABA literature. Nevertheless, it is
also clear that this relationship is
infrequently acknowledged in PBS
literature; indeed, it often seems to
be systematically ignored or even
hidden. Mulick and Butter (2005)
pointed out that in contrast to a few
early statements about the depen-
dence of PBS on ABA, there is
a notable absence of recognition of
this relationship in more recent pub-
lications. It is difficult to find any
mention of behavior analysis in some
highly visible representations of PBS,
such as the website of the OSEP
Center for Positive Behavioral Inter-
ventions and Supports (www.pbis.
org).
It might be expected that the
relationship to ABA would be clearly
PBS AND ABA 59
identified in PBS training materials.
Our review of a variety of such
materials, however, shows that ABA
is mentioned infrequently. Further-
more, PBS practitioner training
focuses less on competencies for de-
signing and delivering effective be-
havioral intervention than on the role
of values in service delivery (e.g.,
Anderson & Freeman, 2000; Autism
Training Center, undated; California
Department of Education, 2004). As
we noted previously, no formal train-
ing or competencies in ABA are
required to enter or exit from PBS
training, and the coverage of basic
operant principles and behavior-
change techniques based on them
tends to be highly superficial, cer-
tainly well short of the breadth and
depth necessary for basic competence
in ABA (e.g., Autism Training Cen-
ter; California Department of Edu-
cation; Vermont Division of Devel-
opmental Services, 2004).
Some PBS training materials even
contrast PBS with ABA in a manner
that denigrates ABA. For example, in
materials used in PBS workshops
conducted by the Autism Training
Center at Marshall University (Au-
tism Training Center, undated), ‘‘tra-
ditional behavior management’’ is
described as narrow in emphasis,
short term, concerned only with the
topography or form of behavior,
implementing behavior ‘‘programs,’’
using restrictive procedures, involv-
ing simple interventions, relying on
consequences, focusing on decreasing
target behaviors, aversive (punitive),
and reactive. In contrast, PBS is
depicted as broad in emphasis, taking
a long-term perspective, focusing on
function rather than form, conduct-
ing functional analyses of behaviors,
selecting methods based on individu-
ality and effectiveness, being multi-
component in nature, emphasizing
antecedents, teaching functional (re-
placement) skills, positive and rein-
forcing, and proactive.
A PBS training document devel-
oped by the California Department
of Education Positive Environments,
Network of Trainers compares ‘‘cur-
rent thinking’’ with ‘‘past practice’’ in
the conceptualization of behavior.
‘‘Past practice’’ is portrayed as ‘‘be-
havior management’’ with a focus on
consequences (including aversives to
stop behavior) and a philosophy that
‘‘Problem behavior needs to be con-
trolled or eliminated. Positive behav-
iors are to be expected regardless of
environment.’’ In contrast, ‘‘current
thinking’’ is characterized as ‘‘behav-
ior support,’’ focusing on under-
standing why problem behavior oc-
curs and teaching alternative
‘‘positive’’ behavior in a ‘‘conducive
environment’’ (Wright, 2002). Behav-
ior support guidelines promulgated
by the Vermont Division of Devel-
opmental Services, although not
mentioning behavior analysis, include
a statement that ‘‘Positive behavior
supports represent a basic change
from older methods of changing
behavior through external controls,
such as rewards and punishments and
are based on a commitment to end
coercion’’ (Vermont Division of De-
velopmental Services, 2004, p. 5).
Similar rhetoric can be found in
a recent article by E. Carr et al.
(2002), which characterized ABA re-
search as involving applications of
single interventions resulting in ‘‘in-
effective practice,’’ whereas PBS is
depicted as ‘‘comprehensive’’ and
‘‘multicomponent.’’ PBS is also de-
scribed repeatedly as ‘‘proactive,’’
and contrasted with ‘‘traditional ap-
proaches, which have emphasized the
use of aversive procedures that ad-
dress problem behaviors with reac-
tive, crisis-driven strategies.’’ Behav-
ior-analytic research methods are
labeled ‘‘rigid’’ and ‘‘imped[ing] ap-
plication,’’ while PBS methods are
said to be ‘‘flexible’’ and ‘‘pragmatic’’
(pp. 9–10). Indeed, the label ‘‘positive
behavior support’’ subtly implies
that what it replaces (e.g., ABA) is
neither positive nor supportive of
people who exhibit problem behav-
ior.
60 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
These contrasting descriptors are
characteristic of a ‘‘straw man’’ style
of persuasion, in which the alterna-
tive position is often characterized in
ways that are not only negative but at
least partly untrue. In this case, the
characteristics ascribed to ABA fail
to reflect the considerable changes
over the past three to four decades of
research and practice in ABA, result-
ing in a depiction of contemporary
ABA practice that is highly mislead-
ing. It should not be surprising if
individuals who lack expertise in
ABA—like the majority of education
and human service personnel who are
targeted for PBS training—conclude
from such presentations that ABA is
an inferior approach.
A new science? Perhaps there is
a tendency to draw pejorative con-
trasts between PBS and ABA in
order to bolster claims about the
status of PBS as a new and distinct
science or discipline (e.g., Bambara et
al., 1994; E. Carr, 1997; E. Carr et al.,
2002; Knoster et al., 2003; Sisson,
1992). There may be disagreement
among PBS leaders on this point. On
the one hand, for example, Horner
(2000) stated that ‘‘Positive behavior
support is not a new approach. … [It
is] the application of behavior anal-
ysis to the social problems created by
such behaviors as self-injury’’ (p. 97).
He further stated, ‘‘There is no
difference in theory or science be-
tween positive behavior support and
behavior modification. These are the
same approach with different names.
If any difference exists, it is in the
acceptance [by PBS] of much larger
outcomes and the need to deliver the
global technology that will deliver
these outcomes’’ (p. 99). Other wri-
ters have referred to PBS as an
‘‘extension’’ of applied behavior anal-
ysis (e.g., Turnbull et al., 2002,
p. 377).
In contrast, E. Carr (1997) de-
clared that ABA had ‘‘evolved into’’
PBS, implying that PBS was not only
newer than, but also superior to,
ABA. He further articulated this
position in E. Carr et al. (2002), and
others in the PBS community have
taken a similar stand (e.g., Bambara,
2002: Bambara et al., 1994; Sisson,
1992). More recently, Horner joined
E. Carr et al. in stating that PBS has
‘‘evolved beyond the parent discipline
[ABA] to assume its own identity’’
(p. 5), and Knoster et al. (2003)
described PBS as a unique approach
(ABA is not mentioned in the latter
article).
3
In our view, there is no basis for
asserting that PBS is a new science. It
addresses no new phenomena or
subject matter. Neither has PBS de-
veloped any new methods for study-
ing or changing behavior. Although
proponents of PBS differ on the
degree to which PBS methods are
derived from or are identical to
sound ABA research and practice
methods, J. Carr and Sidener (2000)
and Mulick and Butter (2005) point-
ed out that it is easy to document
that the behavior-change methods
claimed by PBS were documented in
the ABA literature long ago. There is
no evidence that PBS has produced
scientific knowledge that significantly
extends what is already well estab-
lished. Its research literature cannot
be clearly distinguished in general
ways from the ABA literature. Nor
are its values new or unique; improv-
ing the lives of people with disabilities
3
It may be interesting to speculate about the
factors that led some PBS leaders to move so
distinctively outside the field of behavior
analysis. Aside from the influences associated
with advocacy interests, funding opportuni-
ties, and marketing priorities discussed in this
paper, it may be that some were dissatisfied
with the requirements for publishing in the
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA).
Such features as single target behaviors, brief
sessions, contrived settings, and limited re-
search interests have been criticized by E. Carr
(1997, 2002), for example. Those concerns,
however, fail to distinguish between method-
ological requirements for sound research and
the characteristics of ABA service delivery.
Although some of the features of JABA
research may certainly be found in routine
practice, the pages of that journal do not
represent the full range of practices in ABA.
PBS AND ABA 61
and valuing them as individuals have
been longstanding and well-docu-
mented concerns of behavior analysts
and other professionals.
Wacker and Berg (2002) drew the
same conclusion. They noted that the
proponents of PBS ‘‘have attempted
to merge philosophies, findings, and
practices from several related disci-
plines, but this does not necessarily
constitute the evolution of an (ap-
plied) science. Instead it appears to
constitute the evolution of a service
delivery system’’ (p. 25). ‘‘The blend-
ing of science and philosophy is
perhaps a necessary step for most
applied researchers, but it is not
a sufficient step for describing the
practice as constituting a new sci-
ence’’ (p. 27).
We also find no evidence that PBS
constitutes a new behavioral technol-
ogy. It is not supported by a new area
of basic or applied science and has
not generated new or distinctive
treatment methods. The actual op-
erations represented in PBS interven-
tions are well established in the
literature of behavior analysis and
related fields, such as behavior ther-
apy and scientific psychology. As
Mulick and Butter (2005) noted,
instead of acknowledging this, PBS
proponents often use ABA technolo-
gy without appropriate attribution,
or rename it, or selectively avoid its
straightforward application.
It follows from these considera-
tions that PBS is not a new pro-
fessional field or discipline. To dis-
tinguish itself, a new field must be
based on a new science, technology,
or academic discipline with a litera-
ture or research base that is sub-
stantively different from that of other
disciplines. PBS is not sufficiently
different from existing fields such as
behavior analysis and clinical psy-
chology to warrant this status. In-
deed, PBS is theoretically character-
ized by amalgamation of knowledge
and methods from behavior analysis
as well as systems analysis, ecological
psychology, environmental psycholo-
gy, and community psychology
(E. Carr et al., 2002). PBS further
incorporates a wide range of ideolog-
ically driven, politically correct views
that mirror and subsume, but do not
amplify, the policies of most state
and national special education and
developmental disabilities agencies,
as well as advocacy organizations
such as the Association for Persons
with Severe Handicaps.
In their brief review of PBS, J. Carr
and Sidener (2002) argued that be-
cause each of the characteristics of
PBS were historically important and
central features of ABA, ‘‘conceptu-
alizing PBS apart from applied be-
havior analysis is unsupported by the
evidence’’ (p. 249). Mulick and But-
ter (2005) suggested that PBS seems
more accurately described as a social
movement or a marketing strategy
than a professional discipline.
4
Similar but different. Given that
PBS emerged from ABA and offers
interventions that are at least partly
based on ABA, it seems easy to argue
that PBS is fundamentally much like
ABA. Although some of the proce-
dures offered in the name of PBS are
more or less consistent with the ABA
literature, it may also be argued that
as a general model of how to deliver
behavioral services, PBS is funda-
mentally different from ABA. The
most important distinction may be
that by not clearly and consistently
4
It might be suggested that PBS should be
viewed as doing no more than what organiza-
tional behavior management (OBM) does in
its approach to providing services in business
and industrial settings. As J. Carr and Sidener
(2002) noted, however, the OBM community
has remained fully within the field of behavior
analysis and employs individuals with ABA
training to provide services to client organiza-
tions. To our knowledge, OBM practitioners
have not proclaimed OBM a new discipline or
science that is superior to ABA. Instead, the
OBM leadership clearly recognizes that the
successful application, adoption, and advance-
ment of their specialty requires that it remain
true to its scientific roots and that lasting
acceptance by the business community will
result only from effective services (Norman,
Bucklin, & Austin, 1999).
62 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
acknowledging the role of ABA in
PBS interventions, it is possible to
avoid stipulating that expertise in
ABA is a prerequisite for adopting
the PBS model. Therefore, it is
difficult to argue that PBS offers
ABA technology as part of its model
because the means for producing that
outcome are not included in the
model. Instead, PBS represents an
approach in which expertise in ABA
is neither required nor trained at
a meaningful level.
GENERAL ISSUES FOR ABA
The Success of PBS and the Threat
to ABA
The PBS movement has clearly
been effective in a number of ways.
For example, PBS leaders have been
very successful in garnering the sup-
port of federal agencies. That has
resulted in political support for PBS
within the federal government as well
as substantial funding for develop-
ment of organizational infrastruc-
ture, extensive dissemination activi-
ties, and research efforts. With this
support, the PBS movement has been
very effective in marketing its treat-
ment model to the human services
community, particularly in the area
of developmental disabilities and
within educational settings. PBS is
now a default model in many state
service systems and provider agen-
cies, including school systems. Those
successes are particularly impressive
because they have occurred in a span
of only 15 years.
The effectiveness of the PBS move-
ment in political and marketing
arenas has important implications
for ABA. Support for any technology
depends on demand, and ABA has
always faced the special challenge of
selling its services to buyers who
might best be described as unin-
formed, if not sometimes reluctant.
In spite of ABA’s strong scientific
foundation and well-documented ef-
fectiveness, if administrators and pro-
fessional staff in service settings are
not inclined to pay for ABA services,
the field of behavior analysis will lose
important users. If federal and state
statutes and regulations identify PBS
as the approach of choice in de-
velopmental disabilities or in services
to children with emotional and be-
havioral disorders, even administra-
tors sympathetic to ABA will find it
difficult to support ABA services.
It has been our experience that in
settings in which PBS is accepted as
a service delivery model, ABA is
likely to be viewed as either incom-
patible with PBS or simply unneces-
sary. Worse, ABA may be viewed
negatively and rejected as a service
model. The threat to ABA is not
merely speculative. In discussing
the evolution of PBS as an applied
science, E. Carr et al. (2002) de-
scribed applied behavior analysts as
having ‘‘prided themselves on the
publication of many successful re-
search demonstrations that involve
the application of single interventions.
These demonstrations may have
made for great science but ineffective
practice’’ (p. 9). The authors went on
to say that functional analysis has
‘‘most often been used by atypical
intervention agents (e.g., researchers)
operating in atypical settings (e.g.,
institutions) in highly circumscribed
venues over short periods of time’’
(p. 10). Behavior analysts are de-
scribed as controlling all aspects of
treatment (e.g., selecting and design-
ing interventions, defining the issues)
in their role as experts, whereas ‘‘the
PBS approach, in contrast, has
emphasized that consumers are not
helpers but, rather, function as
active participants and collaborators
… to build the vision, methods, and
success criteria pertinent to defining
quality of life for everyone con-
cerned’’ (p. 8).
The negative views of ABA artic-
ulated by E. Carr et al. (2002) and
other PBS proponents cited earlier,
coupled with the likely adoption of
such views by individuals with little
or no background in ABA as a result
PBS AND ABA 63
of participating in PBS workshops,
constitute a serious problem for the
entire field of behavior analysis.
Behavior analysis cannot afford to
write off government agencies, ser-
vice providers, and school systems
that are attracted to or have formally
adopted PBS. Not only has PBS been
too pervasive in its influence to allow
such an option, but with the aid of
continued federal funding it con-
tinues to market its model to re-
ceptive communities and to extend its
reach. ABA, and the larger commu-
nity of behavior analysis, must there-
fore consider how the challenges
presented by the PBS movement can
be effectively addressed.
If the PBS movement prominently
acknowledged ABA literature and
technology as the basis for effective
behavioral services, its marketing
successes might be reflected in vari-
ous benefits to ABA. As we have
noted, however, such acknowledg-
ment is minimal and inconsistent at
best. The result is that acceptance of
PBS seems to be inversely related to
acceptance of ABA, particularly
among PBS adherents who are not
well trained in ABA and among
users. This suggests that the field of
behavior analysis must determine
how to prevent the deleterious effects
ofPBSonABA.Tothatend,itmay
be valuable to examine why PBS has
been so successful in order to de-
termine how behavior analysis might
address the threat PBS poses while
attaining some of the goals long held
by behavior analysts.
Reasons PBS Has Been Successful
Politically involved leadership. The
leaders of the PBS movement have
developed close ties to federal agen-
cies (notably the U.S. Department of
Education and various subordinate
entities), and those relationships have
been useful in garnering agency
support for developing and promot-
ing PBS. Such a practical approach
involves determining the interests and
needs of an agency and finding ways
that the interests of a profession or
service model can address them. In
the present case, agency interests
included a need for an approach to
providing behavioral services that
was consistent with agency philoso-
phy and that appeared to provide
assistance to educational and devel-
opmental disabilities service systems.
The PBS leaders were able to see the
benefits of this relationship early on
and were willing to focus their pro-
fessional efforts on fulfilling the
agencies’ needs. That approach af-
fords opportunities to help agency
officials define their interests and
determine how funds are used. Pro-
fessionals with this kind of access are
invited to sit on panels, meet with
staff, and shape funding initiatives.
Pursuit of federal funding. Natural-
ly, professionals who cultivate agen-
cies in this manner have an inside
track to win grant funding, which
allows them to further promote their
interests. PBS leaders have clearly
done well in this regard. Federal
funding in support of PBS has
allowed development of the organi-
zational structure of the PBS move-
ment and widespread dissemination
efforts, ranging from Web sites to
state-level initiatives. Success in ob-
taining agency funding has also
opened doors to service settings in
which funded projects are conducted.
Although federal funding supports
research on PBS, it may be that its
more valuable function has been in
fostering dissemination of PBS.
Focus on dissemination. The prima-
ry dimension underlying the success
of the PBS movement is its wide-
spread visibility and relatively broad
acceptance in human services and
special education. Those successes
reflect the collective impact of the
factors described in this section. Note
that this visibility and acceptance do
not require that PBS be generally
effective relative to other treatment
models. The appeal of PBS seems to
lie more in its focus on certain
64 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
cultural values and its relatively non-
technical approach to interventions
than on experimental evidence of
treatment efficacy. Those character-
istics, together with a systematic ef-
fort to brand and market the PBS
model, have led to impressive adop-
tion of the model by agencies and by
individuals with varied educational
backgrounds.
The means by which PBS leaders
accomplished this result warrant
thoughtful study. The key elements
include not only defining PBS in
ways described in this section but
also in explicitly allocating consider-
able resources to marketing the PBS
brand and service model. The PBS
approach to working with some state
service agencies is particularly nota-
ble. States contract with PBS centers
for workshop training, which entails
the formation of state implementa-
tion teams that provide training and
technical assistance in PBS. Through
this mechanism, the PBS model is
promulgated with the aid of state
bureaucratic processes. This strategy
seems to have contributed substan-
tially to the promotion of PBS
interests.
Service model adapted to market
interests. Another critical feature of
the success of the PBS movement
seems to be that PBS has been
defined and described in ways that
appeal to potential users. One impor-
tant feature of this fit, whether as
cause or effect, is that the social
policy values and interests of the
principal funding agencies are re-
flected in the values and interests of
the PBS service model. As previously
noted, those values have long been
broadly accepted in the field of
developmental disabilities, but PBS
leaders took political advantage of
those shared values by making them
the primary or defining feature of
PBS, rather than a general context
for the delivery of a science-based
technology (see Anderson & Free-
man, 2000). In other words, leaders
of federal agencies (notably the De-
partment of Education), who are
presumably inclined to take a values-
oriented approach to services (He-
ward & Silvestri, 2005; Kozloff, 2005;
Zane, 2005), were likely to find
a service model that emphasizes
values especially appealing. Similarly,
state agency officials, professionals
trained in other fields, and parapro-
fessionals are likely to find such an
approach appealing because it does
not confront them with the challenge
of acquiring expertise in a technically
complex field (e.g., ABA).
Operational features adapted to
agency limitations. In a similar vein,
and as we noted previously, the PBS
service delivery model is based on
providing nonacademic training to
individuals who lack any specific
educational or training history. This
training deemphasizes the technical
formalities of behavior-analytic treat-
ment procedures in favor of a treat-
ment model that involves relatively
broad and technically unstructured
changes in the environment. In other
words, PBS is described in a way that
implies that it does not require
advanced training in the science-
based methods of ABA and adher-
ence to complex procedures.
Service agencies in developmental
disabilities and special education may
not have access to expertise in ABA,
and acquiring such access is often
difficult due to the limited supply of
professionals with this expertise. This
constraint is a substantial barrier to
acceptance of a treatment model that
is predicated on such expertise. By
describing PBS as a relatively non-
technical approach to intervention
that does not require expertise in
ABA, PBS leaders are able to attract
the interest of a broad array of
individuals who lack such expertise
but are charged with delivering be-
havioral services.
Minimize technical vocabulary. The
language of PBS is another important
basis for its broad appeal. The
vocabulary is relatively colloquial
and is replete with familiar values-
PBS AND ABA 65
based phrases (e.g., positive, person
centered, personal dignity, self-deter-
mination, stakeholder participation,
quality of life, lifestyle change). Un-
like the more technical vocabulary of
ABA, PBS language is not off-put-
ting to users, particularly individuals
who lack training in ABA.
Organizational focus on service de-
livery. Although it might seem obvi-
ous, it is worth noting that PBS has
succeeded in part because it has
largely been described as a treatment
model rather than as a research
enterprise. Aside from the character-
izations of PBS by some leaders as
a new science or discipline, PBS has
primarily been offered as a way for
agencies and individuals who are
responsible for providing services to
meet their obligations. This practical
focus is more likely to generate
political and financial support among
targeted agencies (e.g., departments
of education and developmental dis-
abilities services) than is a research
agenda. In addition, characterizing
PBS as a service delivery model does
not require the development of a re-
search foundation before building
a dissemination system and promis-
ing to resolve behavior problems.
What Can ABA Learn from PBS
The success of PBS leaders in
marketing this service model to di-
verse interests in human services
provides an opportunity for ABA to
consider whether the means by which
dissemination and acceptance of PBS
has been accomplished has relevance
for ABA. The evaluation that follows
focuses specifically on marketing
activities of the PBS movement. In
light of the problematic features of
the PBS approach that we have
identified, we do not propose that
PBS is a model for delivering effective
behavioral services.
Developing a consensus on priorities.
From the beginning, PBS leaders
seemed to develop a clear focus on
establishing the PBS brand and
broadly disseminating it as a service
model. It might be argued that the
ABA community has never devel-
oped clear priorities in this regard,
which would seem to be necessary for
organizing concerted action. At issue
is the mechanism for identifying
priorities and developing the means
for pursuing them. In the case of the
nascent PBS movement, a relatively
small group of individuals took
leadership roles early on. In the large
and diverse ABA community, no
such coterie exists, so it seems neces-
sary to turn to the Association for
Behavior Analysis (referred to here-
after as ABA International) as a pos-
sible organizational mechanism.
ABA International has generally
not served broad leadership and
organizational functions for the field.
It has evolved primarily as a means of
sponsoring an annual meeting, al-
though this is not to gainsay the
variety of auxiliary functions served
by its boards and committees. The
collective activities of the association
to date, however, do not reveal the
organizational capabilities, interests,
and resources necessary to develop
and promote the field’s growing
applied interests. Addressing the
needs revealed by PBS, for example,
would require ABA International to
resolve longstanding issues regarding
the fundamental nature of the orga-
nization and its service to scholarly
versus professional constituents.
Cultivating federal agencies. There
are sound reasons to attempt to
emulate the effectiveness with which
PBS leaders have cultivated the favor
of federal agencies. Identifying agen-
cies whose interests are consonant
with those of ABA is a prerequisite to
improving the dissemination of ABA.
The issue here may be how closely
agency and professional interests
must match. Winning the support of
federal agencies will require under-
standing and accommodating their
goals, but we would caution that
there are limits to the degree of
accommodation to agency goals that
66 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
ABA International and the field
should be willing to make.
Although individuals who play
leadership roles must be at the heart
of relationships with federal agencies,
organizational support for such re-
lationships is essential. Again, how-
ever, ABA International is not struc-
tured in a way that fosters the kind of
communication with federal and state
agencies that is required to address
issues such as research, treatment
models, and dissemination. For in-
stance, ABA International has no
physical presence in Washington, DC
and no full-time staff who are as-
signed to develop and maintain
relationships with federal or state
agencies. The organization is admin-
istered primarily by a part-time exec-
utive director and a small full-time
staff. Although elected members of
the Executive Council determine or-
ganizational policy, they do not play
a strong role in transforming policy
into specific initiatives and daily
activities.
Focusing on dissemination. Dissem-
ination of ABA has largely relied on
the initiatives of individuals who
work within situations available to
them. Although this has sometimes
led to large-scale outcomes (e.g.,
Johnston & Shook, 1988), more often
any effects (aside from publications)
have tended to be relatively local or,
at the most, statewide. Emulating the
tactics used by PBS to disseminate its
brand and service model will require
a large-scale organized effort. Cer-
tainly it will require careful consider-
ation of what exactly should be
disseminated. How might the ABA
service model be depicted so that
federal and state agencies will be
receptive? The fairly widespread ac-
ceptance of ABA for individuals with
autism may provide one exemplar.
Large numbers of consumers, and to
some extent federal and state agen-
cies, have become more receptive to
ABA largely as the result of publica-
tion of a trade book written by
a parent (Maurice, 1993). That book
chronicled in compelling, nontechni-
cal language the same outcomes in
two children with autism who re-
ceived early intensive ABA interven-
tion that had been reported for some
children who participated in a study
conducted by Lovaas (1987). It cre-
ated a sufficient groundswell of de-
mand from parents to cause some
state agencies (e.g., New York State
Department of Health, 1999) and
some federal entities (e.g., U.S. Public
Health Service, 1999) to evaluate
various treatment options and en-
dorse early intensive ABA for autism
as efficacious.
An effort to disseminate ABA
more broadly will also require focus-
ing on state and local systems, given
that services in the United States tend
to be organized and funded at those
levels. It will be insufficient to merely
describe the ABA treatment model in
appealing terms. The model will have
to be integrated with how state and
local agencies work, which will re-
quire answering some difficult ques-
tions. For example, given that ABA
requires certain levels of professional
expertise for competent delivery of
services, how will agencies obtain
such expertise? How will individuals
with such expertise be employed, and
how will they relate to staff who lack
such expertise? How will these other
staff acquire intermediate levels of
expertise? The field will have to
address these issues in an organized
manner if it is to appeal to service
agencies.
Part of dissemination is about
publicity. Behavior analysis has never
engaged in a systematic and sustained
effort to inform decision makers in
state and local agencies, as well as
individuals who provide services di-
rectly, about the field and its tech-
nology. Such an effort requires not
only tailoring the message to different
audiences but also a plan by which
communication with these groups
might be most usefully achieved.
Again, an effective dissemination
program requires a central mecha-
PBS AND ABA 67
nism for organizing and planning,
and ABA International is the prima-
ry organization available for this role.
Although ABA International has
made some efforts at dissemination
associated with its annual conven-
tion, the effects have been modest,
which supports the argument that
this mission must involve profes-
sionals in public relations.
Addressing values interests. In
adapting the depiction of ABA to
the interests of federal, state, and local
agencies, as well as individuals pro-
viding direct services, the current
zeitgeist clearly mandates attention
to the role of cultural values in ABA
services. We have already noted that
ABA has accommodated emerging
cultural values in developmental dis-
abilities services over the last 30 years.
Although individuals who are well-
trained in ABA are aware of this
accommodation, it is apparently less
obvious to others. The ‘‘values first’’
characterization of PBS has undoubt-
edly aided its widespread acceptance
in human services. The challenge for
ABA is to show how particular
cultural values have been effectively
integrated into the ABA treatment
model without compromising the
science-based foundation of its effec-
tiveness. Given that cultural values
are indeed a respected part of ABA, it
would seem that the effort needs to
focus on how ABA is described.
Using effective vocabulary. It is old
news to most behavior analysts that
the field’s technical vocabulary is at
best unappealing and at worst in-
effective for communicating with
individuals who are not trained in
the field. Foxx (1996) addressed this
issue thoroughly, arguing that we
should adapt our verbal repertoire
to different audiences. Judging the
requirements for effective communi-
cation is a skill that many practi-
tioners master only after a sufficient
punishment history. It is especially
difficult for new graduates to aban-
don the technical verbal repertoire
that they have labored to master in
favor of a colloquial and politically
correct dialect when talking with
coworkers, families, and others.
It may be even more challenging to
reconsider how we present the field in
written form. The varied interests
within developmental disabilities of-
ten seem to be more concerned with
cultural values than outcomes. De-
scriptions of ABA in documents and
Web sites must accommodate that
priority in order to develop relation-
ships that can then provide behavior
analysts with opportunities to focus
on the outcomes that ABA can pro-
duce. Presentations to agencies and
interest groups must be similarly
framed in the context of broadly
accepted values and colloquial lan-
guage. This accommodation need not
compromise the scientific foundation
of ABA.
What not to do. Although the PBS
movement may provide valuable
guidance to ABA in some areas, it
provides negative examples in others.
In our view, the successes of PBS in
reaching out to governmental agen-
cies, providers, and individuals not
trained in behavior analysis have
come at too dear a price. In seeking
to appeal to diverse interests in
developmental disabilities services
and special education, leaders of the
PBS movement have described its
focus and service model in several
ways that we find problematic.
First, although PBS has accommo-
dated cultural values in its descrip-
tion and service model, they have
been given too pervasive and domi-
nant a role relative to ABA technol-
ogy and its scientific foundation.
PBS literature and Web sites describe
an approach in which values seem
to constitute not merely a context for
practice but the highest priority for
clinical decision making. Balancing
cultural values and clinical decision
making always requires thoughtful
consideration, but ABA should be
particularly cautious about compro-
mising its technology in the process
(Meinhold & Mulick, 1992).
68 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
Second, descriptions of PBS fail to
adequately acknowledge the founda-
tion of its intervention procedures in
ABA and the resulting requirements
for expertise in ABA. Although this
omission undoubtedly facilitates the
marketing of PBS, it fails to foster the
delivery of effective interventions.
Provision of training in PBS via
workshops and online courses cannot
avoid the consequences of inadequate
training and experience in ABA when
services are delivered—especially to
people who exhibit severe and chron-
ic learning and behavioral difficulties.
ABA must find a way to meet the
needs of potential users without
compromising its service model and
the minimum requirements for de-
livering effective services. The growth
of the behavior analyst certification
program holds promise for resolving
this issue.
Third, the PBS treatment model
focuses on making relatively general
and nontechnical changes in the
antecedent environment and deem-
phasizes the formal complexities of
consequence-based procedures. Al-
though this shift away from conse-
quence-based interventions and the
associated research literature is likely
to be appealing to those who lack
training in ABA, it is at odds with
both basic and applied research find-
ings. The role of consequences in
operant behavior and the essential
contribution of consequences to what
might appear to be primarily ante-
cedent manipulations are well docu-
mented. Any effort to market ABA
must accommodate all aspects of the
technology that are supported by
sound research. The depiction of the
general treatment model to users
need not detail all of the considerable
complexity of the technology, but all
of its required elements must be
included.
Although the foregoing three fea-
tures have almost certainly contrib-
uted to the successful dissemination
and acceptance of the PBS brand and
service model, we propose that they
cannot help but constrain the effec-
tiveness of PBS as it is typically
practiced in service settings, especial-
ly those that serve people who exhibit
severe problem behaviors. Again, we
would caution that efforts to broaden
the awareness and acceptance of
ABA must avoid the temptation to
compromise the features that are the
foundation for its effectiveness.
Conclusions
In trying to understand the PBS
movement, we have found it useful to
consider not merely the statements of
its leaders (particularly those ad-
dressed to ABA and other profes-
sional audiences) but also how PBS is
presented to (and by) governmental
agencies, service providers, and indi-
viduals who are not trained in ABA.
We have learned that it is difficult to
characterize PBS in ways that will not
invite disagreement. Leaders of the
PBS movement have published nu-
merous articles and chapters over the
years, and some of their descriptions
of PBS vary in significant ways.
Descriptions of PBS on Web sites
and in materials used in training and
service delivery settings, which ad-
dress more varied audiences than do
journal articles and chapters, must
also be fully considered. The large
PBS literature aimed at those audi-
ences makes it possible to describe
PBS in different ways depending on
one’s interests, or to refute any
characterization of PBS with con-
trary citations. In the final analysis,
PBS is defined by the perceptions of
those who are attracted to the ap-
proach, particularly how they per-
ceive PBS in relation to ABA, and by
what PBS looks like in practice.
We believe that the PBS movement
represents a well-intended attempt to
disseminate a more or less behavior-
ally based treatment model. That
effort, however, has been driven more
by ideological and marketing inter-
ests than by research findings and
professional considerations. Those
PBS AND ABA 69
priorities have resulted in undeniable
success in the marketplace but have
raised serious concerns for ABA as
well as for those who require effective
behavioral services. It is important
that the issues raised in this paper be
addressed by both proponents of PBS
and the ABA community.
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74 J. M. JOHNSTON et al.
... To belie such growing negative image of ABA, a different delivery of behavior services known as Positive Behavior Support (PBS; Johnston et al., 2006) was set off as a new brand name, or even as the more superior one, for marketing the service delivery systems of behaviour change. PBS recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities, stresses the use of non-aversive behavior-management procedures, and argues against people being subjected to dehumanizing interventions that are neither ethical nor beneficial in the guise of ABA. ...
... An independent Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions was started in 1999. In due course of time, the success of PBS became a threat to ABA (Johnston et al. 2006). ...
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Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), a scientific approach to understanding human actions, is based on principles of learning by the mediation of antecedents and consequences to establish or enhance socially important behaviors. In recent times, this approach has gained prominence, albeit erroneously, as the panacea only for the treatment of Autism. This rapid scoping review attempts to outline the meaning, types, history, scope for application, prerequisites for training and certification, problems, issues, challenges, and misconceptions about ABA in a simplified timely manner.
... To belie such growing negative image of ABA, a different delivery of behavior services known as Positive Behavior Support (PBS; Johnston et al., 2006) was set off as a new brand name, or even as the more superior one, for marketing the service delivery systems of behaviour change. PBS recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities, stresses the use of non-aversive behavior-management procedures, and argues against people being subjected to dehumanizing interventions that are neither ethical nor beneficial in the guise of ABA. ...
... An independent Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions was started in 1999. In due course of time, the success of PBS became a threat to ABA (Johnston et al. 2006). ...
Article
Full-text available
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), a scientific approach to understanding human actions, is based on principles of learning by the mediation of antecedents and consequences to establish or enhance socially important behaviors. In recent times, this approach has gained prominence, albeit erroneously, as the panacea only for the treatment of Autism. This rapid scoping review attempts to outline the meaning, types, history, scope for application, prerequisites for training and certification, problems, issues, challenges, and misconceptions about ABA in a simplified timely manner.
... Positive Behaviour Support and students with disability PBS emerged in the 1990s as an ecosystem to address support and intervention for individuals exhibiting behaviours of concern, predominantly people with intellectual disability and complex communication and support requirements, often in segregated settings (Dunlap et al., 2016). With its emphasis on building adaptive skills, fostering supportive environments, and improving quality of life, PBS represented a deliberate departure from more aversive and humiliating practices perceived to be associated with applied behaviour analysis (ABA) at that time (Johnston et al., 2006). Indeed, PBS was influenced by the Disability Rights Movement, and combined evidence-based practices of ABA with valuesbased efforts to promote human dignity, wellbeing, and quality of life for vulnerable populations (Horner et al., 1990). ...
... The current systematic review was conducted to explore the existing literature on the implementation of ABA and PBS in forensic settings. Debate continues as to whether ABA and PBS are one and the same or distinctive approaches (eg Johnston et al, 2006). Therefore, to ensure a comprehensive review of the literature, both terms were included. ...
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Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) and positive behavioural support (PBS) are frequently reported in the literature as successful interventions to reduce challenging behaviour. However, there has been no comprehensive review of the effectiveness of ABA and PBS within forensic settings. The purpose of this review was to systematically examine and synthesise existing research to investigate the effectiveness of ABA and PBS in forensic settings, and to identify any potential barriers and facilitators associated with implementing PBS.
... While both ABA and PBS approaches focus on the importance of using well-defi ned strategies, there are differences between them. 28 Those who are oriented toward ABA approaches place greater focus on the effects of the systematic application of consequences on behavior change. Those who advocate for PBS interventions focus on environmental and antecedent supports for behavior change founded in a three-tier approach (universal prevention, targeted prevention, and individualized and intensive prevention 29 ). ...
... (2) PBS was developed by behaviour analysts (Dunlap, Carr, Horner, Zarcone, & Schwartz, 2008;Johnston, Foxx, Jacobson, Green, & Mulick, 2006;Weiss, Delpizzo-Cheng, Larue, & Sloman, 1992) and this fact is recognised by NICE (2015). The founders of PBS explicitly acknowledge the need for PBS staff to be trained in ABA. ...
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This article explores the extent to which the newly published BPS guidelines ignores support for the findings of Applied Behaviour Analysis
... Given the significant impact of challenging behaviours on everyday life, there is increasing emphasis on the implementation of behavioural interventions within community settings that involve "natural supports" of individuals with ABI (family members and carers; Feeney et al., 2001;Fisher et al., 2020;Foster et al., 2012;Smith et al., 2006). Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is a person-directed and community-based approach to behavioural modification (Carr et al., 2002;Johnston, Foxx, Jacobson, Green, & Mulick, 2006;Tincani, 2007;Ylvisaker, 2006). Focussing on the antecedents of challenging behaviour while incorporating natural support networks, the PBS framework primarily seeks to improve quality of life with a secondary emphasis on addressing specific challenging behaviours (Carr et al., 2002). ...
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Challenging behaviours are common following moderate to severe acquired brain injury (ABI). These behaviours cause relationship and community participation difficulties and are a significant source of stress for many individuals with ABI and their close others (COs). A Positive Behaviour Support intervention, PBS + PLUS, was implemented to assist individuals with ABI to collaboratively build meaningful lives and self-regulate their behaviour. This study explored the perspectives of individuals with ABI and COs (family members, friends, and carers) who had completed an individualized 12-month PBS + PLUS intervention. Fifty-two individuals participated in semi-structured interviews, and a thematic analysis of interview transcripts identified the interrelated themes of Openness to Change, Embeddedness, Clinician Connection, and Preparedness for the Future. Participant perceptions of, and engagement with, PBS + PLUS were influenced by an attitude of openness to new ideas and by the intervention itself. Achieving contextual relevance allowed the intervention to become embedded in participants’ lives, and the client–clinician relationship was central to participants’ positive experiences. While most participants felt better equipped to cope with the future, some experienced difficulties transitioning to post-intervention life. These results suggest PBS + PLUS may assist individuals with ABI to lead meaningful lives and more confidently overcome behavioural challenges, while encouraging supportive and empowered COs.
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Introduction The basis of support is understanding. In machine learning, understanding happens through assimilated knowledge and is centered on six pillars: big data, data volume, value, variety, velocity, and veracity. This study analyzes school attendance problems (SAP), which encompasses its legal statutes, school codes, students’ attendance behaviors, and interventions in a school environment. The support pillars include attention to the physical classroom, school climate, and personal underlying factors impeding engagement, from which socio-emotional factors are often the primary drivers. Methods This study asked the following research question: What can we learn about specific underlying factors of absenteeism using machine learning approaches? Data were retrieved from one school system available through the proprietary Building Dreams (BD) platform, owned by the Fight for Life Foundation (FFLF), whose mission is to support youth in underserved communities. The BD platform, licensed to K-12 schools, collects student-level data reported by educators on core values associated with in-class participation (a reported—negative or positive—behavior relative to the core values) based on Social–Emotional Learning (SEL) principles. We used a multi-phased approach leveraging several machine learning techniques (clustering, qualitative analysis, classification, and refinement of supervised and unsupervised learning). Unsupervised technique was employed to explore strong boundaries separating students using unlabeled data. Results From over 20,000 recorded behaviors, we were able to train a classifier with 90.2% accuracy and uncovered a major underlying factor directly affecting absenteeism: the importance of peer relationships. This is an important finding and provides data-driven support for the fundamental idea that peer relationships are a critical factor affecting absenteeism. Discussion The reported results provide a clear evidence that implementing socio-emotional learning components within a curriculum can improve absenteeism by targeting a root cause. Such knowledge can drive impactful policy and programming changes necessary for supporting the youth in communities overwhelmed with adversities.
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When providing support for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD), it is important that evidence-based strategies are utilised in an ethical manner with the wellbeing of the individuals supported at the centre of all decision-making. Proponents of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) have been known to engage in discussions that can be polarising, and the overlap between the two disciplines is not always clear. The current paper reviews the literature around the sometimes-strained relationship between PBS and ABA over the past 40 years, with a view to understanding the current position and discourse. Arising from this, we outline ways in which this current position may result in negative outcomes for the people supported, individuals in need of support and their families. The aim of this paper is to create a starting point to discuss how we can work together to create better outcomes for all.
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Education Purpose: Problem behaviors are one of the most important components which should be addressed in the special education system. Moreover, a student emitting problem behaviors is more likely to be arranged into more restrictive environment. Method: Positive behavior support (PBS) is a comprehensive application model of the behavioral science which uses educational and systems change methods to minimize problem behavior, to improve students academic achievement, and to enhance quality of life. Although the elements of PBS can be found in a considerable number of PBS-related research articles published in South Korea, more strategic PBS application model needs to be developed for special education schools in South Korea. Thus, the main purposes of this study were (a) to conceptualize the PBS application model which would fit into the Korean special education school system and (b) to provide practical examples which would be used by the practitioners of special education schools. Result: In order to address this purpose, the researchers established a practical PBS model based on the core literatures and provided specific references and materials which could be used by the practitioners. Conclusion: To address these purposes, this conceptual study consists of 5 core individualized PBS model components.
Article
Students with severe disabilities who exhibit severe problem behaviors present difficult challenges for teachers and other school personnel. As school psychologists assume the role of educational consultant, they may be called upon to design effective behavioral interventions to meet the needs of these students. In this article, an emerging conceptual framework for developing positive, nonaversive behavioral support plans for students with severe disabilities is introduced. Comprised of multiple components such as alternative skill training, antecedent interventions, and lifestyle planning, positive support plans offer a comprehensive, proactive approach to the reduction and prevention of difficult problem behaviors. The research bases and rationale for this framework are highlighted. Two case examples taken from practice illustrate the use of multicomponent support plans in classroom settings. Implications for school psychologists are discussed.
Chapter
Human behavior is a functional relationship between a person and a specific social or mechanical environment. If the behavior is deficient, we can alter either the individual or the environment in order to produce effective behavior. Most previous attempts to restore behavioral efficiency by retraining, punishment, or physiological treatment have focused on only one side of this relation, the deficient individual. This approach implies that normal individuals can function in all currently existing social environments, that deficient individuals can be normalized, and that there are ordinarily no deficient environments. Scientists have only recently directly focused on the environmental side of deficient behavior functions and on the design of specialized or prosthetic environments to restore competent performance.