The Division of Behaviour Analysis (DBA) held its Seventh Annual Conference in the Galway Bay Hotel on 26th-27th April. With over 150 people in attendance, it was one of the most successful and informative meetings to date.
We were extremely excited to welcome Dr. Pat Friman as one of our keynote speakers. He is one of the world’s leading clinical psychologists and an internationally recognised expert in the application of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) to childhood behaviour problems such as sleep disorders, oppositional behavior and incontinence. He has published more than 180 peer-reviewed articles on these and other subjects. Dr. Friman also specialises in consulting in relation to workplaces issues such as motivation, dealing with interpersonal issues, change, and pathways to success. He has published several books, including the popular, Adolescence and Other Temporary Mental Disorders.
A primary goal of Dr. Friman’s research is to demonstrate the powerful role behavior analysis can play in the assessment and treatment of health related behavior problems that present in the primary care of children with Autism, intellectual disabilities and typically developing children and adolescents. His Keynote address, “Behavior Analysis in the Mainstream of Everyday Life” encouraged behavior analysts to use their skills to solve more everyday problems, for example in the areas of parenting or primary care.
Dr. Friman was joined by the second keynote speaker, Dr. Per Holth. Dr. Holth has published many articles related to basic research in behaviour analysis, applied work and the philosophy of science. He has also served on several editorial boards and is currently a member of the editorial troika of the European Journal of Behavior Analysis.
Dr. Holth shared his research into joint attention training for children with autism. Joint attention is pivotal to the development of complex communication and social skills in children. Dr. Holth’s research offered insight into behaviour change procedures that can be used by parents and professionals working with children for whom joint attention is problematic.
This year’s conference programme was our most diverse yet. Dr. Brian McClean of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland delivered a workshop on the power of relationships within positive behaviour support while Dr. Louise McHugh and Ashling Curtin’s workshop addressed the application of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with the parents of individuals with developmental disabilities. In addition, other presentations covered topics such as interventions for Dementia, literacy and numeracy support using Precision teaching, applications of ABA within mainstream schools in marginalised communities, Organisational Behaviour Management (OBM), Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and investigations into physiological arousal levels of children with ASD during episodes of challenging behavior.
For the first time, the conference closed with a panel discussion on the subject of the future of behavior analysis in Ireland. Professor Julian Leslie chaired the discussion and was joined by Dr. Ken Kerr (Rehabcare), Dr. Denis O’Hora (NUIG), Dr. Per Holth and Dr. Patrick Friman. Topics included the relationship between applied and basic research, new ideas for dissemination of behavior analysis and the importance of maintaining the highest standard of intervention for consumers of ABA. The panel members noted the quality and diversity of research currently being conducted in Ireland.
There was much discussion over the course of the conference about the many recent exciting developments in behaviour analysis. In the face of overwhelming empirical support for ABA, the US federal government has recently recognised ABA as a “medically necessary intervention” for individuals with autism and federal employees can access ABA services for their children with autism. Additionally, 32 states have passed leglisation that obliges insurance companies to pay for the costs of ABA interventions for children with ASD. Furthermore, the increasing acceptance and support of ABA in England and Wales contrasts with the approach of the Irish government who have closed ABA schools and has refused to provide funding for ABA services. While recent times have been difficult for the Irish ABA community, this year’s conference offers evidence of the successful application of behaviour analysis across a broad spectrum of mainstream and disability services in Ireland.