Why Representation Matters in ABA
February 21, 2022
February 21, 2022
Cultural humility is a framework used by other professional disciplines to address both institutional and individual behavior that contributes to the power imbalance, the marginalization of communities, and disparities in health access and outcomes.-Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH, BCBA-D
My first experience with a black clinician of any type was when I was 18 years old. It was a dermatologist. I had visited a few dermatologists before her, but nothing seemed to help clear my skin. This time it was different. Immediately she knew what I needed, because she experienced the same type of skin issue that is particular to people of color. I was so relieved when she wasn’t confused or puzzled like so many doctors before her. That’s not to say my other dermatologists were not incredibly kind or didn’t try their best, but the personal experience of this woman of color had saved my skin and self-esteem.
Much like pubescent acne that picks and chooses who it wants to affect, autism does not discriminate. My journey working with children with autism began in 2014, and since then I have had experiences with families from all walks of life. Families of different races and cultures, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. Regardless of whom I was treating, the raw emotions a family feels when they find out their child is diagnosed with autism is always constant. It can be scary, raise questions, sometimes overbearing. These emotions evolve over time to joy, pride, and excitement when these families experience their child mastering a goal like toilet training, or witnessing their child use icons to make requests. The tears and fears change to smiles and cheers. It’s beautiful to experience the hope restored in all of these unique families.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) focuses on improving socially significant behaviors to increase independence in language, social/play, and daily living skills while decreasing unwanted behaviors. “Social significance” can be subjective at times. For example, while one parent may want their child to answer with “X” when called, another may want “Y.” The response may vary due to culture or geographics, however both serve the purpose of answering when called. It’s the clinician’s responsibility to be aware of when to ask what responses or behaviors the parent would prefer.
The field of behavior analysis can address this growing need by fostering cultural competency in professional training through increasing relevant training opportunities and the development of culture- and diversity-relevant educational curricula and materials, and by supporting efforts to increase the number of ethnically and racially diverse behavior-analytic workforces in academic and professional settings.-Fong et. al
Growing up, I had many mentors that helped me throughout my education and adolescence, but not many that looked like me. Starting in elementary school all the way through my master’s degree, I only had three black educators lead a classroom. I wondered why there weren’t more people of color in leadership roles. It was later on that I learned of the implicit biases in the workplace due to lack of representation, and the barriers specifically black women face when trying to serve these particular roles. During college I knew I wanted to help break these barriers down. I wanted a leadership position to represent people of color, and to help show children that we can do whatever it is we dream.
Since the diversity of providers and leadership in the field is an important factor in effectively meeting the diverse needs of ABA consumers, the lack of Black women leaders in the field can be described as problematic.-Nasiah Cirincione Ulezi, Ed.D., BCBA
Nasiah Cirincione-Ulezi’s research and work in the areas of cultural humility in her 2020 article Black Women and Barriers to Leadership in ABA, Dr. Patricia I. Wright’s 2019 article Cultural Humility in the Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis, and 2017 Increasing Cultural Understanding and Diversity in Applied Behavior Analysis by Elizabeth Fong, Seana Ficklin, and Helen Lee support the need for more representation in the ABA field, especially leadership positions. Let this letter be one of many examples of why representation matters and be a charge to all of us in the wonderful and ever-evolving field of ABA to strive for better engagement in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Your Pro-DEI ABA Fieldwork Advisor + BCBA
Kaila November studied at Ohio State University, where she initially intended to continue her education to become an SLP. As fate would have it, she found her way to behavior analysis and has since been making huge impacts in the area of mentorship and professional development. Kaila reflects on the leadership opportunities she participated in throughout her life and recognizes that she frequently was the only person of color, and sometimes the only woman in those groups. This has led her to drive for bridging that gap and dedicating not only her time at work, but her free time to mentoring those from under-represented groups.
Kaila has not only provided guidance and leadership to several fellows during her time as a BCBA, but has made the decision to leave a larger and lasting impact on all students seeking their credentialing through the Fellowship program- especially for women and people of color.
In addition to leadership her roles at Hopebridge, Kaila also works as the Director of Mentorship for BRICC Foundry, providing guidance and resources to high school and college female students of color and underrepresented voices. Developed in 2018, The BRICC Foundry is a trailblazer in the area of mentorship & Co-ops for Women of Color & Underrepresented Voices. Kaila and her colleagues actively reach out to mentees and mentors to find the best match and facilitate development of professional skills. This helps the mentee gain real world experiences in order to break their own glass ceilings.
Kaila lives in Cleveland, OH with her husband with their cocker spaniel where she enjoys watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, and traveling in her spare time.
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