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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), M.A.

Focus on Support, Dignity and Inclusion

Whitworth University is committed to teaching our students to use ABA therapy in ways that help individuals communicate what they want and need, and in ways that help them to identify and work toward their own goals. We are also committed to teaching our students ways in which they can advocate for changes to the environment that will better support people with disabilities.

Our faculty believe that ABA interventions should be individualized, culturally responsive and acceptable to all involved. As a general philosophy, the ABA program is focused on supporting the dignity and inclusion of all people.

Our faculty are engaged in a wide range of activities…here are just a few:

  • Assistant Professor Cyndi Caniglia's scholarship focuses on teacher preparation, inclusive teaching practices, universal design for learning and foundational literacy. Caniglia works closely with general education teacher preparation faculty and with P-12 educators to design courses and field work experiences that emulate inclusive and high leverage practices for teacher candidates. She is also very involved in state-wide efforts to improve teacher preparation related to inclusion of students with disabilities P-21, and on the university campus to support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and accessible course design and delivery.
  • Associate Professor Megan Griffin's work has focused on promoting inclusion for people with developmental disabilities in school and community settings. She has also received grants to provide parent coaching and to support children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in learning new skills.
  • Associate Professor Flint Simonsen's scholarship focuses on training professionals to utilize Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) in schools across Washington state. He consults on individual cases and also provides coaching to school professionals seeking to better support all students, including students with disabilities.
  • Jessica Thomas has worked as a special education teacher, ABA therapist and school consultant. In terms of scholarship, she has an interest in PBIS, and her recent doctoral dissertation focused on teaching students with communication challenges to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.

What is the controversy about?

Although this page cannot specifically address all details of recent controversies, one prominent issue is the use of electric skin shock by the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts. We join the innumerable advocates and self-advocates (many of whom are in the ABA community) who are calling on this unethical practice to be banned.

How does Whitworth's program address criticisms of ABA?

First and foremost, we take the criticisms seriously and seek to learn more from the community. Our goal is to make our program as responsive as possible to the needs and priorities of clients and stakeholders.

Courses Emphasize Ethics & Experiences of People with Disabilities

Whitworth faculty teach students about controversial practices in a class designed to teach ethics, specifically in regards to ABA therapy. Throughout the program, we teach our students about the many ways in which ABA professionals should support clients without the use of aversive stimuli.

In addition, Whitworth continues to embed the perspectives of self-advocates in classes we teach. We incorporate video, guest speakers and other activities through which our students can learn about the perspectives and priorities of people with disabilities. We also share models of how to develop community-informed practices, as described well in this thoughtful piece.

Faculty Engage in Research & Service to Address Controversies

Associate Professor Megan Griffin is currently conducting research to learn about the lived experiences of people who have received ABA services and the experiences of their parents. Through surveys and interviews, she hopes to learn about the good and (unfortunately) the bad experiences that people have had in ABA. The goal is to amplify their perspectives so that the field of ABA becomes more reflective of what they want and need.

Griffin is also participating in a workgroup on this topic with other concerned professionals from across the country that is hosted by the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD). From her participation in this workgroup and her research, Griffin will bring back lessons to Whitworth as we seek to continuously improve our program.

Still have questions or concerns?

We would love the opportunity to connect with you. Email with your questions or concerns, or to set up a time to chat.