Behavior Analysts & Speech Pathologists: Perspectives Regarding Theories and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
T. Cardon, Utah Valley University, Vineyard, UT
Background: Currently both Behavior Analysts (BA) and Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) provide intervention services for children with ASD. It is not known how much overlap exists between the two disciplines, particularly with regard to theoretical perspectives and intervention practices. SLPs primarily view language through cognitive, developmental frameworks while BAs regard language development from a behavioral perspective. With regard to intervention, SLPs often use a developmental framework for planning intervention and BAs engage in elements of behavior skills training. While there are some approaches such as Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions where collaboration and interdisciplinary treatment is expected, the majority of SLPs and BAs work independent of one another.

Objectives: Given the challenges that are facing both SLPs and BAs when it comes to supporting children with ASD, it is imperative that we identify ways in which both disciplines can find ways to collaborate effectively. This research is a first step at identifying 1) the theoretical perspectives, and 2) the intervention strategies utilized by members from both disciplines when assessing and treating individuals with ASD.

Methods: A survey was created to identify what types of theories and interventions SLPs and BAs are utilizing in their practice with individuals with ASD. As this is a relatively new area of research, the survey was created based on the author’s extensive experience in both disciplines with feedback from expert’s in each field. The survey included ten different scenarios followed by a series of answers that were to be selected based on the participants’ education and experience. A total of 147 responses were collected. A descriptive analysis to determine similarities and differences in responses from participants was conducted.

Results:  Responses seem to indicate clear theoretical differences for language acquisition with multiple perspectives dispersed across SLPs while a singular theory is evident among BAs. SLPs responses are spread out across Cognitive/Semantic, Psycholinguistic/Syntactic, Behavioral, and Pragmatic with Cognitive/Semantic garnering 41% of the response. On the other hand, 91% of BAs chose a behavioral construct to language acquisition. Among dually certified individuals, the majority still reside with a behavioral approach (77%) with only 15% indicating a cognitive/semantic approach. These differences may be an indicator as to why there are distinct differences in the intervention approaches subscribed to by each discipline. Behavior analysts overwhelmingly responded to intervention scenarios with behavior analytic strategies (i.e., task analysis, video modeling) and SLPs chose responses that may indicate the use of intervention strategies supported by a developmental, cognitive approach to language acquisition (i.e., visual cueing, social story).

Conclusions: The very definition of ASD indicates that both disciplines are required to address complex needs. While there is a difference in theoretical ideology and approaches to intervention, both SLPs and BAs often have similar outcomes in mind; however, both disciplines would benefit from more familiarity with evidence based practice recommendations as reported by the National Autism Standards. Continuing education across disciplines, as well as inter-professional education to learn about evidence based approaches from the other disciplines is recommended.