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Discussion Question:

 After reading Stevenson & Correa (2019), describe how a failure to implement a student’s IEP may be a denial of the Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) particularly in regard to the provision of ABA services? What are the practice implications? List all applicable code sections from the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts. Provide the rationale for the chosen code(s).

* Please use attached documents as reference. ( They are the articles they are referring to)

799644DPSXXX10.1177/1044207318799644Journal of Disability Policy StudiesStevenson and Correa

Research Article

Applied Behavior Analysis, Students With
Autism, and the Requirement to Provide
a Free Appropriate Public Education

Bradley S. Stevenson, MTS, BCBA1 and Vivian I. Correa, PhD1


Journal of Disability Policy Studies
2019, Vol. 29(4) 206–215
© Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1044207318799644

The prevalence of autism has been steadily rising over the previous decades. The diverse ways in which the disorder
manifests in students and the free appropriate public education (FAPE) mandate of the Individuals With Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student’s individualized education program (IEP) team tailor interventions to meet
the unique educational needs of that student. Deciding on the most appropriate evidence-based intervention programs for
students with autism can be complex. In fact, a frequent source of litigation is when families and school personnel disagree
on the particular programming to be provided to students with autism. Often this litigation involves disagreement over the
extent to which services should be based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). The purpose of this article
is to review select case law to analyze how courts have ruled on whether schools must provide ABA services to meet
FAPE requirement when families request those services, and to extrapolate implications for practice, including guidance to
families and school personnel on how to work collaboratively to resolve conflicts surrounding ABA services.

autism, civil rights, law/legal issues, education, policy

The prevalence of autism has been steadily rising over the
previous decades. When the Autism and Developmental
Disabilities Monitoring Network, of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, first began tracking the rates in
2004, the prevalence of autism was one in 294 children. By
2002, this rate had risen to one in 151; in 2006, one in 111
children were affected; and in their most recent report in
2012, one in 68 children were estimated to have autism
(Christensen et al., 2016). In addition to the pressure cre-
ated by the rising prevalence rates, schools are challenged
because of the difficulty in educating students with autism.
Some of the best results come from intensive intervention
programs (Virués-Ortega, 2010). However, this requires the
dedication of significant resources. Furthermore, the diverse
ways the disorder manifests in children means that every
program must be individually tailored to the student, which
requires a high level of expertise (Hill, Martin, & Nelson-
Head, 2011).

Because autism is a category of disability under the
Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act
(IDEA 2004), students classified as having autism are usu-
ally assessed and placed in a school’s special education pro-
gram. When a student is eligible under the IDEA (2004), the
primary charge to school districts is to develop and imple-

appropriate public education (FAPE; 20 U.S.C. § 1401(9)).
The FAPE mandate requires the student’s special education
program (a) be provided at public expense; (b) meet the
standard of the state educational agency; (c) include pre-
school, elementary, or secondary education; and (d) be pro-
vided in conformity with a student’s individualized
education program (IEP).

These components of the FAPE mandate have been in
place since the initial special education law, the Education
for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) was passed in
1975. Additional requirements have been added through
subsequent amendments. For example, when the law was
reauthorized as the Individuals With Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA; 1990), the category of autism was added (20
U.S.C. § 1401[a](1)(A)(i)). In addition, in 2004, language
was added that required IEP teams to base a special educa-
tion student’s education and related services on peer-
reviewed research to the extent practicable (20 U.S.C. §

1University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA

Corresponding Author:
Bradley S. Stevenson, Melmark Carolinas, P.O. Box 77591, Charlotte,
NC 28271, USA.

ment a special education program that confers a free Email: [email protected]

207 Stevenson and Correa

One facet of the IDEA that has remained vague is the
FAPE mandate. Congress intentionally refrained from pro-
viding a substantive definition of FAPE, reasoning that
what is appropriate must be determined on a case-by-case
basis (Yell, 2016). However, a working definition came in
1982 when the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the FAPE
mandate in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson
School District v. Rowley (1982), referred to as Rowley
hereafter. This was the only Supreme Court decision on the
FAPE mandate for decades, until the recent Endrew F. v.
Douglas County School District (2017) case. As such,
Rowley has been central to judicial interpretations of the
FAPE mandate. It should be noted the Endrew F. v. Douglas
County School District (2017) was issued after this review
was conducted, and was, therefore, not included in this
review. However, it is addressed in the “Discussion”

In the Rowley decision, the Supreme Court established
several important legal precedents. First, a two-part test was
developed to determine whether school districts fulfill the
FAPE requirement. With prong one, the court asked whether
the school district had complied with the procedures of the
law. With the second prong, the court assessed whether the
IEP was reasonably calculated to enable the student to
receive some educational benefit. A second important prec-
edent was that in disputes over educational methods, defer-
ence should be given to the school districts because the
courts lack the requisite knowledge and experience to
decide these questions.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Rowley, dis-
agreements over the FAPE mandate have continued, becom-
ing the most frequent source of litigation in special education
(Yell, 2016). This increase is especially noticeable in cases
concerning students with autism. Zirkel (2011) demon-
strated this by comparing (a) the percentage of students
with autism enrolled in special education and (b) the per-
centage of FAPE and least restrictive environment (LRE; 20
U.S.C. § 141[a](5)) litigation concerning students with
autism. Zirkel found that although students with autism
comprised only 3.7% of students in special education, they
accounted for nearly 45% of all the FAPE/LRE.

These disputes often occur in relation to families’ request
for services based on the principles of applied behavior
analysis (ABA; Hill et al., 2011). Cooper, Heron, and
Heward (2007) defined ABA as “the science in which tac-
tics derived from the principles of behavior are applied sys-
tematically to improve socially significant behavior and
experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible
for behavior change” (p. 20). Put more simply, ABA is the
practice of identifying environmental factors that influence
a person’s behavior (e.g., challenging behavior, academic
skills, language capabilities, adaptive skills), designing
interventions targeting those factors, and demonstrating the
interventions are responsible for the improvement.

In their seminal article, Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968)
identified seven dimensions of ABA. These were (a) applied,
meaning it is focused on behaviors that will improve people’s
lives; (b) behavioral, meaning the target behavior is objec-
tively defined and directly measured; (c) analytic, achieved
by experimentally demonstrating the intervention is respon-
sible for the improvement; (d) technological, or described
with sufficient detail to facilitate replication of the proce-
dures; (e) conceptually systematic, which requires the inter-
ventions and interpretations be consistent with the principles
of behavior (e.g., positive reinforcement); (f) effective,
meaning the intervention improved the target behavior; and
(g) generality, which requires improvement to last over time,
cross over to other environments, and affect other behaviors.
This has led to the development of a plethora of interventions
ranging from focused interventions (e.g., prompting strate-
gies, discrete trial teaching, functional communication train-
ing) to more comprehensive treatments (e.g., the Lovaas
model, early start Denver model, verbal behavior programs).

Families often request ABA-based educational methods
because of their documented effectiveness for individuals
with autism. Studies have found ABA led to greater gains
than comparison treatments in (a) cognitive, language, and
adaptive scores (Howard, Sparkman, Cohen, Green, &
Stanislaw, 2005); (b) intelligence, language, daily living
skills, and social behavior (Remington et al., 2007); (c) intel-
ligence, language, adaptive behavior, and autism diagnosis
(Dawson et al., 2010); and (d) Autism Diagnosis Observation
Schedule (Zachor, Ben-Itzchak, Rabinovich, & Lahat,
2007). Furthermore, Virués-Ortega (2010) conducted a com-
prehensive meta-analysis of studies analyzing the effective-
ness of ABA and found that intensive, long-term ABA
intervention had medium to large effects for improving
intellectual functioning, language, daily living skills, and
social functioning for children with autism.

The controversy between parents and school districts
regarding FAPE and the use of ABA has been occurring for
decades. In 2000, Yell and Drasgow examined due process
hearings and court cases concerning FAPE, in which par-
ents sought to compel school districts to provide, fund, or
reimburse them for services based on the Lovaas treatment
program, which is based on the principles of ABA. After
reviewing a total of 45 cases and hearings, the researchers
found that decisions favored families for 76% of the cases,
whereas school districts prevailed in 24%. In describing the
reasons why school districts won, the authors cited they (a)
followed procedural rules, (b) used research-supported
practices, and (c) hired qualified staff to implement, and
experts to assist with programming. The reasons districts
lost cases were they (a) failed to inform parents of their pro-
cedural rights and (b) used evaluations that did not address
all areas of needs. Ultimately, Yell and Drasgow concluded
the Lovaas cases helped to shift the interpretation of FAPE
from procedural to substantive as more emphasis was put

208 Journal of Disability Policy Studies 29(4)

on the term “meaningful” educational benefit than in previ-
ous cases.

Since Yell and Drasgow’s (2000) initial review, three
other reviews have been published with results that have
contradicted Yell and Drasgow’s finding that courts find for
parents for the majority of cases. Due to the increased
authority in federal decisions, Nelson and Huefner (2003)
searched federal cases between 1997 and 2002. They found
that school districts prevailed in 79% of cases. In discussing
the findings, they described how courts deferred to schools
regarding educational methods unless the district could not
justify their decision or a severe procedural violation
occurred. They also contrasted their findings from those of
Yell and Drasgow, pointing out that parents are granted
relief far less frequently than in Yell and Drasgow’s review.

That same year, Etscheidt (2003) reviewed all court
decisions between 1997 and 2002. This resulted in schools
winning 57% of cases. Three major reasons for the courts
decisions to side for the schools were cited. These included
(a) the alignment of the IEP with evaluation data, (b) quali-
fications of the IEP team, and (c) the appropriateness of the
method for achieving the proposed goals. Again, deference
to schools regarding educational methods was noted, stat-
ing families received their chosen method only if the
school’s method was inappropriate.

Finally, Choutka, Doloughty, and Zirkel (2004) looked at
cases through August 2001 concerning ABA more broadly,
as opposed to simply the Lovaas method. They found courts
were split in their findings for parents and districts. Choutka
et al. listed four determining factors. These included (a) the
testimony of expert witnesses, (b) appropriateness of IEP
components, (c) adherence to procedural requirements, and
(d) data collected.

Because of the complexity of educating students with
autism and the general terms used to define FAPE, ongoing
disagreement between families and school personnel regard-
ing the need to use ABA to meet the requirements of an FAPE
is not surprising. As such, reviews of case law are needed to
determine how the law is being interpreted at a given point of
time. Due to the fact that more than a decade has passed since
the last review, it is important for an update. Therefore, the
purpose of this article was to review federal case law where
families of students with autism sought to compel school dis-
tricts to provide, fund, or reimburse them for ABA services as
part of the FAPE mandate. In addition, due process was sum-
marized to put the cases into proper context, and implications
for practice are made.


Review of Due Process

When reviewing case law, it is important to understand the
structure of the courts and how cases move through them.
This is because different courts have different authority,

with higher court decisions being binding for lower courts
within the higher court’s jurisdiction. As such, the influence
of any court decision depends on the type of court. Osborne
and Russo (2014) describe the course of due process in their
chapter on dispute resolution. When a dispute occurs
between a family and the school system, the school system
is obligated to offer the services of an independent media-
tor. If mediation is waived by the family, due process is

When administering due process, states can employ a
“two-tier” or “one-tier” system. With a two-tiered system,
due process begins with a hearing by the local school dis-
trict, the decisions of which can be appealed and heard by
an officer or panel at the state level and subsequently
through the state or federal court system. In contrast, a one-
tiered system does not have the local review. In a one-tiered
system, due process begins with a review by the state
department of education, and decisions can be appealed to
state or federal courts.

If a state uses a two-tiered system, which most do not, the
local school board must schedule a resolution session within
15 days of due process being requested. These sessions
include the families, relevant IEP members, and a school
board member. Resolution sessions can only be waived if
both parties consent to it. If the dispute is not resolved within
30 days, a due process hearing is scheduled.

Due process hearings are overseen by an impartial hear-
ing officer (IHO) supplied by the district. The IHO has the
authority to apply the law and issue orders to either party.
However, that authority is limited to the specifics of the
case at hand. Broader school policies cannot be altered. For
example, an IHO can order the district to fund an ABA pro-
gram for the student in question, but cannot order the dis-
trict to fund an ABA program for all students with autism.

If either party is unhappy with the decision of the IHO,
they can appeal for state-level review. Alternatively, if the
state has a one-tiered system as most do, due process begins
at this level. State reviews are overseen by a state review
officer or state review panel, typically of three or more, with
similar authority to the IHO, in that, their decisions are lim-
ited to the case at hand.

If there is a decision to appeal beyond the state review, it
can be done through state courts (i.e., state trial court, state
appellate court, state supreme court, U.S. Supreme Court)
or federal courts (i.e., U.S. District Court, U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, U.S. Supreme Court). Because the IDEA
is a federal law, the decisions of federal courts have greater
authority even when cases are heard by state courts.

The lowest levels of federal courts, and, therefore, the
first to hear an appeal from a due process hearing, are the
district courts. District courts are divided into 94 separate
districts across the nation. These courts decide cases from
their region based on established legal principles.
Precedence from district courts are limited to their district,

209 Stevenson and Correa

and, as such, district courts have little authority compared
with the Supreme Court and appellate courts.

Appeals from the district courts go to the U.S. Courts of
Appeals, which consists of 13 circuits distributed across the
United States. Appellate court decisions set precedent for
the district courts below them. For instance, decisions by
the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals are controlling for district
courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Therefore, the
appellate courts are second only to the Supreme Court in
terms of authority regarding the IDEA and the FAPE

Appellate court decisions can then be appealed to the
U.S. Supreme Court. The decisions of the Supreme Court
set precedent for all other courts in the nation, and are,
therefore, the most authoritative. Cases are heard on peti-
tion for writ of certiorari, and the Supreme Court typically
takes cases that have been heard by lower courts and there
is a conflict in the lower courts’ decisions (e.g., two circuit
courts deciding the same issue differently). However, rul-
ings by the Supreme Court are rare as it is under no obliga-
tion to hear an appeal.

Review of Case Law

To identify cases, a search of the Westlaw database was
conducted for federal cases decided between December 3,
2004, and August 2016. The search terms used were applied
behavior analysis, autism, and free and appropriate public
education. Federal cases were prioritized due to the greater
authority they carry. The starting point for the search was
the day the IDEA (2004) was signed into law. This resulted
in an initial identification of 91 decisions.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

The focus of this review was to examine whether schools
could be legally compelled to provide ABA services under
the argument that denying a student with autism ABA vio-
lated the FAPE mandate. As such, to be included in this
review, decisions had to be disputes where (a) the student in
question was diagnosed was autism, (b) the school district
did not provide ABA as requested by the family, and (c) it
was argued the lack of ABA prevented the student from
receiving a FAPE. The deviations from the requested ABA
program could be varied. Some examples include the school
district not providing the requested ABA hours, electing to
use another method, and/or not providing ABA services
with fidelity. All these examples would be included in this
review because the central argument to all of them is that a
student with autism did not receive his or her FAPE as a
direct result of lack of access to ABA.

However, decisions were excluded if the case did not
address an argument that lack of access to ABA led to a
denial of FAPE. For instance, if due process was initiated

under a different legal requirement than FAPE, such as a
family arguing the student was not educated in his or her
LRE, the case would be excluded. Similarly, if a family
alleged a FAPE was not provided because of a lack of prog-
ress, but attributed this process to some factor other than a
lack of ABA (e.g., not providing one-to-one staffing), the
decision would be excluded.

Last, only the final decisions were included. Therefore,
if a decision was delivered by a district court, appealed to an
appellate court, and the appellate court issued its own deci-
sion, only the appellate court’s decision was included.
Similarly, if an appellate court heard a case and remanded it
back to a lower court for the final decision, then the final
decision made by the lower court would be included. After
applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 27 decisions
remained for review.

Data Analysis

The included decisions were analyzed in the following way.
First, studies were sorted in two ways. Decisions favoring
schools were separated from decisions favoring families,
and appellate court decisions were separated from district
court decisions. Second, the background of each case was
read to identify the reason due process was initiated (e.g.,
the district provided an alternative method to ABA, the
requested hours were not provided). Third, the discussion
was reviewed to identify the determining factors that led to
the respective decisions (e.g., the district predetermined the
educational method, administrative remedies were not
exhausted). Last, the various factors that led to due process
and determined decisions were reviewed to identify which
factors occurred across which decisions. These factors were
noted and used to make the data in Tables 1 and 2. Note that
some cases appear in both Tables 1 and 2 as a court may
recognize an arugment for one side, but still ultimately
decide in favor of the other. For instance, with Sumter
County School Dist. 17 v. Heffernan ex rel. TH (2010/2011)
the court acknowledged the argument that students were
entitled with a right to access, not a specific outcome, but
still found in favor of the families because agreed upon ser-
vices were not provided.


Of 27 decisions included, nine were heard in an appellate
court and 17 were heard in district courts. Of these cases, 17
(63%) involved disputes where school districts did not pro-
vide requested ABA services at all, preferring another
method (e.g., TEACCH); five (19%) involved disputes of
the quality of ABA; two cases (7%) disputed the number of
hours of ABA; in one case (4%), ABA services were dis-
continued against the wishes of the parents; one case (4%)
involved a dispute where the families desired compensatory

210 Journal of Disability Policy Studies 29(4)

Table 1. Arguments Favoring Schools.

Right to Defer to Procedural violations, Research-based Flawed
Case access schools not substantive components case

Appellate courts
E.L. ex rel. Lorsson v. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Bd. of Educ. X X X

F.L. ex rel. F.L. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. X X

M.H. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. (2010/2012) X X X X
P.K. ex rel. S.K. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. X


Sumter County School Dist. 17 v. Heffernan ex rel. TH X

T.P. ex rel S.P. v. Mamaroneck Union Free School Dist. X

District courts
Aaron P. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii (2011) X
B.K. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. (2014) X X
D.A.B. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. (2013) X X
Joshua A. ex rel. Jorge A. v. Rocklin Unified School Dist. X X X X

K.S. ex rel. P.S. v. Fremont Unified School Dist. (2009) X X
L.G. v. Wissahickon School Dist. (2011) X
M.M. ex rel. A.M. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. X X X

Region 9 [Dist. 2] (2008)
Parenteau v. Prescott Unified School Dist. (2008) X X X
P.C. ex rel. J.C. v. Harding Tp. Bd. of Educ. (2013) X X X
R.K. and D.K. v. Clifton Board of Education (2013) X
S.B. v. New York City Department of Education (2016) X
Seladoki v. Bellaire Local School Dist. Bd. of Educ. X X X

S.M. v. Hawai’i Dept. of Educ. (2011) X X X X
Z.F. v. South Harrison Community School Corp. (2005) X X X

Table 2. Arguments Favoring Families.

Inappropriate Procedural led to Services not
Case IEP Predetermined substantive violations provided

Appellate courts
County School Bd. of Henrico County, Virginia v. Z.P. ex rel. X

R.P. (2003/2005)
Deal v. Hamilton County Bd. of Educ. (2003/2005) X X X
P.K. ex rel. S.K. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. [Region 4] X

R.E. v. New York City Dept. of Educ. (2011/2012) X
Sumter County School Dist. 17 v. Heffernan ex rel. TH

District courts
County School Bd. of Henrico County, Va. v. R.T. (2006) X
Orange Unified School Dist. v. C.K. ex rel. A. Ki. (2012) X X
S.B. v. New York City Department of Education (2016) X
W.S. v. City School District of the City of New York (2016) X
Young v. Ohio (2013) X

Note. IEP = individualized education program.


211 Stevenson and Correa

services for years when ABA was not provided even though
the families had not requested them; and, in a final case
(4%), ABA was not provided because of a lack of availabil-
ity of providers in the area. Courts decided in favor of
schools in 61% (n = 17) of the cases and in favor of fami-
lies in 41% (n = 11). The reason there were 28 cases and
only 27 decisions was that one appellate court decision
included two separate cases (M.H. v. New York City Dept. of
Educ., 2010/2012).

Decisions Favoring Schools

When finding in favor of schools, judges cited one or more
of the following reasons: (a) schools were required to pro-
vide access to educational benefits, not guarantee the best
possible outcome for students; (b) deference was given to
schools regarding educational methods; (c) procedural vio-
lations of IDEA only constituted a violation of FAPE if they
directly led to substantive violations; (d) the components of
a district’s method was based on peer-reviewed research;
and/or (e) there was a fundamental flaw in the parents’ case.
For a list of the cases supporting each argument, see Table 1.

Right to access education, not to the best outcome. The most
common argument in decisions favoring schools who did
not provide ABA was that students had a right to access
some educational benefit, but no guarantee of any particular
outcome. This meant that even if ABA was more effective
than the method chosen by the district, it did not mean the
district was compelled to use ABA, so long as they had rea-
sonable cause to believe their chosen method would confer
some educational benefit. This reason was cited in every
decision that favored school districts, and is exemplified in
E.L. ex rel. Lorsson v. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Bd. of Educ.
(2013/2014), where the family withdrew their child from
the public schools to enroll her in a program that used ABA
exclusively. In that decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals wrote

A free appropriate public education must confer “some
educational benefit” on the disabled child receiving services.
Rowley, 458 U.S. at 200, 102 S.Ct. 3034. Such an education,
however, need not “maximize each child’s potential”; the
IDEA was concerned with equality of access rather than
equality of outcome. (p. 6)

Deference to school districts regarding educational methods.
Another common reason courts sided with school districts
that did not provide the ABA services as requested was there
was no guaranteed right to any one educational method, and
in disputes over educational methods, deference should be
given to the district. For instance, in Z.F. v. South Harrison
Community School Corp. (2005), the district discontinued
dedicated ABA programs when Z.F. entered kindergarten,

opting instead to provide a program that would use “school-
based methodologies and curricula but would incorporate
some ABA instructional methods” (p. 3). When the parents
disputed this, arguing the exclusive use of ABA methods was
needed to provide an FAPE, the Southern District Court of
Indiana disagreed, writing “the courts have repeatedly recog-
nized that they should generally defer to the decisions of the
state and local educational agencies in such disputes” (p. 9),
citing Rowley as precedent.

Procedural violations did not lead to substantive violations. One
of the precedents Rowley set was that, in cases concerning
FAPE, courts should first assess for procedural violations of
the IDEA, and then assess for substantive violations. In sev-
eral cases, procedural violations of the IDEA were docu-
mented. However, courts still decided districts had met the
FAPE mandate, provided the procedural violations did not
directly lead to a substantive violation.

F.L. ex rel. F.L. v. New York City Dept. of Educ.
(2012/2014) illustrates this clearly. In this case, the family
enrolled F.L. in a private school that provided ABA because
the district insisted on using the TEACCH method instead
of ABA, did not create a transition plan, chose what they
viewed as an inappropriate group placement, and commit-
ted several procedural violations (i.e., failing to conduct a
functional behavior assessment, not providing parental
counseling, not including parents in school selection). The …

Professional and Ethical
Compliance Code for
Behavior Analysts




The Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB’s) Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for
Behavior Analysts (the “Code”) consolidates, updates, and replaces the BACB’s Professional
Disciplinary and Ethical Standards and Guidelines for Responsible Conduct for Behavior Analysts.
The Code includes 10 sections relevant to professional and ethical behavior of behavior analysts,
along with a glossary of terms. Effective January 1, 2016, all BACB applicants and certificants will
be required to adhere to the Code.


In the original version of the Guidelines for Professional Conduct for Behavior Analysts, the authors acknowledged
ethics codes from the following organizations: American Anthropological Association, American Educational Research
Association, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, California Association for Behavior
Analysis, Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of School
Psychologists, and Texas Association for Behavior Analysis. We acknowledge and thank these professional organizations
that have provided substantial guidance and clear models from which the Code has evolved.

Approved by the BACB’s Board of Directors on August 7, 2014.

This document should be referenced as: Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for
behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author.

© 2014 Behavior Analyst Certification Board,® Inc. (BACB®), all rights reserved. Ver. March 18, 2019.










Responsible Conduct of Behavior Analysts
Reliance on Scientific Knowledge
Boundaries of Competence
Maintaining Competence through Professional Development
Professional and Scientific Relationships
Multiple Relationships and Conflicts of Interest
Exploitative Relationships

Behavior Analysts’ Responsibility to Clients
Accepting Clients
Third-Party Involvement in Services
Rights and Prerogatives of Clients
Maintaining Confidentiality
Maintaining Records
Treatment/Intervention Efficacy
Documenting Professional Work and Research
Records and Data
Contracts, Fees, and Financial Arrangements
Accuracy in Billing Reports
Referrals and Fees
Interrupting or Discontinuing Services

Assessing Behavior
Behavior-Analytic Assessment
Medical Consultation
Behavior-Analytic Assessment Consent
Explaining Assessment Results
Consent-Client Records

Behavior Analysts and the Behavior-Change Program
Conceptual Consistency
Involving Clients in Planning and Consent
Individualized Behavior-Change Programs
Approving Behavior-Change Programs
Describing Behavior-Change Program Objectives
Describing Conditions for Behavior-Change Program Success
Environmental Conditions that Interfere with Implementation
Considerations Regarding Punishment Procedures
Least Restrictive Procedures
Avoiding Harmful Reinforcers
Discontinuing Behavior-Change Programs and Behavior-Analytic





Contents, continued






Behavior Analysts as Supervisors
Supervisory Competence
Supervisory Volume
Supervisory Delegation
Designing Effective Supervision and Training
Communication of Supervision Conditions
Providing Feedback to Supervisees
Evaluating the Effects of Supervision

Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to the Profession of Behavior Analysts
Affirming Principles
Disseminating Behavior Analysis

Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues
Promoting an Ethical Culture
Ethical Violations by Others and Risk of Harm

Public Statements
Avoiding False or Deceptive Statements
Intellectual Property
Statements by Others
Media Presentations and Media-Based Services
Testimonials and Advertising
In-Person Solicitation

Behavior Analysts and Research
Conforming with Laws and Regulations
Characteristics of Responsible Research
Informed Consent
Using Confidential Information for Didactic or Instructive Purposes
Grant and Journal Reviews
Acknowledging Contributions
Accuracy and Use of Data

10.0 Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to the BACB
10.01 Truthful and Accurate Information Provided to the BACB
10.02 Timely Responding, Reporting, and Updating of Information Provided to the BACB
10.03 Confidentiality and BACB Intellectual Property
10.04 Examination Honesty and Irregularities
10.05 Compliance with BACB Supervision and Coursework Standards
10.06 Being Familiar with This Code
10.07 Discouraging Misrepresentation by Non-Certified Individuals





1.0 Responsible Conduct of Behavior Analysts.

Behavior analysts maintain the high standards of behavior of the profession.

1.01 Reliance on Scientific Knowledge.
Behavior analysts rely on professionally derived knowledge based on science and behavior analysis when
making scientific or professional judgments in human service provision, or when engaging in scholarly or
professional endeavors.

1.02 Boundaries of Competence.

(a) All behavior analysts provide services, teach, and conduct research only within the boundaries of their
competence, defined as being commensurate with their education, training, and supervised experience.

(b) Behavior analysts provide services, teach, or conduct research in new areas (e.g., populations,
techniques, behaviors) only after first undertaking appropriate study, training, supervision, and/or
consultation from persons who are competent in those areas.

1.03 Maintaining Competence through Professional Development.

Behavior analysts maintain knowledge of current scientific and professional information in their areas
of practice and undertake ongoing efforts to maintain competence in the skills they use by reading the
appropriate literature, attending conferences and conventions, participating in workshops, obtaining
additional coursework, and/or obtaining and maintaining appropriate professional credentials.

1.04 Integrity.

(a) Behavior analysts are truthful and honest and arrange the environment to promote truthful and honest
behavior in others.

(b) Behavior analysts do not implement contingencies that would cause others to engage in fraudulent,
illegal, or unethical conduct.

(c) Behavior analysts follow through on obligations, and contractual and professional commitments with
high quality work and refrain from making professional commitments they cannot keep.

(d) Behavior analysts’ behavior conforms to the legal and ethical codes of the social and professional
community of which they are members. (See also, 10.02a Timely Responding, Reporting, and Updating
of Information Provided to the BACB)

(e) If behavior analysts’ ethical responsibilities conflict with law or any policy of an organization with
which they are affiliated, behavior analysts make known their commitment to this Code and take steps
to resolve the conflict in a responsible manner in accordance with law.

Professional and Ethical Compliance Code
for Behavior Analysts





1.05 Professional and Scientific Relationships.
(a) Behavior analysts provide behavior-analytic services only in the context of a defined, professional,

or scientific relationship or role.
(b) When behavior analysts provide behavior-analytic services, they use language that is fully

understandable to the recipient of those services while remaining conceptually systematic with
the profession of behavior analysis. They provide appropriate information prior to service delivery
about the nature of such services and appropriate information later about results and conclusions.

(c) Where differences of age, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual
orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status significantly affect behavior analysts’ work
concerning particular individuals or groups, behavior analysts obtain the training, experience,
consultation, and/or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make
appropriate referrals.

(d) In their work-related activities, behavior analysts do not engage in discrimination against
individuals or groups based on age, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual
orientation, disability, language, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.

(e) Behavior analysts do not knowingly engage in behavior that is harassing or demeaning to persons
with whom they interact in their work based on factors such as those persons’ age, gender, race,
culture, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic
status, in accordance with law.

(f) Behavior analysts recognize that their personal problems and conflicts may interfere with their
effectiveness. Behavior analysts refrain from providing services when their personal circumstances
may compromise delivering services to the best of their abilities.

1.06 Multiple Relationships and Conflicts of Interest.

(a) Due to the potentially harmful effects of multiple relationships, behavior analysts avoid multiple

(b) Behavior analysts must always be sensitive to the potentially harmful effects of multiple
relationships. If behavior analysts find that, due to unforeseen factors, a multiple relationship has
arisen, they seek to resolve it.

(c) Behavior analysts recognize and inform clients and supervisees about the potential harmful effects
of multiple relationships.

(d) Behavior analysts do not accept any gifts from or give any gifts to clients because this constitutes a
multiple relationship.

1.07 Exploitative Relationships.

(a) Behavior analysts do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other
authority such as students, supervisees, employees, research participants, and clients.





(b) Behavior analysts do not engage in sexual relationships with clients, students, or supervisees,
because such relationships easily impair judgment or become exploitative.

(c) Behavior analysts refrain from any sexual relationships with clients, students, or supervisees, for at
least two years after the date the professional relationship has formally ended.

(d) Behavior analysts do not barter for services, unless a written agreement is in place for the barter that
is (1) requested by the client or supervisee; (2) customary to the area where services are provided;
and (3) fair and commensurate with the value of behavior-analytic services provided.

2.0 Behavior Analysts’ Responsibility to Clients.

Behavior analysts have a responsibility to operate in the best interest of clients. The term client as used
here is broadly applicable to whomever behavior analysts provide services, whether an individual
person (service recipient), a parent or guardian of a service recipient, an organizational representative, a
public or private organization, a firm, or a corporation.

2.01 Accepting Clients.

Behavior analysts accept as clients only those individuals or entities whose requested services are
commensurate with the behavior analysts’ education, training, experience, available resources,
and organizational policies. In lieu of these conditions, behavior analysts must function under the
supervision of or in consultation with a behavior analyst whose credentials permit performing such

2.02 Responsibility.

Behavior analysts’ responsibility is to all parties affected by behavior-analytic services. When multiple
parties are involved and could be defined as a client, a hierarchy of parties must be established and
communicated from the outset of the defined relationship. Behavior analysts identify and
communicate who the primary ultimate beneficiary of services is in any given situation and advocate
for his or her best interests.

2.03 Consultation.

(a) Behavior analysts arrange for appropriate consultations and referrals based principally on the best
interests of their clients, with appropriate consent, and subject to other relevant considerations,
including applicable law and contractual obligations.

(b) When indicated and professionally appropriate, behavior analysts cooperate with other
professionals, in a manner that is consistent with the philosophical assumptions and principles of
behavior analysis, in order to effectively and appropriately serve their clients.





2.04 Third-Party Involvement in Services.

(a) When behavior analysts agree to provide services to a person or entity at the request of a third
party, behavior analysts clarify, to the extent feasible and at the outset of the service, the nature of
the relationship with each party and any potential conflicts. This clarification includes the role of
the behavior analyst (such as therapist, organizational consultant, or expert witness), the probable
uses of the services provided or the information obtained, and the fact that there may be limits to

(b) If there is a foreseeable risk of behavior analysts being called upon to perform conflicting roles
because of the involvement of a third party, behavior analysts clarify the nature and direction of
their responsibilities, keep all parties appropriately informed as matters develop, and resolve the
situation in accordance with this Code.

(c) When providing services to a minor or individual who is a member of a protected population at the
request of a third party, behavior analysts ensure that the parent or client-surrogate of the ultimate
recipient of services is informed of the nature and scope of services to be provided, as well as their
right to all service records and data.

(d) Behavior analysts put the client’s care above all others and, should the third party make
requirements for services that are contraindicated by the behavior analyst’s recommendations,
behavior analysts are obligated to resolve such conflicts in the best interest of the client. If said
conflict cannot be resolved, that behavior analyst’s services to the client may be discontinued
following appropriate transition.

2.05 Rights and Prerogatives of Clients.

(a) The rights of the client are paramount and behavior analysts support clients’ legal rights and

(b) Clients and supervisees must be provided, on request, an accurate and current set of the behavior
analyst’s credentials.

(c) Permission for electronic recording of interviews and service delivery sessions is secured from
clients and relevant staff in all relevant settings. Consent for different uses must be obtained
specifically and separately.

(d) Clients and supervisees must be informed of their rights and about procedures to lodge complaints
about professional practices of behavior analysts with the employer, appropriate authorities, and the

(e) Behavior analysts comply with any requirements for criminal background checks.

2.06 Maintaining Confidentiality.

(a) Behavior analysts have a primary obligation and take reasonable precautions to protect the
confidentiality of those with whom they work or consult, recognizing that confidentiality may be
established by law, organizational rules, or professional or scientific relationships.





(b) Behavior analysts discuss confidentiality at the outset of the relationship and thereafter as new
circumstances may warrant.

(c) In order to minimize intrusions on privacy, behavior analysts include only information germane
to the purpose for which the communication is made in written, oral, and electronic reports,
consultations, and other avenues.

(d) Behavior analysts discuss confidential information obtained in clinical or consulting relationships,
or evaluative data concerning clients, students, research participants, supervisees, and employees,
only for appropriate scientific or professional purposes and only with persons clearly concerned
with such matters.

(e) Behavior analysts must not share or create situations likely to result in the sharing of any identifying
information (written, photographic, or video) about current clients and supervisees within social
media contexts.

2.07 Maintaining Records.

(a) Behavior analysts maintain appropriate confidentiality in creating, storing, accessing, transferring,
and disposing of records under their control, whether these are written, automated, electronic, or in
any other medium.

(b) Behavior analysts maintain and dispose of records in accordance with applicable laws, regulations,
corporate policies, and organizational policies, and in a manner that permits compliance with the
requirements of this Code.

2.08 Disclosures.

Behavior analysts never disclose confidential information without the consent of the client, except
as mandated by law, or where permitted by law for a valid purpose, such as (1) to provide needed
professional services to the client, (2) to obtain appropriate professional consultations, (3) to protect
the client or others from harm, or (4) to obtain payment for services, in which instance disclosure is
limited to the minimum that is necessary to achieve the purpose. Behavior analysts recognize that
parameters of consent for disclosure should be acquired at the outset of any defined relationship and is
an ongoing procedure throughout the duration of the professional relationship.

2.09 Treatment/Intervention Efficacy.

(a) Clients have a right to effective treatment (i.e., based on the research literature and adapted to the
individual client). Behavior analysts always have the obligation to advocate for and educate the
client about scientifically supported, most-effective treatment procedures. Effective treatment
procedures have been validated as having both long-term and short-term benefits to clients and

(b) Behavior analysts have the responsibility to advocate for the appropriate amount and level of





service provision and oversight required to meet the defined behavior-change program goals.
(c) In those instances where more than one scientifically supported treatment has been established,

additional factors may be considered in selecting interventions, including, but not limited to,
efficiency and cost-effectiveness, risks and side-effects of the interventions, client preference, and
practitioner experience and training.

(d) Behavior analysts review and appraise the effects of any treatments about which they are aware that
might impact the goals of the behavior-change program, and their possible impact on the behavior-
change program, to the extent possible.

2.10 Documenting Professional Work and Research.

(a) Behavior analysts appropriately document their professional work in order to facilitate provision
of services later by them or by other professionals, to ensure accountability, and to meet other
requirements of organizations or the law.

(b) Behavior analysts have a responsibility to create and maintain documentation in the kind of detail
and quality that would be consistent with best practices and the law.

2.11 Records and Data.

(a) Behavior analysts create, maintain, disseminate, store, retain, and dispose of records and data
relating to their research, practice, and other work in accordance with applicable laws, regulations,
and policies; in a manner that permits compliance with the requirements of this Code; and in a
manner that allows for appropriate transition of service oversight at any moment in time.

(b) Behavior analysts must retain records and data for at least seven (7) years and as otherwise required
by law.

2.12 Contracts, Fees, and Financial Arrangements.

(a) Prior to the implementation of services, behavior analysts ensure that there is in place a signed
contract outlining the responsibilities of all parties, the scope of behavior-analytic services to be
provided, and behavior analysts’ obligations under this Code.

(b) As early as is feasible in a professional or scientific relationship, behavior analysts reach an
agreement with their clients specifying compensation and billing arrangements.

(c) Behavior analysts’ fee practices are consistent with law and behavior analysts do not misrepresent
their fees. If limitations to services can be anticipated because of limitations in funding, this is
discussed with the client as early as is feasible.

(d) When funding circumstances change, the financial responsibilities and limits must be revisited with
the client.





2.13 Accuracy in Billing Reports.

Behavior analysts accurately state the nature of the services provided, the fees or charges, the identity of
the provider, relevant outcomes, and other required descriptive data.

2.14 Referrals and Fees.

Behavior analysts must not receive or provide money, gifts, or other enticements for any professional
referrals. Referrals should include multiple options and be made based on objective determination
of the client need and subsequent alignment with the repertoire of the referee. When providing or
receiving a referral, the extent of any relationship between the two parties is disclosed to the client.

2.15 Interrupting or Discontinuing Services.

(a) Behavior analysts act in the best interests of the client and supervisee to avoid interruption or
disruption of service.

(b) Behavior analysts make reasonable and timely efforts for facilitating the continuation of behavior-
analytic services in the event of unplanned interruptions (e.g., due to illness, impairment,
unavailability, relocation, disruption of funding, disaster).

(c) When entering into employment or contractual relationships, behavior analysts provide for orderly
and appropriate resolution of responsibility for services in the event that the employment or
contractual relationship ends, with paramount consideration given to the welfare of the ultimate
beneficiary of services.

(d) Discontinuation only occurs after efforts to transition have been made. Behavior analysts
discontinue a professional relationship in a timely manner when the client: (1) no longer needs the
service, (2) is not benefiting from the service, (3) is being harmed by continued service, or (4) when
the client requests discontinuation. (See also, 4.11 Discontinuing Behavior-Change Programs and
Behavior-Analytic Services)

(e) Behavior analysts do not abandon clients and supervisees. Prior to discontinuation, for whatever
reason, behavior analysts: discuss service needs, provide appropriate pre-termination services,
suggest alternative service providers as appropriate, and, upon consent, take other reasonable steps

to facilitate timely transfer of responsibility to another provider.

3.0 Assessing Behavior.

Behavior analysts using behavior-analytic assessment techniques do so for purposes that are
appropriate given current research.





3.01 Behavior-Analytic Assessment.

(a) Behavior analysts conduct current assessments prior to making recommendations or developing
behavior-change programs. The type of assessment used is determined by client’s needs and consent,
environmental parameters, and other contextual variables. When behavior analysts are developing a
behavior-reduction program, they must first conduct a functional assessment.

(b) Behavior analysts have an obligation to collect and graphically display data, using behavior-analytic
conventions, in a manner that allows for decisions and recommendations for behavior-change
program development.

3.02 Medical Consultation.

Behavior analysts recommend seeking a medical consultation if there is any reasonable possibility that a
referred behavior is influenced by medical or biological variables.

3.03 Behavior-Analytic Assessment Consent.

(a) Prior to conducting an assessment, behavior analysts must explain to the client the procedure(s) to
be used, who will participate, and how the resulting information will be used.

(b) Behavior analysts must obtain the client’s written approval of the assessment procedures before
implementing them.

3.04 Explaining Assessment Results.

Behavior analysts explain assessment results using language and graphic displays of data that are
reasonably understandable to the client.

3.05 Consent-Client Records.

Behavior analysts obtain the written consent of the client before obtaining or disclosing client records
from or to other sources, for assessment purposes.

4.0 Behavior Analysts and the Behavior-Change
Behavior analysts are responsible for all aspects of the behavior-change program from conceptualization
to implementation and ultimately to discontinuation.





4.01 Conceptual Consistency.

Behavior analysts design behavior-change programs that are conceptually consistent with behavior-
analytic principles.

4.02 Involving Clients in Planning and Consent.

Behavior analysts involve the client in the planning of and consent for behavior-change programs.

4.03 Individualized Behavior-Change Programs.

(a) Behavior analysts must tailor behavior-change programs to the unique behaviors, environmental
variables, assessment results, and goals of each client.

(b) Behavior analysts do not plagiarize other professionals’ behavior-change programs.

4.04 Approving Behavior-Change Programs.

Behavior analysts must obtain the client’s written approval of the behavior-change program before
implementation or making significant modifications (e.g., change in goals, use of new procedures).

4.05 Describing Behavior-Change Program Objectives.

Behavior analysts describe, in writing, the objectives of the behavior-change program to the client
before attempting to implement the program. To the extent possible, a risk-benefit analysis should be
conducted on the procedures to be implemented to reach the objective. The description of program
objectives and the means by which they will be accomplished is an ongoing process throughout the
duration of the client-practitioner relationship.

4.06 Describing Conditions for Behavior-Change Program Success.

Behavior analysts describe to the client the environmental conditions that are necessary for the
behavior-change program to be effective.

4.07 Environmental Conditions that Interfere with Implementation.

(a) If environmental conditions prevent implementation of a behavior-change program, behavior
analysts recommend that other professional assistance (e.g., assessment, consultation or therapeutic
intervention by other professionals) be sought.

(b) If environmental conditions hinder implementation of the behavior-change program, behavior
analysts seek to eliminate the environmental constraints, or identify in writing the obstacles to
doing so.





4.08 Considerations Regarding Punishment Procedures.

(a) Behavior analysts recommend reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible.
(b) If punishment procedures are necessary, behavior analysts always include reinforcement procedures

for alternative behavior in the behavior-change program.
(c) Before implementing punishment-based procedures, behavior analysts ensure that appropriate

steps have been taken to implement reinforcement-based procedures unless the severity or
dangerousness of the behavior necessitates immediate use of aversive procedures.

(d) Behavior analysts ensure that aversive procedures are accompanied by an increased level of training,
supervision, and oversight. Behavior analysts must evaluate the effectiveness of aversive procedures
in a timely manner and modify the behavior-change program if it is ineffective. Behavior analysts
always include a plan to discontinue the use of aversive procedures when no longer needed.

4.09 Least Restrictive Procedures.

Behavior analysts review and appraise the restrictiveness of procedures and always recommend the
least restrictive procedures likely to be effective.

4.10 Avoiding Harmful Reinforcers.
Behavior analysts minimize the use of items as potential reinforcers that may be harmful to the health

and development of the client, or that may require excessive motivating operations to be effective.

4.11 Discontinuing Behavior-Change Programs and Behavior-Analytic Services.

(a) Behavior analysts establish understandable and objective (i.e., measurable) criteria for the
discontinuation of the behavior change program and describe them to the client. (See also, 2.15d
Interrupting or Discontinuing Services)

(b) Behavior analysts discontinue services with the client when the established criteria for
discontinuation are attained, as in when a series of agreed-upon goals have been met. (See also,
2.15d Interrupting or Discontinuing Services)

5.0 Behavior Analysts as Supervisors.

When behavior analysts are functioning as supervisors, they must take full responsibility for all facets
of this undertaking. (See also, 1.06 Multiple Relationships and Conflict of Interest, 1.07 Exploitative
Relationships, 2.05 Rights and Prerogatives of Clients, 2.06 Maintaining Confidentiality, 2.15
Interrupting or Discontinuing Services, 8.04 Media Presentations and Media-Based Services, 9.02
Characteristics of Responsible Research, 10.05 Compliance with BACB Supervision and …

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