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Addressing Cultural Barriers in Applied Behavior Analysis

Addressing Cultural Barriers in Applied Behavior Analysis

Culture is defined as the way of life of a particular society or group of people, including patterns of thoughts, beliefs, behavior, customs, traditions, rituals, dress, language and arts, music and literature (Webster’s New Encyclopaedia, 1992).

From a behavioral perspective, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns. Considering this definition, Applied Behavior Analysis in itself has its own culture. Behavior analysts have their own beliefs, customs, thoughts, practices and even their own language sometimes called “behavior talk”, which in itself makes behavior analysis unique as a stand alone practice.

In the past decade, health professionals have made an increasing effort to understand the role of culture in counselling practice; however minimal research has been conducted specifically on the role of culture in practicing behavior analysis. The research on individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders in developing nations, such as Jamaica, is even fewer.

Behavior analytic principles and interventions originated in the United States and are therefore best applied to Westernized cultures. However, applying behavior analysis with a Western perspective is not applicable to families in developing countries. Therefore, it is important that behavior analysts find a way to create ABA programs that are culturally sensitive and relevant to meet the needs of other cultures. It is imperative that practitioners in the field address these issues as autism diagnoses are growing at an alarming rate.

The Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) states that about 1 in 88 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With this rapid rate of increase, the health and support services available in developing countries are having a tremendously hard time keeping up.

Jamaica suffers from a lack of resources, funding and professionals who are properly trained. The few professionals who actually are trained and skilled in their areas of expertise are overwhelmed with their caseloads and cannot afford to lower their prices.

So this poses the question, how do behavior analysts worldwide meet the pressing needs of developing countries that are struggling to support their population?  How can behavior analysts become culturally sensitive towards clients who have different beliefs and attitudes than them outside of the United States? Also, are there any reasonable, effective and affordable solutions to these issues?

The answers to these questions are convoluted and complex; however it is imperative that answers are found as there are several obstacles not only in in the diagnosis and treatment of ASD in developing countries, but independent practitioners and behavior analysts must make frequent decisions that affect many lives.

The core ethical principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis serve as a guide that practitioners use as they work to promote effective interventions across a broad spectrum of cultural practices. However, these core scientific principles cannot stand alone to be a sufficient guide when making decisions about multicultural cases as these can have potentially conflicting outcomes.???

Kaplan, D. (n.d.). A new focus on cultural sensitivity – Counseling Today. Counseling Today  ¬ª A Publication of the American Counseling Association. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://ct.counseling.org/2006/06/ct-online-ethics-update-7/
Lumpur, K., & Jalal, F. H. (2008). Cultural Issues in Counseling: An International Perspective. Counseling, Psychotherapy, Health, 4(1), 24-34.
Ruiz, M. R., & Roche, B. (2007). Values and the Scientific Culture of Behavior Analysis. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 30(1), 1–16.

33 blog avatar Addressing Cultural Barriers in Applied Behavior Analysis
Expert Name: Kimberly Woolery
Expert Title: Kimberly Woolery
Company Name:  Special Learning, Inc.
Company URL: www.special-learning.com
Short Bio: Kimberly Woolery received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in psychology from Florida

International University and her master’s degree in counseling psychology with a concentration in Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis from Nova Southeastern University. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Kimberly’s clinical research interests lies in achieving cultural competency in behavior analytic service delivery. As a clinical specialist at Special Learning, Kimberly hopes to fuse marriage and family therapy with behavior analysis to create a culturally sensitive service delivery model for the special needs population in developing countries like Jamaica.


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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
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