By Shawna Pope, Speech-Language Pathologist
I have long advocated for our field due to encroachment and sometimes outright take over from ABA therapists. I have numerous examples that have been sent to me regarding SLPs losing their clients due to an ABA therapist taking over and pushing them out. It has happened in schools, early intervention, private practice, and I am hearing about them making a move for nursing homes and home health. The biggest defense against this damage to our field is to point out that ABA is a set of principles that can be applied to any profession in an attempt to increase outcomes by using reinforcement. It is NOT a stand alone therapy, intervention, or teaching method. BCBAs or ABA therapists with no formal education hired by BCBAs to do therapy have zero training in language development, language disorders, anatomy, phonetics, literacy, literacy disorders, neuroanatomy, or any of the other coursework SLPs take to become speech, language, and communication experts.
Often the stories that have been sent to be describe a situation that begins as collaboration and ends in the ABA therapist taking over. In ABA, there is no room for another perspective or approach. ABAs like to "collaborate" because they need information from SLPs to know what to target and how to do it. And yes, many SLPs have told them before they realized what was happening.
I am aware there are examples of successful collaboration efforts between SLPs and ABAs and that not all ABAs practice outside of their scope. However, just because this sometimes occurs does not erase the need to advocate for our field and clients to attempt to lesson the damage being done.
This plan has been in the works for years. When I taught in higher ed I saw the encroachment begin. Now, in my former department there is reportedly a sign with an arrow pointing down the hall to the BAT department that says " Speech and Language Lab." This encroachment is not an accident. Some states have successfully intervened in the licensing attempt of ABA therapists to ensure that our scope of practice was not included in theirs. All states need to be aware of this and do the same. This issue is being discussed and planned for by ASHA and by the state associations. They cannot do it alone. All SLPs need to be advocates for their field and educate parents, our schools, and the general public on the differences between the practice of speech-language pathology and ABA principles.