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ACE'ing The Spectrum: Clarifying the Role of Trauma-informed Care within Applied Behavior Analytic Services for Autistic Individuals

  • Thursday, September 21, 2023
  • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
  • Online


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Lately there has been a lot of discussion and confusion surrounding applied behavior analysis (ABA) as a service for autistic individuals. Some have argued that ABA does more harm than good, while others argue that the benefits far outweigh any potential risks. This talk is an attempt to bring clarity, vocabulary, and nuance to this timely discussion.

The presenter, Adithyan (Dithu) Rajaraman, will point out characteristics of ABA services that can both contribute to and mitigate potential harm. Dr Rajaraman will first provide a brief historical overview of the relationship between ABA and autism with an emphasis on how contemporary controversies may have evolved. Next, he will define trauma and will outline core commitments of a trauma-informed care (TIC) framework and describe how they can be meaningfully incorporated into ABA services. He will attempt to illustrate how ABA can look and feel different depending on the inclusion or omission of TIC commitments. Finally, Dr. Rajaraman will orient attendees to some useful resources and conversations to help identify characteristics of ABA service providers to seek out (i.e., “green flags”) and to avoid (i.e., “red flags”).

Desired Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this presentation, attendees should be able to:

1. Articulate reasons why trauma may be more pervasive than most prevalence estimates suggest and describe associated behavioral and medical risks.

2. Describe multiple ways in which ABA procedures could potentially worsen trauma or trauma responses.

3. Outline the core commitments of trauma-informed care as they relate to ABA.

4. Distinguish “Red flags” from “green flags” to look for when finding ABA service providers.

**This presentation will not be recorded


Adithyan (Dithu) Rajaraman, has been blessed to teach, interact with, and learn from children and adolescents with and without disabilities for 15 years. Dithu completed his Doctoral training in Behavior Analysis at Western New England University, under the advisement of Dr. Greg Hanley. In 2019, he joined the faculty at UMBC, where he taught and mentored undergraduate and graduate students in behavior analysis. In the fall of 2022, Dithu joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, where he serves as Director of Behavior Analysis Research within TRIAD: the Autism Institute at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. In his current position, Dithu works alongside neurodivergent professionals and advocates, behavior analysts, students, and public-school educators on a broad research agenda aimed at refining and scaling trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming approaches to functional assessment and intervention for dangerous behavior. This research aim is intimately connected to the goal of being able to provide safe, dignifying, yet highly effective behavior-analytic services to underrepresented individuals in underserved communities.

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