Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The History and Evolution of Behavioral Approaches and Positive Behavioral Interventions

Derrick Dufresne

The Early History of Behavioral Approaches

Derrick Dufresne: The issue about our earliest days in behavior support, behavior management, behavior modification for people with disabilities actually goes pretty far back, and it goes back unintentionally maybe, and even unwittingly, to the work of people like Pavlov and Skinner and other people. And most people know about… When you hear about Pavlov's dog they talk about salivating where Pavlov paired the idea of the ringing of a bell with the feeding of a dog. And what he found out was that over time through, you know, classical conditioning that essentially what he could do would be able to ring the bell, offer no food, and the dog would salivate.

And then the other term that a lot of people have heard about is the Skinner Box with the rats and the mice, and the idea that you could get a rat to go from one side of the box to the other and give 'em a treat. You could get 'em to go from one side of the box to the other and back and give 'em a treat. And you could then get them to go back and forth for a while even if you didn't give them a treat. And so it was the idea of looking at the behavior of this.

Now, interestingly enough, there's two other names that people don't talk an awful lot about. One was a guy named Kantor, who was actually the guy that hired Skinner. So he actually was more of a humanist and Skinner was more of a behaviorist. And then, there's also a guy named Paul Fuller, who was a graduate student in Indiana in about 1949. So over 60 years ago, he was one of the first people that really said, "You know what? We really have to take a look at not just the behavior, but we have to take a look at the fact that this behavior is attached to a person."

And there was a lot of controversy at the beginning when we tried to translate what we knew about animal research to people, not just people with disabilities, but to people. But since we're talking about people with disabilities, all kinds of ethical issues came up about whether or not we were going to be manipulating people or whatever.

But it did lead to the first discussion about the idea that there were people that had, particularly what were called in the past, either maladaptive or unacceptable behaviors, and what we needed to do was to figure out a way to ameliorate or reduce or modify those behaviors. Thus came into being the term behavior modification. But it usually was talked about on the negative. It usually was talked about we have to take something away. We have to reduce something. And that was probably some of the earliest pieces of information that we had about those subjects.

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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