ABA Ethics: Accepting Gifts



1.06 (d): Behavior analysts do not accept any gifts from or give any gifts to clients because this constitutes a multiple relationship. (from the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts. Ver. March 18, 2019. Behavior Analyst Certification Board)


Teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, admin staff, and more give and receive gifts during the holidays and other special events. Why not Behavior Analysts? The reason that we are not to give or accept gifts is because it would create a multiple relationship between the therapist and the client/ clients family where expectations might venture out of the realm of professional and into the area of favors, issues being overlooked, or special treatment.


What constitutes a gift? The BACB does not specify a dollar amount on gifts, so a $5 gift card, a notebook from the Target dollar bins, a box of cookies (homemade or store bought), or a $200 watch are all equally considered gifts. There can't possibly be a dollar amount placed on what is acceptable because the value of a set amount of money is subjective. While $20 could be a meaningless amount of money for one family, it could be a considerable amount for another family. This topic very quickly turns into a game of exaggerations on social media where people point out that they use the family's soap and water to wash their hands or enjoy their AC when they're in their home, but these things are clearly not gifts. How can you tell if something is not a gift? If you can get it for free at Walmart (water, soap, and toilet paper for single bathroom use, AC and heat in the environment, maybe even a glass of water) then it is NOT a gift.


Check out this FREEBIE: "What is a gift?" cheat-sheet

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Be proactive, talk to families about this ethics code when you start services, but then give reminders before major holidays. If someone wants to show their appreciation, let them know that a handmade craft or picture from a child, a thank you letter from a parent, or even a nice word can mean more then a gift of monetary value.


What if you simply don't agree with this? There have been many arguments of the cultural differences in the meaning of accepting or declining gifts, food, or drinks. I believe there are ways to handle these situations proactively to avoid causing offense AND remain within our ethics code. Remember that 10.06 states that "Lack of awareness or misunderstanding of a conduct standard is not itself a defense to a charge of unethical conduct.". Instead of breaking the ethics code because you don't agree with it, get involved and try to make a difference!


Check out the CEU "Ethics Review for the Holidays...and Beyond" for an in-depth look at this and similar topics.

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© 2015 by Melissa Druskis

Please consult a qualified BCBA before implementing an ABA program for dangerous behaviors

The views and opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the people, institutions, or organizations that I may be affiliated with.