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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Considering the Biological and Medical Variables that Affect the Client

One of the ethical guidelines for behavior analysts is to “consider biological/medical variables that may be affecting the client” (as identified in item G-02 in the BACB Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts).

This can be a challenging task to accomplish in the context of everyday clinical practice. Sometimes its hard to know what behaviors are due to biological or medical variables and what behaviors are solely due to antecedent and consequence variables.

Consult with doctors and parents

To comply with this ethical guideline, professionals can keep in contact with doctors and parents of their clients to consult about biological or medical variables.

Doctors can share diagnosis and potential impacts of those medical diagnoses. They can also share information about potential side effects of any medications the client is taking.

Parents can keep the ABA professional informed about any illnesses the child may be experiencing. They can also provide background information on family history regarding biological or medical concerns.

Explore biological variables

Biological variables that might impact behavior include things like genetic conditions, brain chemistry, hormones, and nutrition.

Nutrition is typically only addressed in professional services when a child has a very limited diet or is a “picky eater” in some way. However, nutrition can play a major role in a child’s behaviors. This is not to say that ABA strategies should not be utilized to address the behaviors but it can certainly be helpful to address nutrition, as well.

From a cultural or societal perspective, it can also be helpful to consider how the larger environment views the child’s gender and what expectations they have for that gender. For instance, rough and tumble play may be more acceptable in boys than girls in some cultures. Also, being independent and assertive may be less acceptable in girls. These types of expectations and stereotypes based on gender might influence what is seen as “wrong” in a child’s behavior or what goals are requested to be worked on with the child.

Explore medical variables

Medical variables that may affect a client’s behavior are also important to consider. Medical variables can relate to any type of illness or injury. This can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).

Medical variables can include anything from a child who has a cold, a sore throat or an ear infection to asthma, a sprained ankle, food allergies, or the flu.

When children are experiencing symptoms of an illness or an injury, they may not display behavior that would typically be expected of them. It may take much more response effort to exhibit certain behaviors. It could even be painful to do certain things whey they are not feeling well.

This is all important to consider when you are working with children (and even when working with adults). You may need to make some accommodations in your treatment interventions when a child is experiencing medical symptoms.

Biological and Medical Factors

Be sure to consider biological and medical factors that may impact your clients. Consider consulting with a child’s doctor. Consulting with the child’s parent can also be helpful. You can add in a portion of your initial assessment and reassessments to check in with parents about potential biological or medical variables that could influence your client. You might even want to check in more frequently with parents about the status of the client’s health.



Considering the Biological and Medical Variables that Affect the Client

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2020). Considering the Biological and Medical Variables that Affect the Client. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from