Friday, August 6, 2010

Do Words Mean What We Want Them to Mean?

Too many things in our political, social and professional worlds are reminiscent of the exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

In her poem Scumble, 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armatrout wrote:

What if there were a hidden pleasure
in calling one thing
by another’s name?

Indeed, that seems to be the way of much of today’s world, and such misuse of words and the names of things have consequences.  We begin believing that the misused words actually mean something different than the do.  Repeal of a tax cut becomes a tax increase.  Repeal of pre-existing condition exclusions by health insurance companies becomes socialized medicine.

Elimination of the diagnostic category, Asperger’s disorder from the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association,  as has been proposed, will apparently expunge from existence people with the condition we now recognize as Asperger disorder.  One wonders where they will go.  Perhaps there is a diagnostic purgatory for people with conditions that have fallen out of favor among child psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

Because early intensive behavioral intervention has proven to be the most effective treatments for many young children with autism, it has been proposed in some states that one must be certified as a behavior analyst in order to be reimbursed for providing those services.  But what if one has comparable training and experience in applied behavior analysis and working with youngsters with autism, and is a licensed teacher, or speech language pathologist or psychologist?  Does that mean such individuals recognized by their state governments as qualified professionals, would be unable to be paid for such services?  Does the term “behavior analyst” mean only “certified behavior analyst” recognized by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board?  Perhaps like Humpty Dumpty, a word means what someone wants it to mean, or perhaps is should not. 


  1. In some states BCBA's cannot practice ABA outside of a clinic or a school because they are not licensed psychologists.

    I'd sooner protect BCBA's than OTs or clinical psychologists.

  2. Good point. My concern is about people with equivalent training in applied behavior analysis and autism (for example, many universities and colleges offer autism certificate training at the MA level) but who would be disqualified due to lack of BCBA certifcation. I don't know of any OTs trained in ABA and autism, though there may be a few.