In Memory of Todd R. Risley, Ph.D


Todd R. Risley, Ph.D., a founding father of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and dear friend to May Institute, died on November 2, 2007, at his home at the foot of Risley Mountain in his beloved Alaska.

Dr. Risley completed his doctorate at the University of Washington in 1966. He was a principal faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas during the early years of the field of ABA, and in recent years served as Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

 Known internationally for his research and writings, Dr. Risley was the author of three publications that are listed among those most frequently cited by other scientists. One of these publications was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote a seminal article in 1968 with colleagues Drs. Donald Baer and Montrose Wolf which provided a template for the development of the entire field of ABA. Another of his notable works, coauthored with Betty Hart, discusses how children acquire language; it continues to be frequently referenced and to generate much discussion. His formulation of time-out procedures has influenced the culture of our country and our approach to parental discipline.

Todd Risley was a long-time friend and advisor to May Institute. Over the past 30 years, his guidance and support have been major factors in the development of the Institute’s programs and services and its rise to national prominence in the field. A member of the Professional Advisory Board of May Institute since 1978, Dr. Risley was instrumental in the actualization of our mission.

May Institute President and CEO Walter P. Christian, Ph.D., ABPP, recalls Dr. Risley’s visits to Cape Cod in the early 1970s, when the Institute was comprised of only the Chatham school. “Todd came to Chatham many times in the early days of my tenure. He has had a profound influence on so many people associated with May Institute over the years.”

In addition to his decades-long affiliation with May Institute, Dr. Risley served on the professional Advisory Board of the National Autism Center in the two years prior to his death.

“Todd always saw the ‘big picture,’” said Dennis C. Russo, Ph.D., ABPP, Chief Clinical Officer of May Institute. “His guidance and leadership in our field, his mentorship of colleagues and collaborators, and his support of those of us at the Institute who knew him well will be greatly missed.”