Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABA) is a scientifically validated approach to understand behavior and how it is affected by the environment. In this context, “behavior" refers to actions and skills. "Environment" includes any influence – physical or social – that might change/affect or be changed/affected by one's behavior.
It is the application of the principles of learning and motivation from Behaviour Analysis, and the procedures and technology derived from those principles, to the solution of problems of social significance.
On a practical level, the principles and methods of behavior analysis have helped many different kinds of learners acquire many different skills – from healthier lifestyles to the mastery of a new language. Many decades of research have validated treatments based on ABA.Since the 1960s, therapists have been applying behavior analysis to help children with autism and related developmental disorders.
What is Applied Behaviour Analysis?
Behaviour analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning in an individual takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.
As mentioned, behavior analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders in the 1960s. Early techniques often involved adults directing most of the instruction. Some allowed the child to take the lead. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism – from toddlers through adulthood.
These techniques can be used in structured situations such as a classroom lesson as well as in "everyday" situations such as family dinnertime or the neighborhood playground. Some ABA therapy sessions involve one-on-one interaction between the behavior analyst and the participant. Group instruction can likewise prove useful.
Procedures of ABA Therapy:
Effective ABA intervention for autism is not a "one size fits all" approach and should never be viewed as a "canned" set of programs or drills. On the contrary, a skilled therapist customizes the intervention to each learner's skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner. That said, quality ABA programs for learners with autism have the following in common:
Planning and Ongoing Assessment:
- A qualified and trained behavior analyst designs and directly oversees the intervention.
- The analyst’s development of treatment goals stems from a detailed assessment of each learner's skills and preferences and may also include family goals.
- Treatment goals and instruction are developmentally appropriate and target a broad range of skill areas such as communication, sociability, self-care, play and leisure, motor development and academic skills.
- Goals emphasize skills that will enable learners to become independent and successful in both the short and long terms.
- The instruction plan breaks down desired skills into manageable steps to be taught from the simplest (e.g. imitating single sounds) to the more complex (e.g. carrying on a conversation).
- The intervention involves ongoing objective measurement of the learner’s progress.
- The behavior analyst frequently reviews information on the learner’s progress and uses this to adjust procedures and goals as needed.
- The analyst meets regularly with family members and program staff to plan ahead, review progress and make adjustments as needed.
How Does ABA Benefit Those with Autism?
Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. Over the last decade, the nation has seen a particularly dramatic increase in the use of ABA to help persons with autism live happy and productive lives. In particular, ABA principles and techniques can foster basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, as well as complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective.
Socially Significant Behaviors
"Socially significant behaviors" include reading, academics, social skills, communication, and adaptive living skills. Adaptive living skills include gross and fine motor skills, eating and food preparation, toileting, dressing, personal self-care, domestic skills, time and punctuality, money and value, home and community orientation, and work skills.
ABA methods are used to support persons with autism in at least six ways:
- To increase behaviors (eg reinforcement procedures increase on-task behavior or social interactions);
- to teach new skills (eg, systematic instruction and reinforcement procedures teach functional life skills, communication skills, or social skills);
- To maintain behaviors (eg, teaching self-control and self-monitoring procedures to maintain and generalize job-related social skills);
- To generalize or to transfer behavior from one situation or response to another (eg, from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom);
- To restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviors occur (eg, modifying the learning environment); and
- To reduce interfering behaviors (eg, self-injury or stereotypy).
- Teaching for generalization- initially, therapy is usually conducted in a less chaotic environment, with the idea that having fewer distractions around in the learning environment will assist the child to focus and learn the task at hand. Programming for generalization takes into account the need for behaviors to occur across all environments, independently, and spontaneously. Thus, criteria are set to include various setting and stimuli and a skill is not determined to be mastered unless and until the child demonstrates independent ability to perform the skill across such environments.
ABA is an objective discipline. ABA focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.