Applied Behavior Analysis


What is ABA?

     ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis.  Behavior analysis is a scientific approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. “Behavior” refers to all kinds of actions and skills (not just misbehavior), and “environment” includes all sorts of physical and social events that might change or be changed by one's behavior. The science of behavior analysis focuses on principles (that is, general laws) about how behavior works, or how learning takes place. For example, one principle of behavior analysis is positive reinforcement: When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a “reward”), that behavior is 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 be harmful or that interfere with learning. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of those techniques and principles to address socially important problems, and to bring about meaningful behavior change.  Individuals who practice ABA are responsible for being familiar with current research regarding effective treatment and planning.   The Behavior Analyst Certification Board provides conduct guidelines for all practitioners and clearly states that Behavior Analysts should rely on scientifically and professionally derived knowledge when making scientific or professional judgements about the services they are providing.  This helps to ensure that ABA based approaches are specific to the need rather than trying a variety of different strategies to find out what works.

Who Can Benefit from ABA?

ABA methods have been used successfully with many kinds of learners of all ages, with and without disabilities, in many different settings. In the early 1960s, behavior analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders. Those pioneers used techniques in which adults directed most of the instruction, as well as some in which children took the lead. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism of all ages. Those techniques are used in both structured situations (such as formal instruction in classrooms) and in more “natural” everyday situations (such as during play or mealtime at home), and in 1-to-1 as well as group instruction. They are used to develop basic skills like attending, listening, and imitating, as well as complex skills like reading, conversing, and taking the perspective of others.

The use of ABA principles and techniques to help persons with autism live happy and productive lives has expanded rapidly in recent years. Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U. S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health.

Common Misconceptions ?

Many people confuse terminology when discussing ABA. There are many technical terms used in ABA and this often causes confusion for individuals and parents who are asked to employ these methods.  One of the most common misconceptions is that Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is ABA.  DTT is a tool used by many practitioners of ABA but ABA encompasses much more than DTT.  Discrete trial teaching is breaking down skills into the smaller components and teaching each component until mastery.  DTT is successful because it provides repetition, reinforcement and a systematic way to fade prompts

Another common misconception is that Verbal Behavior (VB) programs utilize a different approach from Applied Behavior Analysis.  Applied Behavior Analysis is utilized with all behaviors - it is not just for problem behaviors or just for verbal behaviors.  BF Skinner developed the application of behavior analysis and alopublished many other books about Applied Behavior Analysis, he also wrote the book Verbal Behavior.  In his book Verbal Behavior he focused on how individauals learn and engage in the behavior of language from a behavior analytic standpoint.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is not a separate intervention but a method utilized to work on the generalization of skills in a format that is both functional and natural.  ABA interventions support skills that are socially significant; therefore, generalization of skills across natural environments should always be the final goal.

For general information about behavior analysis and ABA, see:  The Association for Behavior Analysis International  Behavior Analyst Certification Board  American Psychological Association Archival Description of Behavioral Psychology  Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

Suggested Reading: 

Behaviorspeak: A Glossary of Terms in Applied Behavior Analysis by Bobby Newman, Kenneth F. Reeve, Sharon A. Reeve, Carolyn S. Ryan

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