What is ABA? Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapeutic practice that uses scientific principles to modify a person’s behavior in order to improve their quality of life.
How does ABA help people? ABA uses strategies backed by scientific research (such as reinforcement) to strengthen behaviors that positively impact the learner’s life. The goal of ABA is to help the learner develop skills that will maximize their happiness and independence. ABA can help people learn a variety of things, including:
Communicating appropriately for wants and needs
Reducing behaviors that interfere with happiness and independence by learning functional, sustainable replacement behaviors
Social and Play skills
Cognitive, Academic, and School Readiness skills
Adaptive and Self-Help skills such as toileting, getting dressed, doing chores, making meals
And much more!
Who provides ABA services? The BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) is in charge of assessing the client’s skills, creating individualized goals and designing therapeutic programs to meet those goals. They also analyze data that is collected from therapy sessions and modify therapeutic programs based on that data. Your BCBA will directly supervise the implementation of these programs on a weekly or biweekly basis, maintain contact with caregivers, and provide caregiver training. The BCBA has a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, has passed the rigorous board exam, and has garnered hundreds upon hundreds of hours of supervised experience in the field. The Individual Support Specialist works with the client directly on a day-to-day basis. They have a background in psychology, special education, or a similar field, and are responsible for implementing the BCBA’s therapeutic programs and collecting behavior data throughout therapy sessions. The Individual Support Specialist works very closely with the BCBA- they are in constant communication about therapeutic progress and decisions. What sort of strategies does ABA use to change behavior? A defining feature of ABA is its use of Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) to inform therapeutic programming. The teaching strategies employed with our learners are supported by a decades-long, continually growing body of research evidence. Below are some EBPs commonly used in ABA:
Reinforcement - Rewarding positive behaviors immediately after they occur to increase the likelihood that they occur in the future.
Functional Communication Training (FCT) - Reinforcing positive communication strategies, like saying “cookie please”, while withholding reinforcement for inappropriate communication strategies, like throwing a tantrum to get a cookie.
Prompting - Verbal, gestural or physical assistance given to a learner to help them engage in or learn a behavior.
Antecedent-Based Interventions - Modifying the events or environments that typically trigger a behavior in order to increase or decrease how often it occurs.
Discrete Trial Training - Structured teaching strategy involving the presentation of an instruction, the learner’s response, and an intentionally delivered consequence, with similar or repeated trials delivered subsequently.
Naturalistic Intervention - The embedding of learning opportunities into a learner’s normal routine to encourage the development of skills in their natural environment.
Task Analysis - Dividing a behavior into smaller and more manageable steps and teaching them piece by piece until the learner can perform the whole behavior.
The team working with your learner can identify the EBPs they’re using in their work with your learner.
Is ABA an effective service for people with Autism? Yes- ABA has been used for decades to help people with autism to develop a variety of skills, and it has a massive body of research to support its effectiveness at doing so. For more information about Autism, check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Does ABA only work for people with Autism? Absolutely not! ABA is considered the gold standard of therapeutic approaches to autism, but it’s also used to help people with Down Syndrome, ADHD, PDD-NOS, and other developmental disabilities. ABA observes the fundamental science of learning and behavior, so it can theoretically be used to help anybody. It’s even been used to help businesses improve the performance and quality of life of their workers!
What will my child learn through ABA? This is determined by several factors. When you start with Prism, your child will be assessed for their skill levels across behavioral domains. The results of this assessment will inform the provider which skills should be strengthened and which skills can be used to support the development of other skills. Your provider will also interview caregivers to get an idea of what your child’s day-to-day life is like, what supports they require, and what short- and long-term goals you have for your child. This will give them a better understanding of what behaviors would be most socially impactful for your child to learn or un-learn. Most importantly, your providers will be committed to understanding the goals and desires of your child themselves, giving them as much of a voice in the decision-making process as possible.
I’ve read articles about ABA being cruel. Should I be concerned? ABA has a checkered past that involved the use of inhumane and traumatizing practices to affect behavior change. Many ABA goals of the past prioritized the convenience of the individual’s caretakers, rather than the dignity and autonomy of the individual receiving services. The employment of these cruel practices has resulted in irreparable harm to the recipients of those practices, as well as to the field of ABA itself. They have since been condemned as unacceptable uses of ABA, and practitioners of modern times have caused a paradigm shift that celebrates the dignity and autonomy of neurodiverse individuals. Modern practitioners are committed to a code of ethics, “protecting the welfare and rights of clients above all others” (BACB Code of Ethics, Core Principles, p. 4). While never failing to acknowledge the field’s history, practitioners at Prism Behavioral Consulting have compassion and inclusivity at the forefront of the services we provide.