What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?


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Date Posted: February 28, 2018

ABA is based on the science of learning and behavior, using techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior. The name Applied Behavior Analysis replaced the term 'behavior modification' because that term wasn't consistent with relevant behavior-environment interactions.

Applied Behaviour Analysis changes behavior by assessing the functional relationship between a targeted behavior, and the environment. ABA aims to replace unwanted behavior with socially acceptable behavior. ABA has been accepted to help in many areas of behavioral problems including early intervention programs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The ABA approach teaches social, motor and verbal behaviors as well as reasoning skills. ABA is effective for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder because they may not otherwise pick up these behaviors on their own. ABA uses positive reinforcement and or prompting to teach the steps of behavior to get to the desired goal. Each step is reinforced with a reward when done correctly.

ABA also uses keen observation skills to see what may trigger a negative behavior and what happens after the behavior to reinforce it. The idea is to remove the triggers from the environment of the child. New reinforcers are then used to teach the child a different, appropriate behavior in response to the learned behavior.

ABA treatment can include any of the following teaching tools

Discrete Trial Training- An ABA practitioner gives an explicit instruction about the desired behavior. If the child responds correctly, the behavior is reinforced by a verbal prompt or a small treat. If the child is having difficulty and is not responding correctly, the practitioner will then use verbal or physical prompts to help the child learn what is being asked.

Incidental Teaching- This technique uses the same idea as Discrete Trial Training except the goal is to teach the child appropriate behavior through their day to day activities.

Pivotal Response Training- Here the target is crucial skills that are important or pivotal for other skills, which include social interaction, motivation, and response to multiple cues. The idea is that the child will then be able to generalize behavior from therapy to everyday settings and improve their social, communication, behavior and academic skills.

Fluency Building- This technique is designed to help a child build a complex behavior by teaching each element until it becomes fluent and natural.

Verbal Behavior- This technique is used to develop language and communication skills, and builds on each skill until there becomes verbal fluency.

Who can teach my child Applied Behavior Analysis?

The good news is that there are courses available for parents to learn the strategies within Applied Behaviour Analysis therapy so they can help their children themselves if the need arises, or to help reinforce therapy from a behavior interventionist, a behavior consultant, a speech therapist, or an occupational therapist.

The goal of ABA therapy is to make sure that team members and people that interact with our children are all learning the same skills and reinforcers so that our children will learn their skill sets as quickly as possible, without a change in the way it's treated. Parents are often instrumental in the teaching of Applied Behaviour Analysis not only because they are aware of what the child needs to be successful, but also knowing triggers that start inappropriate behavior.

When a plan is formed to start treatment through ABA therapy, it will take a team that has the same goal and the same therapy for the child, for it to be successful. Many experts believe that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder will be less likely to learn from their everyday environment which is why ABA therapy can be so helpful. It fills in the gaps by providing simple instructions, consistent reinforcement, and teaching tools the child may not otherwise have access to.

Early intervention is key to a positive outcome for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder because of the critical brain development during the preschool years.

Is Applied Behavior Analysis effective?

ABA is considered by many researchers and clinicians to be the most effective evidence-based therapeutic approach demonstrated thus far with children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In the United States, there has been over 30 years of research on the ABA approach which has shown very positive outcomes when used for early intervention. Studies show that about 50% of children with Autism who were treated with ABA therapy before the age of 4 had significant increases in IQ, verbal ability, and social functioning. Similar studies in older children have still shown improvement in behavior, but not as significant for those that received an earlier intervention.

Practitioners are well-trained professionals that are very gentle with their clients to ensure the ABA therapy is a positive experience that will benefit the child without fear and discomfort. ABA has also been proven to be more effective when used in conjunction with other treatments. Again, this reinforces that all members of a team who are supporting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder should learn to use ABA techniques to reach desired behaviors with consistency. Early intervention could include up to 40 hours per week of treatment. Therefore any reinforcement of therapy will be beneficial to the child.

What are complementary therapies?

There are many complementary therapies available to our children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is encouraging as we do know that each child with ASD is unique and will learn from many different approaches.  Some therapies that work well with ABA Therapy include Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Wearable Therapy, Behavior Intervention, Deep Pressure Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Vestibular Stimulation, among others.

The possibilities are almost limitless in helping children with Autism to progress and learn. When a team is working together to reach the same goal for our children, we will get the best results.

As parents, we don't always know what the best treatment options are for our children, or what the available therapies are, or how to go about getting our children involved with therapy. Ultimately, the decision is yours as to how you decide to deliver treatment to your child, as well as which therapies you choose that will benefit your child the most.

A behavior consultant is an excellent place to start with helping to decide on therapy that is best suited to your child. You can also consult your pediatrician or psychologist to see what treatment options will be most useful.

You are the parent, and you know what's best for your child. All of this is a learning process not only for the child but also for the parents and families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Do your very best to make informed decisions, and you will have the best outcome for your child.

Studies show that about 50% of children with Autism who were treated with ABA therapy before the age of 4 had significant increases in IQ, verbal ability, and social functioning.
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