Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of behavior therapy. It focuses on improving specific types of behavior, such as communication skills, social skills, fine motor skills, and more. ABA is an effective therapy for many children and adults.
It’s a standard therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual handicaps, and various disabilities. ABA is the only therapy the FDA has approved for the treatment of autism.
If you’ve asked yourself, what is ABA, we have some answers. Here’s everything you need to know about Applied Behavior Analysis.
Understanding the ABCs of ABA
Applied Behavior Analysis is based on the work of B.F. Skinner, the father of Behaviorism.
Behaviorism focuses on understanding behavior. Three aspects of behavior include the stimulus, response, and reinforcement, also known as the ABCs of behavior. ABC stands for the antecedent, behavior, and consequence.
- The antecedent is the trigger or cause of the behavior.
- The behavior is the “action” or what the subject does.
- The consequence is what happens following the behavior.
The ABCs can help determine why the behavior continues to happen and how different consequences affect that behavior.
When Is ABA an Appropriate Therapy
ABA is a standard therapy for autistic children. The goal is to improve social interaction, engage in positive behaviors, and develop new skills.
ABA also helps individuals control situations that result in negative behaviors and in minimizing negative behaviors.
Many behavior experts consider ABA to be the gold-standard therapy for autism. But ABA helps treat other conditions as well. These include:
- Substance abuse
- Brain injuries
- Anxiety disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Anger problems
- Eating disorders
ABA helps individuals of all ages manage the lifestyle challenges that accompany many physical and mental health conditions.
The Goals of ABA
The goal of therapy depends on the needs of the individual. Typical goals for a child with autism are to improve the child’s response to situations, accelerate learning, improve focusing abilities, and learn personal tasks.
Personal tasks may include learning how to eat, bathe, or dress independently, or with less assistance. For some children, ABA helps to reduce self-harming behaviors or other tantrums.
The results of ABA for learners may include:
- An increased interest in people and surroundings
- Learning to ask or cue for things they want
- An increase in communication with others
- Stopping or reducing self-harm
- Gaining more focus in school
- A decrease in tantrums and outbursts
Many individuals benefit from ABA. Treatment success varies according to the severity of symptoms and how well learners adapt to therapy.
How Does It Work
ABA is a long-term therapy and involves many different techniques for achieving behavior goals. The therapy is flexible, depending on the individual needs of the learner.
- Therapists adapt ADA to the needs of the individual.
- Therapy can take place in various locations, including home, school, and community settings.
- Therapists teach basic living and coping skills.
- Therapy may be in a group setting or one-on-one.
The therapist creates a formal plan based on the results of the initial consultation. The plan should include concrete treatment goals specific to the learner’s needs.
Therapy often focuses on the individual need of the child. Treatment focuses on skills to help learners be more interdependent and thriving in the short-term and the future.
The plan should include strategies the therapist, special education teachers, and the caregivers will use to meet treatment goals. ABA works best when everyone is on the same page and following the objectives of the treatment goals.
Using Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is an essential aspect of ABA. When someone receives something of value (a reward) following a behavior, they are likely to repeat that behavior.
A therapist first identifies a specific behavior goal. Each time the learner repeats this behavior successfully, they receive a reward.
The reward must be something meaningful to the learner. It could be praise, stickers, a toy, watching a video, or others.
Getting the reward gives the learner an incentive to use the skill again or repeat positive behavior. Over time, this can result in meaningful and sustained behavior changes.
Types of Interventions
Therapy may vary depending on the learner’s age and specific challenges.
- Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) is for young children. It involves an individualized, intensive curriculum to teach communication, social, functional, and adaptive skills.
- Pivotal Response training allows the learner to take the lead in an activity. The therapist will offer a few activity choices that center around the targeted skill.
- Discrete trial training uses structured task completion and rewards to teach various skills.
- Verbal behavior interventions help learners to become more verbal and increase basic communication skills.
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) centers around play. The activities incorporate several specific goals at once.
ABA therapists attempt to uncover the root causes of troubling behaviors. The intent is to help the learner change negative behaviors and learn new ones.
Over time, it’s common for a therapist to adjust their approach based on how the learner responds to therapy.
While an individual is in treatment, the therapist should monitor their progress and analyze which strategies work. When a plan isn’t working or stops working, the learner may benefit from a new approach.
The Caregiver’s Role in Therapy
ABA relies on parents and caregivers to play a substantial role in the process. The therapist, teachers, and caregivers should be on the same team.
At home, caregivers should reinforce the work that’s taking place in therapy. Caregivers must learn how to avoid giving in to reinforcements that aren’t effective.
That may include giving in to what a child demands or giving in to tantrums.
What is ABA in the Home Setting
Some families choose for their children to receive therapy in their homes. It works well for some children who feel more comfortable learning life skills in their usual surroundings.
Parents shouldn’t attempt ABA on their own. It’s essential to have the guidance of a licensed therapist to help parents get started.
The therapist should work with the parents to develop a program suited to their child’s learning and behavioral needs. ABA is expensive, and some parents are using Telehealth services to receive professional guidance cost-effectively.
Applied Behavior Analysis is not without controversy. But most of the criticism stems from the way therapists performed ABA in the past.
Learners would spend up to 40 hours per week for therapy purposes. For much of this time, the child would sit at a desk or table to complete tasks.
Therapists used punishments to address unwanted behavior, and the emphasis was on making the child more neurotypical or “normal.” That is no longer the focus of ABA.
So, what is ABA, and how has it evolved?
Today, the old ideas have changed, and we now recognize the value of neurodiversity. In the world of autism, ABA treatment no longer focuses on “fixing” these children.
Instead, it focuses on helping them develop skills and behaviors to enhance their lives and offer a brighter future.
If you are interested in ABA or other behavior management solutions, we’d love to assist you and answer any questions you may have. Contact us today.