What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior.

ABA therapy applies our understanding of how behavior works in real situations. The goal is to increase beneficial behaviors and reduce behaviors that are harmful or that affect learning.

ABA therapy programs can help:

Behavior analysis methods have been used and studied for decades. They have helped many types of learners acquire different skills – from healthy lifestyles to learning a new language. Therapists have used ABA to help children with autism and related developmental disorders since the 1960s.

How does ABA therapy work?

Applied behavior analysis includes several techniques for understanding and changing behavior. ABA is a flexible therapy:

Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA.
When a behavior follows something that is appreciated (a reward), the person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages a positive behavior change.
First, the therapist defines the target behavior. Every time a person successfully uses the behavior or skill, he gets a reward. Reward is meaningful to the individual – examples include a compliment, a game or book, watching a video, hitting a playground or other place, and more.
Positive rewards encourage the person to keep using the skill. Over time, this leads to a meaningful behavioral change.
Precedent, behavior, consequence
Understanding antecedents (what happens before the behavior occurs) and consequences (what happens after the behavior) is another important part of any ABA program.

The following three steps - "A-B-C" - help us teach and understand the behavior:

1. Precedent: This is what happens immediately before the targeted behavior. It can be verbal, such as a command or a request. It can also be physical, such as a toy or object, light, sound, or anything else in the environment. A precedent that may come from the environment, from another person, or be internal (such as an idea or feeling).
2. Resulting behavior: This is the person’s response or lack of response to antecedents. It could be an action, a verbal response, or something else.
3. Outcome: This is what comes directly after the behavior. It could include positive reinforcement of desired behavior, or lack of reaction to incorrect / inappropriate responses.
Looking at A-B-Cs helps us understand:
1. Why the behavior might occur
2. How might the different consequences affect the likelihood of the behavior occurring again
Precedent: “Time to clean your games” says the teacher at the end of the day.
Behavior: The student shouts “No!”
Result: The teacher removes the games and says “Okay, the game is completely finished.”
How can ABA help a student learn a more appropriate behavior in this situation?
Precedent: The teacher says “cleaning time” at the end of the day.
Behavior: The student is reminded with the question, “Can I have another 5 minutes?”
Score: The teacher says, “Of course you can have another 5 minutes!”
Through continuous practice, the student will be able to replace the inappropriate behavior with one that is more helpful. This is the easiest way for a student to get what she needs!

What is included in the ABA program?

Good ABA programs for autism are not “one size fits all”. ABA shouldn’t be considered as a prepackaged set of exercises. Instead, each program is written to meet the needs of the individual learner.
The goal of any ABA program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the short term as well as in the future.
Ongoing planning and evaluation
A qualified and trained behavior analyst (BCBA) directly designs and supervises the program. They customize the ABA Program according to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, and preferences and a family’s situation.
BCBA will begin with a detailed assessment of each person’s skills and preferences. They will use this to write specific treatment goals. Family goals and preferences may also be included.
Treatment goals are written based on the age and ability of the person with autism. Goals can include many different skill areas, such as:

The instruction plan breaks down each of these skills into small, concrete steps. The therapist teaches each step-by-step, from the simple (such as imitating individual voices) to the most complex (such as having a conversation).
BCBA and therapists measure progress by collecting data at each treatment session. The data helps them to continuously monitor a person’s progress toward goals.
The behavior analyst meets regularly with family members and program staff to review information about progress. They can then plan ahead and adjust teaching plans and goals as needed.
ABA Technologies and Philosophy
The trainer uses a variety of ABA routines. Some are directed by the trainer while others are directed by the autistic person.
Parents, family members and caregivers receive training so that they can support learning and skill practice throughout the day.
A person with autism will have many opportunities to learn and practice skills every day. This can happen in both planned and naturally occurring situations. For example, someone learning to greet others by saying “hello” might get a chance to practice this skill in the classroom with their teacher (planned) and on the playground during a break (it happens naturally).
The learner receives an abundance of positive reinforcement to demonstrate beneficial skills and socially appropriate behaviors. The focus is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning.
The learner does not receive any reinforcement for behaviors that cause harm or inhibit learning.
ABA is effective for people of all ages. It can be used from early childhood through adulthood!
Who provides ABA services?
A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) provides ABA therapy services. To become a BCBA, the following is required:

ABA treatment programs also include registered therapists or behavioral technicians (RBTs). These therapists are trained and supervised by BCBA. They work directly with children and adults with autism to practice skills and work toward individual goals written by BCBA. You may hear them referred to by a few different names: behavior therapists, line therapists, behavioral therapists, etc. To learn more, see the Behavior Analyst Accreditation Board website. What is the evidence that ABA works? ABA is considered the best evidence-based treatment by the American Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association. “Evidence-based” means that ABA has passed scientific tests for usefulness, quality and effectiveness. ABA treatment includes many different techniques. All of these approaches focus on antecedents (what happens before the behavior occurs) and consequences (what happens after the behavior). More than 20 studies have proven that intensive and long-term treatment using ABA principles improves outcomes for many but not all children with autism. The terms “intense” and “long term” refer to programs that provide 25 to 40 hours per week of treatment for a period of 1 to 3 years. These studies show gains in intellectual performance, language development, daily living skills, and social functioning. Studies in adults using ABA principles, although few in number, show similar benefits