What Is ABA?

Photo source: www.littleleaves.org

If you are not currently working as an ABA Therapist or the parent of a child who receives ABA Therapy you might be wondering :

"What is ABA??"

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science of changing socially significant behavior. 
ABA has its origins in the scientific work of B.F. Skinner. In its early days, ABA research was about studying how individuals and animals respond under certain conditions (Operant Conditioning), and had nothing to do with Autism, therapy, or special needs. It was simply a science of understanding how behaviors are established, and how they can be changed.

A 1987 Lovaas study is credited with pushing ABA forward, as a science that can be applied to real world issues/challenges.  This is when what we now think of as  formal ABA Therapy began to take shape. 

At that time in history, Autism was considered to be a mysterious and baffling condition that was met with despair and sadness, and parents were advised to institutionalize their Autistic child and move on with their life. 
The methods of this study reflect their time, and punishment heavy strategies were used to change behavior. It is important to note that by the 1990's, research was pretty consistent that punishment simply does not work long-term. All it does is give short term gains.
Advancements in technology and better ethical standards, as well as a better understanding of learning differences, have shaped ABA as a science. Aversives and punishment strategies should not be the go-to strategy of a quality ABA program today.

As times changed, years passed, and with more of us ABA practitioners listening to the voices and concerns of actually Autistic people (please read up on the ABA Reform movement), ABA remains a science that must always be improving, always changing, and always evolving, to make sure we are not seeking to "fix" our clients but to support them and help them overcome day-to-day barriers. 

Today, a diagnosis of Autism should not be met with sadness or despair. It should be met with with a commitment to understand more about neurological differences, and to help provide support at whatever level would be most appropriate, across the lifespan.

You have likely heard ABA & ABA Therapy used interchangeably, but from reading this post you now know that ABA is a scientific study of behavior. 

Now let's talk about ABA Therapy:

 ABA Therapy is an umbrella term that covers many styles of teaching/treatment, such as Verbal Behavior (VB), Natural Environment Teaching (NET),  and Discrete Trial Training (DTT). ABA professionals mainly work in the areas of behavior reduction or skill acquisition.

 ABA Therapy incorporates behavioral techniques such as reinforcement, prompting, consistent consequences, and extinction. Strengths are generalized and expanded upon, and deficits are remediated with functional skills in order to help the individual be more successful in their environment. Behavior reduction and skill acquisition are closely connected when it comes to ABA Therapy; typically being simultaneously targeted.

 ABA Therapy has decades of rigorous research to support its efficacy, and people all over the world use intensive ABA principles in order to teach new behaviors to children, adolescents, and adults.

Being a behavioral therapeutic method, ABA Therapy focuses on what is observable and measurable. Precise and frequent data collection drives the course of treatment.

 ABA Therapy can take place in the home setting, school setting, community setting(s), or at a center/clinic. ABA Therapy is usually provided by ABA therapists, and the therapists should be supervised by a Consultant (usually a Board Certified Behavior Analyst).

ABA Therapy focuses on understanding behavior by its function, combined with examining the environment in order to develop a comprehensive strategy for behavior reduction.

ABA therapy is not limited to a specific population/diagnosis, age, or setting. ABA can be effective with a wide range of behaviors, challenges ranging from low to high intensity, and for simple, rote skills (e.g. putting on a sock) all the way up to more complicated and multi-component skills (e.g. decreasing high rates of employee turnover/resignations).

Examples of ABA Therapy goals could include:

Increase attending behaviors
Improve fine motor skills
Help with study skills for a college student
Extinguish self-injurious behaviors (SIB's) that cause harm
Reduce tantrumming behavior
Increase interaction among sibling groups
Generalize learned skills across environments
Social skill training for all ages (making friends, maintaining close relationships, dating, etc.)
A weight-loss or smoking cessation program for an adult
Successful homework completion
Increasing compliance to adult directives
Provide parent education in the area of behavior management 
Strategies for optimizing employee work performance and productivity
Intensive, comprehensive treatment (often appropriate for early intervention learners presenting with broad skill deficits and intensive problem behavior)
Brief, focused treatment (often appropriate for advanced learners presenting with a few areas of skill deficit, or moderate problem behavior)

If you would like more information about ABA or ABA Therapy, please see any of the links below:

'The Verbal Behavior Approach' by Dr. Mary Barbera

 *The Cooper book  (often called the "White Book")  is a more technical guide that I recommend for those wanting to dive into the concepts of terminology of ABA: 
Applied Behavior Analysis by Cooper, Heron, & Heward

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