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 early 1900’s with 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 or disability. It was simply a science of understanding how behaviors are formed, established, and how they can be changed.

 It was not until the study by Ivar Lovaas (published in 1987) with a group of Autistic children that what we now think of as traditional "ABA Therapy" began to take shape. 

At that time in history, Autism was considered to be a mysterious, hopeless condition, and parents were advised to institutionalize their child as soon as possible to receive lifelong care. Many people only recognized Autism in children (adults were underserved), and in high support need individuals (low support need individuals were often unable to be diagnosed). There were very little treatment options for families who had no idea how to support their children.

Lovaas’ study included 59 children ages 3 and under, and compared the impact of high quality intensive ABA Therapy, high quality less intensive ABA Therapy, and typical special education services but no ABA Therapy. The results of the study were: almost half of the children who received the high quality intensive ABA Therapy became indistinguishable from same age peers with improved cognitive functioning, and in follow up studies this group of children maintained these gains well into adolescence.  The study also demonstrated that children who remained in institutional care regressed greatly, and did not maintain the skills they had been taught. 

While the ABA of today (both as an industry, and the techniques used) is based on this research, ethically, the punishment heavy strategies utilized in this study should not be a part of ABA treatment today. Humane, compassionate care that incorporates client choice and respects client dignity would not include the aversives and push for "normalcy" of early ABA research with Autistics and other Developmental Disabilities.

     In the mid -1990’s, a book written by a parent of an Autistic child (“Let Me Hear Your Voice”, by Catherine Maurice) pushed this substantial body of scientific knowledge out into the world, and quickly this “new ABA therapy” began to be sought out by parents all over the world.

     Explosion in public demand led to new funding sources, more populations to serve, and the profession of Behavior Analysis (the BACB) was born in 1998 in order to properly train and equip individuals to be practitioners of the science of ABA.

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

There's 2 important things to know about ABA Therapy:

  •  The research of B.F. Skinner - ABA therapy is based in the research and life work of B.F. Skinner, the Father of Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning states that behaviors that contact reinforcement are strengthened, and behaviors that contact punishment are weakened. ABA is the process of manipulating the environment (what the individual finds reinforcing or punishing) in order to increase or decrease behaviors.
  • The research of Ivar Lovaas -  Dr Lovaas' study showed that children born different, with motor, communication, and behavioral impairments need not be placed in institutional care. With intentional intervention that includes caregivers, new skills can be learned and dangerous, disruptive behaviors can be replaced with more appropriate behaviors. 

 ABA Therapy incorporates behavioral techniques such as reinforcement, prompting, consistent consequences, and extinction. Strengths are generalized and expanded upon, and deficits are replaced with 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.

Examples of ABA Therapy goals include:

Increase attending behaviors
Improve fine motor skills
Extinguish self-injurious behaviors (SIB's)
Reduce tantrumming behavior
Increase play behaviors with siblings
Generalize skills across environments
Successful homework completion
Increasing compliance to adult directives
Provide parent education in the area of behavior management 
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:


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