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What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

what-is-applied-behavior-analysisApplied behavioral analysis, or ABA, refers to the application of behavioral principles in real life situations with the intention of changing targeted behaviors over a period of time. These targeted behaviors can either be increased or decreased in frequency.

ABA is an approach used primarily, and quite successfully, with people on the autistic spectrum. This approach can also be useful in improving behavioral disorders and issues related to severe intellectual impairments. Sometimes it is referred to as Lovaas in those within the autism community, after Dr. Ivan Lovaas, the developer of the methods used in ABA.

Here's a look at the components of ABA and ways in which it can be used to modify behavior.

About ABA

Some of the skills or behaviors commonly targeted for increase in individuals with autism are social skills, independence and language skills. Unwanted behaviors like self-injury, aggression and self-stimulation are examples of things that can be reduced through the use of ABA. Principles of learning theory are used in the guidance and implementation of ABA. In order to determine whether progress is occurring through the use of applied behavior analysis, data is collected and recorded with regard to individual responses associated with the targeted behavior being analyzed.

Progress, or lack of progress, influences the type of interventions used in an individual's behavior program, and adjustments are made accordingly. An ABA protocol is constantly evolving to meet the needs of a particular client. ABA principles can be used to address nearly any observable behavior, either through strategies to increase wanted behaviors or to decrease undesirable ones. Socially significant behaviors are given a great deal of focus in ABA. These include such skills as reading, adaptive living skills, social skills, academics and communication.

How It Works

A main component of ABA is the "discrete trial," which is sometimes shorted to simply "discrete." In a discrete trial, a child is asked to demonstrate a particular action or behavior. If the child complies, a reward is given. This reward should be something small, but meaningful to the child, such as praise, a piece of candy or a sticker. No reward is given if the child chooses not to complete the task. Then the discrete trial is repeated.

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The behaviors addressed in trials are different for every child based on his or her strengths, needs and personality. Tasks given to the child will be ones that are challenging or problematic for that specific child. In order to meet the developmental needs of very young children aged three or under, a modified form of ABA is utilized. This method is similar to that of play therapy.

ABA Considerations

When it comes to deciding whether ABA is the right approach for their children, parents will need to take a few things into consideration. This approach has been proven most effective in those with profound autism symptoms and ones who tend to do better in a structured environment. Families should consider their lifestyle, available programs in their geographic area and whether they think their child will benefit from the approach of ABA. This therapeutic approach may not be effective for some families.

The components of ABA have proven to be an effective method in the improvement of behaviors and skills among clients on the autism spectrum. Applied behavior analysis can help autistic children to decrease maladaptive behaviors while increasing socially significant ones.

Source: The Association for Behavior Analysis International