By: Megan Miller, MSEd, BCBA, NYS LBA
“Applied behavior analysis is the science in which the principles of analysis are applied systematically to improve socially significant behavior and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior change” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). In simpler terms, ABA makes changes to the environment in order to replace current behaviors with more appropriate behaviors. Keep in mind that “behavior” refers to anything a person does.
What ABA is Not
There are often several misconceptions regarding what ABA actually is. Let’s clarify that by telling you exactly what ABA is not. ABA is not, bribery, doesn’t turn kids into robots, it is not a “one size fits all” approach, it is not only for individuals with autism, it doesn’t only involve discrete trial training, it is not boot camp style, and lastly, it is not just a theory.
Who Can Provide ABA Therapy?
In most cases, a therapist, or registered behavior technicians (RBTs) will provide direct therapy to your child. Therapists and RBTs are trained and supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®). A BCBA® holds a Master’s Degree or PhD in psychology or behavior analysis, is required to pass national board certification exam, and holds a state license (in some states). The primary role of a BCBA® is to assess the child and develop an individualized intervention plan for them which will be implemented by the therapist and overseen by the professional behavior analyst. In most cases, the BCBA® will attend sessions weekly to supervise the therapist and will also provide a parent training session to the family.
Although you may only see your BCBA® on a weekly basis, there are a lot of things that they are responsible for behind the scenes. The BCBA® will also review records, interview parents and caregivers, conduct assessments, develop behavior intervention plans to decrease maladaptive behaviors, develop treatment intervention plans based on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, develop written procedures, train behavior technicians, caregivers, and others, provide ongoing supervision and monitoring of interventionists, provide ongoing, frequent direct observation and measurement of target behaviors and review and analysis of graphed data, adjusts protocols and targets based on the data, train interventionists to implement the revised protocols, review progress with the client, caregivers, and intervention team, provide coordination of care with other providers (e.g. medical doctors, school teachers), and write up reassessment reports.
What Does ABA Look Like?
It varies based upon the child’s individual needs, but most ABA programs will incorporate various teaching strategies throughout a single therapy session. Below are a few of the most common teaching strategies.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
- 1:1 teaching method
- Involves intensive learning of specific behaviors
- Big learning tasks are broken down into smaller steps
Natural Environment Teaching (NET)
- Teaches skills in settings where your child will naturally use them
- Uses the child’s natural motivation in the moment to provide meaningful learning opportunities
Individualized Treatment Plan
Most treatment plans will work on increasing skills in a wide variety of areas such as, communication, social skills, play and leisure skills, and daily living skills. The skills being taught must be socially significant to the individual. Typically skills that impede most on the individual’s ability to learn and function independently are targeted for intervention. When receiving ABA therapy services for insurance funded programs all skills that are taught must directly be related to the core deficits of autism spectrum disorder, which are deficits in social communication, social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
Data on your child’s performance will be recorded throughout each therapy session. Continuous data collection and analysis of this data, allows treatment protocols to be constantly assessed and tailored to meet the needs of a specific individual. The BCBA® overseeing your case will review records, provide ongoing supervision and monitoring of interventionists, provide ongoing, frequent, direct observation and measurement of target behaviors, review and analyze all graphed data, adjust protocols and targets based on the data, and train the therapist to implement the revised protocols.
Individuals will be taught more appropriate skills to replace problem behaviors. Positive behaviors will be targeted for increase, while interfering behaviors will be targeted for reduction. Skills are chosen based on the individual’s specific needs and can be provided in a one to one or group setting. ABA therapy can be provided in a variety of settings such as, home, school, and within the community.
Generalization is a key component in any ABA treatment program. Generalization means that the learner can apply the skills that they have learned to outside the learning environment, across various materials, people, and settings. Some individuals may require more explicit training in order to generalize skills that are taught during therapy sessions. It is important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to have the child independently display the skills that they have been taught.
All behaviors serve a function and are likely occurring for one of the following reasons, escape, attention, access to a tangible, and/or self-stimulation. Once we determine the function of a behavior, then we can teach a more appropriate behavior to help the individual get what they want.
Parent/caregiver training is provided to families whose children are receiving ABA services. The purpose of family training is to support the family by providing them with strategies and tools to better help support their child outside of therapy sessions. Families will also learn how to interact with their children in a way that teaches them how to reinforce and help generalize skills that are targeted during therapy sessions.
Effectiveness of ABA
ABA is a research-based science that has data to back it up. The United States Surgeon General (1998) concluded, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods, in reducing inappropriate behaviors and increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.” Continuous data collection and ongoing analysis of this data allows treatment protocols to be constantly assessed and tailored to meet the needs of a specific individual.
When Will I See Results?
There is no set timeline for how fast or slow an individual will learn. Interventions are constantly being monitored and adjusted to account for maximum progress. Some individuals are better in some skill areas than other areas, which means faster progress in some skill areas and slower progress in other skill areas. Consistency across people and settings will help skills to be generalized. It is also very important to stick to your recommended number of treatment hours in order to receive the best outcome from therapy.
- American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
- Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall.
- Kanchwala, A. (n.d.). ABA 101. http://theautismhelper.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2015/09/ABA-101-Handouts-The-Autism-Helper.pdf.
- United States Surgeon General (1998). Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: Author.
For more information about ABA therapy or how we can help your child, contact Attentive Behavior Care today.