What is Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA”)?
By Sharon Venezio, MA, BCBA
Co-Founder/Director, Hyperion Behavioral Health Center
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science that studies environmental events that affect behavior. ABA is based on the principles of Learning Theory and, simply put, looks at what we do and why we do it. It is based on positive reinforcement and seeks to increase behavioral deficits (e.g., language, play, attention) and decrease behavioral excesses (e.g., self-stimulatory behavior, tantrum behavior, noncompliance). ABA teaches functional living skills, language, social skills, self-regulation and control, academics, as well as many other positive skills. ABA addresses the whole child and targets multiple domains. Data is constantly collected and analyzed to ensure the efficacy of treatment. ABA works across all environments: home, school, and community.
Typical children learn from their environment, but children with autism do not learn from their environment in the same way as typical children. Children with autism can learn, but they often require a highly structured environment. ABA alters the environment and teaching method in order for your child to maximize learning.
Ultimately, ABA strives to generalize skills so children with autism who have had appropriate therapy are able to learn from the natural environment with their peers.
Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is a teaching method based on the stimulus-response-reinforcer relationship. It involves numerous trials with each trial having a distinct beginning and end. It involves:
DTT increases the ability of children with Autism to learn. It is typically performed at a table but all skills mastered in a DTT format must be generalized into a more natural setting. The DTT method is only part of the curriculum of a comprehensive ABA program and other areas, such as social skills, emotional understanding, and executive functioning, are addressed in more natural and spontaneous ways.
Who is qualified to work with my child?
Professionals supervising your ABA program should have a masters degree and be certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). The board ensures that those who are certified have met vital academic and experiential requirements. It also ensures that these individuals have the requisite knowledge to properly and effectively supervise your treatment team
The professionals who are implementing therapy on a daily basis should be overseen by an individual who meets the above criteria and have undergone extensive training in the theoretical and practical applications of ABA. Supervision should be consistent and team meetings should occur a minimum of once a month.
Where does treatment take place?
Treatment takes place in multiple environments, including home, school, and the community. While DTT may initially take place in a “therapy room” within the child’s house, over time skills will be generalized to various areas within the home and community.
What are the stages of ABA treatment?
In these programs, the goal is to increase skills in language, play and socialization, while decreasing behaviors that interfere with learning. The results can be profound. Children with autism who have ritualistic or self-injurious behaviors reduce or eliminate these behaviors. They establish eye contact. They learn to stay on task. Finally, the children acquire the ability and the desire to learn and to do well. Even if the child does not achieve a “best outcome” result of normal functioning levels in all areas, nearly all autistic children benefit from intensive ABA programs.
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