What is ABA?
ABA stands for Applied Behaviour Analysis, defined as both a science and technology vital to the improvement and growth of society. Professionals trained in ABA, study the variables that impact an individual’s behaviours to develop tailored programs and encourage the change of socially negative behaviours.
An article by D. Baer, M. Wolf and T. Risley (1968) defined the eight key factors of ABA that make it a valid and effective scientific approach:
- Conceptually Systematic
ABA’s main goal is to support and guide individuals to develop socially valuable behaviours in the following areas:
- Social Interaction
- Speaking and Communication
ABA looks at external prompts, consequences and social opportunities to understand the underlying cause of a behaviour. Using this information, ABA applies a tailored training program to the individual’s natural environment; home, school etc. instead of restricting the process to a laboratory setting.
ABA’s Focus on Behaviour
The basic definition of behaviour is any human action that is observed and can be counted. The interventions created through ABA can be used for a huge range of negative behaviours; any behaviour that’s detrimental to the individual’s independent functioning in the community. Which is why ABA is so widely used to assist people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
All human behaviour is a form of communication, so the goal of ABA is to determine what the individual’s needs are, and to give them another, positive way to communicate those needs.
An ABA Therapy program is a rigorous process, requiring many hours a week of direct intervention in order to be effective (30-40 hours on average). Professionals ABA trainers spend time with parents and carers to determine which behaviours require support. After these meetings, ABA therapists spend time with the individual to discover what hidden needs are triggering the negative behaviours. Once the needs are understood, they work with the parents and carers to plan an intervention training program appropriate to their lifestyle, teaching the individual more effective ways to communicate.
To see results within a few sessions, negative behaviours must be addressed immediately and appropriately. Constant modelling of positive behaviours, using clear instructions, repetition and rewards, helps the individual understand the changes are a good thing. Skipping sessions or leaving long times in between each does not provide as great a result as the intense program recommended by professionals. Parents are encouraged to implement the ABA therapy programme in their own time, in place of the therapists.
ABA and Autism Spectrum Disorder
ABA therapy plays a vital role in the support of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those with ASD have varying degrees of difficulty with language, communication and social interaction, leading to frustration when their needs aren’t met. People with ASD often use aggression and defensive behaviours to cope with unmet needs. When they learn that screaming or physical violence creates personal space, they will continue to use the negative behaviours to fulfill that need.
Applied Behaviour Analysis provides people with ASD a broad range of communication options, showing them that they have the ability to take care of their own needs through positive communication. ABA gives non-verbal people a voice through systems such as PECS and other visual supports, teaching them the strengths of being independent in the community.
Example of ABA at work
A child with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
At home, the child finds the sound of the vacuum cleaner painful. When the child escapes the house, the sound is less painful. Each time the child’s parents turn on the vacuum, the child attempts to leave the house. This increases the danger the child is exposed to.
One approach ABA therapists might take is providing the child with sound-deadening ear muffs they can use when sounds are uncomfortable.
To influence the behavioural change from running away, to asking for ear muffs, each time the parent intends to use the vacuum, they must offer the ear muffs to the child before turning it on. This action must be repeated every time the vacuum needs to be turned on, without fail.
If the child is non-verbal, they’ll be shown a way to request the ear muffs before receiving them. If the child can speak, they’ll be taught how to ask appropriately.
Every time the child requests the ear muffs, they must be provided to the child in order to reinforce the positive behaviour. Every time they escape the home, the parents must collect the child, bring them back inside and direct them with clear instructions to request the ear muffs appropriately, only providing the ear muffs when the appropriate request has been made.
Eventually, the child learns through ABA how to request the support they need for their discomfort with particular sounds and will no longer feel the need to escape the situation.