Frequently Asked Questions
Answer to some of your questions
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based therapy for children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities like autism. ABA uses positive reinforcement and breaks down tasks into small pieces for easy learning. ABA also teaches communication through verbal, visual and other cues. There are lots of different terms people use to describe this type of therapy: ABA, Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI), comprehensive and focused. They are all based on the same principles, the main difference is the intensity of the service provided. Children and youth who receive less than 20 hours a week and typically work on 1-3 goals at a time, are receiving ABA or focused therapy. Those that receive more than 20 hours are receiving IBI or comprehensive therapy. These children work on many goals and often focus on changing their rate of learning.
Though the scope of ABA is revealed more and more with time, the most prominent and well-known application of ABA is its use as a treatment alternative for individuals with autism. As described earlier, autism presents a very complex diagnosis that is characterized by a variety of behavioral impairments, whether it be speech, daily living skills, social interaction, academics, etc. That is, all current signs of autism are observable behaviors exhibited by the individual. With ABA’s focus on observable behavior, and behavior change to a socially acceptable and meaningful extent, it provides a unique, yet extremely effective approach to autism treatment. The environment in which the client operates on a daily basis (home, school, grandma’s, the supermarket, etc.) is altered in such a way to reduce the likelihood that certain behaviors will continue to occur (e.g. severe tantrums, aggression toward self/others, and other inappropriate behaviors), while systematic training procedures are implemented to teach the individual appropriate social skills (peer interaction, appropriate classroom behavior, play skills, etc.), communication skills (developing vocal language or using alternative communication devices), academic skills (writing, reading, etc.), and much more.
ABA’s effectiveness lies in its foundation in scientific research that have been conducted in laboratories as well as in the natural setting for decades. As such, all techniques used by behavior analysts are grounded in research that supports their effectiveness once they’re implemented systematically. A component of ABA therapy is the development of individualized treatment packages; in other words, one package does not fit all. With autism being so complex, and each individual being so unique, individualized treatment packages play a key role in the effectiveness of ABA. The behavior analyst observes each individual client, assessing their current skill sets and those that need to be developed, the resources available to them, and their environmental setup, then specifically designs a treatment package that will be most effective for that client. In addition, behavior analysts continuously collect data on their client’s behaviors. This allows them to monitor client progress and make changes to treatment packages in real time. As such, treatment is continuously altered as needed as the client grows in his/her dynamic environment. Parents and other caregivers are also trained to implement treatment techniques to ensure that their effects are maintained even after sessions have ended. This is a key component in the long-term effectiveness of ABA therapy. All persons who interact with the client are incorporated in some way to help facilitate the continuation of treatment effects as well as their carryover into variety of environments or in the presence of a variety of people. This is especially beneficial for the individual with autism who may have challenges learning that certain behavior aren’t inappropriate just at home, but they are inappropriate at school, at the park, and even when visiting the neighbors. ABA effectiveness lies its unique approach to the study of behavior, contrary to other areas in psychology. This approach is exceptionally beneficial for children with autism as the signs of autism are first seen in the behavior of the individual. As such, a science of behavior change focused on change to a socially meaningful degree is an ideal treatment approach for autism.
Where to begin!?? There are so many things BCBAs can work on with you and your child. There are also so many different places BCBAs can work. More often than not, it will be in the home environment. It is not unusual for them to work out in the community (e.g., grocery stores, parks, school, etc.) wherever you and your child need support. Often times, they will talk with you to see what is most important to the family unit. Skills that are the most socially significant, meaning they have the most impact at that time. These may include addressing first behaviors that cause harm, hinder the client’s ability to learn, and increasing socially appropriate behaviors. They may take sessions to consult with you, have you fill out forms/ questionnaires, observe you in your normal everyday routines, etc. Sometimes they will conduct assessments to help set certain goals too. BCBAs will often prioritize behaviors based on what is most important for the child. If a child is really aggressive, that aggression will likely take priority over academic skills because it may likely hinder the client’s ability to learn the best way possible. Also, aggression is more likely to have an overall negative impact on the entire family unit.
There is no trick to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Unlike many other fields in psychology, ABA adds a scientific approach to the study of behavior; hence ‘analysis’. An ABA practitioner observes behavior in the natural environment (the classroom, home, etc.) and identifies what in that environment is maintaining the behavior (why the behavior keeps happening), as well as what environmental factors are preventing other behaviors from occurring. What maintains a behavior is known as its consequence, that is, what happens immediately after the behavior on a regular basis. More specifically, a consequence that results in the behavior happening again and again is known as a reinforcer. Therefore, for problem behaviors that are occurring very often, a behavior analyst would conduct observations to identify what exactly is acting as a reinforcer for that behavior. This is the key to effective intervention! A behavior analyst will observe the client on multiple occasions before recommending any type of intervention for a problem behavior. They’ll observe the client during those times when the behavior is most likely to occur, and if it does, they’ll simply take notes on what’s happening. If they don’t intervene at that moment, don’t feel any way about it. They’re taking very important notes! They are tracking the consequences of the behavior to identify what could be maintaining it over time. Once they’ve identified the potential maintaining consequence, they’ll begin designing the most appropriate and likely to be effective intervention package for that behavior.
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