What is ABA?

Perhaps I should have started my blogs answering this question…. but as it’s a new year I’ll take this opportunity to dive in and tell you now.

The short ‘n’ sweet definition:

Applied behaviour analysis = the science of human behaviour.  ABA is a therapy based on the science of learning and behaviour.

The longer and more complicated definition:

Applied behaviour analysis = the science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied systematically to improve socially significant behavior, and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior change (Cooper, Heron and Heward 2007).

Have I lost you?! Come back..no more long words now I promise 😉

ABA therapy applies our understanding of how behaviour works to real situations.

The goal is to increase behaviours that are helpful and decrease behaviours that are harmful or affect learning. The practice is used extensively in education, healthcare, animal training, and business management. It is particularly prominent in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for which it is one of the only scientifically valid therapies available.

Some background:

ABA originated in the early 1900’s with the scientific work of B.F. Skinner but it wasn’t until 1987 when Dr Ivar Lovaas’ study was published that ABA was really noticed. Lovaas’ study included 59 children ages 3 and under, and compared the impact of high quality intensive ABA Therapy, high quality less intensive ABA Therapy, and typical special education services but no ABA Therapy. The results of the study were pretty incredible; almost half of the children who received the high quality intensive ABA Therapy became indistinguishable from same age peers and in follow up studies this group of children maintained these gains well into adolescence. Pretty cool eh?!

This study put ABA on the map and subsequently the field exploded.

Researchers have replicated Lovaas’ study and results repeatedly – the research is all there in abundance! Also, advancements in technology and further scientific discoveries have fine-tuned ABA into a highly sophisticated tool for effective and long- lasting behaviour change. Like every science, it keeps on developing for the better.

How ABA can help:

  • Increase language and communication skills
  • Improve attention & focus, social skills and academics
  • Decrease problem behaviours

Behaviour analysis has been used and studied for decades. ABA has helped many kinds of learners gain different skills – from healthier lifestyles (e.g. smoking cessation and adhering to a healthy diet and exercise regime) to learning a new language.

Therapists have used ABA to help children with autism and related developmental disorders since the 1960s.

How does ABA therapy work?

ABA involves many techniques for understanding and changing behaviour.

  • Tailored to meet the needs of each unique person
  • Used in many different locations e.g. at home, at school, and in the community
  • Teaches skills that are useful in everyday life
  • One-to-one teaching or group instruction

Who provides ABA services?

A board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA), a board certified assistant behaviour analyst (BCaBA), and a registered behaviour technician (RBT) provides ABA therapy services.

To become a BCBA, the following is needed:

  • Earn a master’s degree or PhD in psychology or behaviour analysis
  • Pass a national certification exam

ABA therapy programs can also involve therapists, parents, or teachers. These people are trained and supervised by the BCBA. They work directly with children and adults with autism to practice skills and work toward the individual goals written by the BCBA.

To learn more, see the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website.

Show me some evidence that ABA works!

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association.

“Evidence based” means that ABA has passed scientific tests of its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness.

ABA therapy includes many different techniques (e.g. natural environment teaching, discrete trial teaching, pivotal response training, prompting and fading, task analysis etc).

All of these techniques focus on antecedents (what happens before a behaviour occurs) and on consequences (what happens after the behaviour). Check out my previous blogs for more info on this J

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