What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Behavior analysis is a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. In this context, “behavior” refers to actions and skills. “Environment” includes any influence – physical or social – that might change or be changed by one’s behavior.
Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.
Where can ABA be used?
These techniques can be used in structured situations such as a classroom lesson as well as in “everyday” situations such as family dinnertime or the neighborhood playground. Some ABA therapy sessions involve one-on-one interaction between the therapist and the participant. Group instruction can likewise prove useful.
How Does ABA Benefit Those with ASD or other developmental disorders?
Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense for military families. In particular, ABA principles and techniques can foster basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, as well as complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective.
What Does Research Tell Us about ABA as a treatment method for ASD or developmental disorders?
A number of completed studies have demonstrated that ABA techniques can produce improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment. These studies involved age groups ranging from preschoolers to adults. Results for all age groups showed that ABA increased participation in family and community activities.
How can be ABA principles be applied to providing therapy to children with ASD or developmental disorders?
A number of peer-reviewed studies have examined the potential benefits of combining multiple ABA techniques into comprehensive, individualized and intensive early intervention programs for children with autism. “Comprehensive” refers to interventions that address a full range of life skills, from communication and sociability to self-care and readiness for school. “Early intervention” refers to programs designed to begin before age 4. “Intensive” refers to programs that total 20 to 40 hours per week for 1 to 3 years.
These programs allow children to learn and practice skills in both structured and unstructured situations. The “intensity” of these programs may be particularly important to replicate the thousands of interactions that typical toddlers experience each day while interacting with their parents and peers.
How successful is ABA as an approach to treating children with ASD or developmental disorders?
Effective ABA intervention for autism is not a “one size fits all” approach and should never be viewed as a “canned” set of programs or drills. On the contrary, a skilled therapist customizes the intervention to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner.
What is the process of receiving ABA services from VTCC?
- A qualified and trained behavior analyst designs and directly oversees the intervention.
- The analyst’s development of treatment goals stems from a detailed assessment of each learner’s skills and preferences and may also include family goals.
- This detailed assessment is scheduled based on the availability of the parents or primary caregivers of the leaner, as well as the availability of the learner herself or himself.
- Treatment goals and instruction are developmentally appropriate and target a broad range of skill areas such as communication, sociability, self-care, play and leisure, motor development and academic skills.
- Goals emphasize skills that will enable learners to become independent and successful in both the short and long terms.
- The instruction plan breaks down desired skills into manageable steps to be taught from the simplest (e.g. imitating single sounds) to the more complex (e.g. carrying on a conversation).
- The intervention involves ongoing objective measurement of the learner’s progress.
- The behavior analyst frequently reviews information on the learner’s progress and uses this to adjust procedures and goals as needed.
- The analyst meets regularly with family members and program staff to plan ahead, review progress and make adjustments as needed.
What are some basic ABA philosophies followed at VTCC?
- The instructor uses a variety of behavior analytic procedures, some of which are directed by the instructor and others initiated by the learner.
- Parents and/or other family members and caregivers receive training so they can support learning and skill practice throughout the day.
- The client’s day is structured to provide many opportunities – both planned and naturally occurring – to acquire and practice skills in both structured and unstructured situations.
- The client receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors. The emphasis is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning.
- The client receives no reinforcement for behaviors that pose harm or prevent learning.
What Kind of Progress Can Be Expected with ABA?
Competently delivered ABA intervention can help learners with autism make meaningful changes in many areas. However, changes do not typically occur quickly. Rather, most learners require intensive and ongoing instruction that builds on their step-by-step progress. Moreover, the rate of progress – like the goals of intervention – varies considerably from person to person depending on age, level of functioning, family goals and other factors.
Some learners do acquire skills quickly. But typically, this rapid progress happens in just one or two particular skill areas such as reading, while much more instruction and practice is needed to master another skill area such as interacting with peers.
Who can provide ABA services to my child, or the child I am referring?
Just as a medical treatment program should be directed by a qualified medical professional, ABA programs for learners with autism should be designed and supervised by qualified professionals, which include either licensed clinical psychologists with training in applied behavior analysis or behavior analysts, who are board certified with supervised experience providing ABA treatment for autism or who can clearly document that they have equivalent training and experience.
Simply put, VTCC’s commitment to providing ABA therapy is:
- To supply clients between the ages of 2 and 21 with intensive, evidence-based, individualized services in the home and community i.e. the natural environment of the client.
- To ensure these services are provided by a designated Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP), under the constant supervision of a licensed Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA).
- To fully comply with strict Medicaid regulations, and only provide services in coordination with each client’s medical provider, school, and other community agencies and specialists who serve the client
- To only provide services with the active involvement of the client’s parent(s), legal guardian(s), or primary care giver, who, in turn, are provided with training and care coordination, as part of our ABA services package.
We wanted to share some positive feedback which we’ve been getting from others, as well as things E and I have noticed since M. began his work with Mr. K ~
One of M’s support people told me that M. has gotten much better with having conversations.
He also noticed that now M. stays on the right side of the sidewalk, instead of taking too much space/interring with the space of people on the opposite side of the walkway.
Additionally, E and I have noted that if I say,for example,”Wow, my head really hurts…what a headache ! “ that M. will respond in a kind and appropriate way with “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
He had never done these kinds of things until he started working with Mr. K ~
We are excited to see the progress !
It is especially exciting when other people start to share the improvements they have noted.
Thank you to everyone at VTCC !