What is ABA

The groundwork from which Behavior Analysis grew from is the scientific study of the concepts of learning and behavior.  Within the field of Behavior Analysis, there are two primary areas: experimental and applied behavior analysis.  The experimental side of things can be thought of as the foundational science of the field that seeks to further our understanding of learning and behavior.  Over the past several decades this science has made great strides, and has developed a vast, respected body of research.  This scientific underpinning is subsequently employed by the applied side of the field—Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

ABA is the practice of analyzing, developing, and altering an individual’s behavior to provoke important positive life changes.  Professionals who deliver ABA services make use of the principles of learning and behavior to meet the needs of diverse individuals in diverse environments.  For example, one primary principle of learning and behavior is positive reinforcement—when a behavior is followed by a valued reward that behavior is likely to increase in frequency.  The Behavior Analysis Certification Board [this should link to www.bacb.com] states, “Applied Behavior Analysis is a well-developed discipline among the helping professions, with a mature body of scientific knowledge, established standards for evidence-based practice, distinct methods of service, recognized experience and educational requirements for practice, and identified sources of requisite education in universities.”


How Can ABA Help Individuals with Autism?


ABA is recognized by many authorities and governmental agencies as a safe and valuable method for treating autism.  Over the last several years, ABA services being provided to individuals with autism have increased dramatically in the United States.  Specifically, ABA principles can help advance the development of basic skills such as looking, listening, and imitating.  Furthermore, it can also help promote the development of more advanced skills like reading, writing, conversing, and understanding another individual’s perspective.

Research has shown us that ABA services for children and adults with Autism and other developmental disabilities can be very effective.  ABA can greatly aid an individual’s progress with communication, social relationships, self-care, school, work, and almost any other significant facet of life.  Additionally, ABA can help develop these important skills in structured and unstructured environments (e.g. school settings as well as the family dinner table or local playground).

While early intervention for children with Autism can greatly enhance the success of many ABA programs, research has provided evidence that ABA can be very useful for teens and adults with autism as well.  ABA can help foster important life skills that are useful for establishing and maintaining an autonomous life.  Many comprehensive autism support programs utilize ABA services to help adults transition into independent living and employment situations.


What is Involved in ABA Intervention?


Successful intervention for those with autism does not consist of a universal set of steps that everyone should follow.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The ABA approach recognizes that individuals have different needs and learn in a multitude of different ways.  A thoroughly trained behavior analyst needs to tailor the learning program to the individual’s needs, skills, preferences, and life situation.  Because of this, intervention programs may look dramatically different from one individual to the next.  Nevertheless, there are some very basic aspects of the process that will be similar from case to case.

  • A behavior analyst will design and oversee the intervention
  • Program goals will be based on the analyst’s assessment of skills and preferences and may also include family goals
  • Goals will be developmentally fitting and will focus on skills that allow individuals to become independent and successful in both the short term and long term
  • The intervention program will break complex goals down into smaller, more practical steps
  • The program will call for ongoing measurement of the individual’s progress
  • Based on the individual’s progress the behavior analyst will adjust the program as necessary
  • Regular meetings with the family and the program staff will occur to update the program as necessary
  • Family members and other caregivers may receive training to support the individual’s development


What Kind of Progress Can You Expect?


ABA services that are delivered by a qualified and effective staff will typically help individuals make significant and meaningful development in major life skills.  Expectations, however, should be tempered as it is not common for very rapid changes to occur.  There are many factors at play when considering the rate of progress that can be expected, such as the individual’s age, quality of the ABA program, severity of the developmental disability, level of functioning, specific goals, amount of therapy/instruction, etc.

Some individuals may excel more quickly in some areas over others.  For example, it is not entirely uncommon to see an individual begin to grasp reading quickly, but need much more practice to master interacting with peers.  Most experts agree that early intervention can considerably improve the effectiveness of ABA programs and the development of the individual.  Furthermore, more intense programs (i.e. more frequent and a greater level of therapy/instruction) typically deliver more successful results.


Who is Qualified to Provide ABA Services?


In the same sense that you should not trust the handling of your legal needs or your medical requirements to someone who is not qualified, ABA programs and the care of your loved ones should not be entrusted to someone who is not qualified.  Qualified professionals in the ABA realm include licensed clinical psychologists with training in applied behavior analysis, or Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) who have had supervised experience providing ABA services.  The ABA field, and the need for these types of services, has grown considerably over the last several years.  This has led to many private practitioners and new organizations to crop up claiming that they offer ABA services when, in fact, they fail to meet the educational or certification requirements.  You should always check to make sure that those who claim to be qualified to deliver ABA services have the credentials and experience to do so.