What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the study of human behavior, whose goal is to both understand and improve socially significant behaviors. Through careful observation of the environment, behavior analysts are able to design, implement, and modify a child's learning objectives in order to help them achieve their fullest potential.

ABA allows one to break down socially significant behaviors. Some socially significant behaviors, often targeted as part of early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) include: development of language, play and leisure, social, academics, emotional regulation, fine motor, gross motor, and life/adaptive skills. Behavior analysts are trained in a science that allows them to systematically understand the components needed for an individual to master these skills (i.e: behaviors), and then to plan learning objectives in order to ensure they master them as quickly as possible, and apply them in contexts where they should be used.
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The principles of ABA allow us to select target behaviors to increase (i.e. adaptive behaviors), or decrease (i.e. maladaptive behaviors), to maintain current levels of adaptive skills, to teach new skills, and to program for maintenance and generalization of skills that have been taught. These principles are grounded in years of scientific research, and replicated studies. The application of these principles to the teaching of individuals with ASD has been scientifically validated through applied research.

Early research by D. Baer, M. Wolf, T. Risley, and I. Lovaas, demonstrated that with early and intensive intervention, children with ASD can learn new skills and concepts, and generalize what they have learned across people, and environments (eg: new places and situations), and maintain skills over time.

ABA is a science that allows us to systematically implement basic principles of behavior (e.g: reinforcement, shaping, and chaining etc...) to help individuals learn how to learn. It is important to note that it is not a single specific instructional methodology. Sometimes "ABA" becomes confused with different types of instructional methods, such as "Lovaas-type ABA" or "Verbal Behavior ABA". There are many different instructional methodologies that are all based in the science of ABA. Some examples include: Discrete Trial Teaching, Verbal Behavior, Fluency Based Instruction, Natural Environment Teaching, and Video Modeling. Each of these instructional methods incorporates the basic principles of ABA into their instructional designs, however, each may place an emphasis on different aspects of learning.

Baer, D., Wolf, M., & Risley, R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97.
Baer, D., Wolf, M., & Risley, R. (1987). Some still-current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 313-327.
Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis: Second Ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Lovaas, I., (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3-9.
Sallows, G.O., Graupner, T.D. (2005). Intensive behavioral treatment for children with autism: four-year outcome and predictors. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 110, 417-438 Weiss, M.J. (2001). Expanding ABA intervention in intensive programs for children with autism: The inclusion of natural environment training and fluency based instruction. The Behavior Analyst Today, 2, 182-186.

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