The principles of applied behavioral analysis are used to increase desired behaviors and skills while decreasing undesirable or inappropriate behaviors. It is one of the most well researched interventions for treating autism. There is an abundance of research which supports its usefulness in teaching individuals alternative replacements to help reduce inappropriate and self stimulatory behaviors while conversely building more appropriate cognitive, academic skills, increasing functional language, improving daily living skills, increasing play and many more necessary areas need. Its utility has been documented in teaching parents and siblings how to interact and meet the needs of children with autism.
How does ABA work?
An ABA program should have two primary components as the basis of treatment. There is a teaching component and a behavior reduction component and they both are based upon operant conditioning learning theory. The operant learning theory is simple, “if behaviors, skills and actions are followed by a positive outcome, that behavior will be more likely to occur again in the future and behaviors and actions that receive no praise or are punished, will be less likely to occur in the future.” However, its implementation is bit more complex as its application is determined by those in the environment who follow and apply this theory consistently. The learning component is used when teaching an individual new skills and behaviors. The skills selected to teach are based upon the current strength and deficit areas of the individual as well as what is functional and immediately useful to increase the quality of life. The behavior reduction component is used to decrease inappropriate or maladaptive behaviors. In order to address these behaviors, the reason(s) the behavior is occurring must be understood. This is often called “the function of the behavior.” Once the function of the behavior is identified, and only then, can a plan be created to decrease the frequency of the behavior.
Some key components of an ABA program
Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) – An FBA is a precise description and analysis of the factors contributing to the occurrence of a behavior, as well as what happens after the behavior that may maintain that behavior while a BIP is written after an FBA has been conducted and is based upon the information gathered during the process. The BIP provides a step by step, systematic plan for decreasing the frequency of the behavior.
Discrete Trial – The discrete trial is ONLY one of the teaching components used in ABA programs. It involves breaking skills down into individual components and presenting them in a systematic format followed by reinforcement or corrective procedures. This process enables the individual to acquire new skills quickly and with little error.
Task Analysis – A task analysis involves breaking down a more complex skill, such as brushing teeth, into individual components. Once the individual components have been identified they can be taught then linked together.
Natural Environmental Training (NET) – involves capturing and contriving motivation within learning opportunities in the general environment and serves as the template to teach new skills.
Prompting – A prompt is additional information provided to the individual that will facilitate a correct response. They are used to increase the rate of learning and maximize success.
Generalization – Generalization is a systematic way of ensuring that an individual is able to perform a learned skill across people, time, materials, environments and etc.
Short and long term goals of an ABA program
Decrease behaviors that may interfere with an individual’s ability to learn.
Increase functional and adaptive skills
Increase opportunities for the individual to participate in less restrictive educational environments (i.e. participate in community activities, community peers and etc.).
Promote independence and enable the individual to access leisure activities.
Increase the quality of life for the individual who receives treatment and their family.
Develop social interaction skills, build language skills, increase cognition and increases in many other domain areas.
What to look for in an ABA program?
Competency Staff Training – All individuals should be well trained and receive initial and ongoing training and are supervised to competency. This training should be documented and have a program based competency criteria.
Supervision – The ABA program should be designed and monitored on an ongoing basis by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or someone who qualifies to sit for the exam. They should also have extensive experience working with individuals with Autism. Additionally, the supervisor should work directly with the individual on an ongoing basis to ensure strategies being implemented are appropriate and effective.
Individualized programming – The skills taught and strategies used should be tailored to the individual’s areas of deficits, strengths, learning style and interests.
Functional Programming – Skills being taught should serve an immediate function to the individual, and enable them to participate more fully in daily life.
Data Driven – Data on skills being taught and behaviors being reduced should be collected on an ongoing basis. Data collection should not interfere in the flow or the therapy or require too much time to collect. All program decisions should be based data review by the Case Supervisor and all program modifications should be made based upon data trends.
Family Training – The family makes up a key component of any intervention program. They should be involved in all programming decisions as well as receive specific training on how to not only “generalize” skills and but how to implement treatment to address behaviors.
Clinical Oversight and Collaboration – Team meetings provide an opportunity for all service providers to collaborate and provide a total intervention program that is comprehensive, consistent and functional.