ABA stands for applied behavior analysis, and it is the application of behavioral principals with the goal of achieving socially significant progress. If that sounds vague, it is. But, that’s a good thing. ABA is actually an approach that can be effective for pretty much anything. If an improvement in the selected behavior would lead to an improvement in the individual’s life, then that behavior would be a good area of focus for ABA. This could mean that we are using ABA for behaviors that we want to reduce, as well as behaviors that we want to see more of. For example, let’s say I want to start drinking more water. An ABA approach would take a look at what I am currently doing and why, and then evaluate what will motivate me to engage in the identified behavior (ie: drinking water). Next, strategies will be used to reward me for doing the behavior that we want to see more of, and data will be gathered regarding my progress. Then, after some time….Voila! I am a much happier and hydrated individual.
While ABA has the benefit of being effective in a wide variety of applications, what it is most known for is its value for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA is even recognized by the National Autism Center as an evidence-based, effective treatment for children with ASD, and because this application of ABA is so incredibly important, I will focus on it exclusively for remainder of my article.
Often times when a child begins ABA therapy the family wonders what we will work on first. Well, the great news is, it’s up to you. By collaborating with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) families are empowered to select the goals that are most meaningful for their child, and the BCBA will supply the strategies to make things better. Initially, the BCBA will assess the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan to make improvements in both. Then, a trained therapist will implement that plan during therapy sessions. For some kids, social communication is a top priority, while for others, daily living skills or maladaptive behaviors will be the focus. However, in most cases, multiple areas are prioritized in a child’s ABA treatment plan, and those goals and priorities are updated regularly.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of ABA goals, but this will give you an idea of some common ones.
Behaviors We Love to Increase:
Requesting items/activities/avoidance/information, matching, imitation, following directions, answering questions, sitting in a chair, paying attention, transitions, responding to name, eating, drinking, social communication, understanding and responding to emotions, sharing, turn taking, play skills, perspective taking, self-advocacy, flexibility, self-dressing, bathroom behaviors, waiting, delay/denial tolerance, sportsmanship, labeling, and compliance.
Behaviors We Love to Decrease:
Crying, non-compliance, running away, throwing, aggression towards others, self-injurious behavior, property destruction, screaming, putting items in mouth, inappropriate comments and grabbing.
So how do we make all of these changes with just one approach?
Well, it’s actually not just one approach. ABA therapy will encompass numerous strategies and procedures all based on the principals of behavior. For example, ABA therapy is heavily focused on identifying a child’s motivation and arranging the environment and contingencies to best use their motivation to make needed and lasting changes in their life. There are many different types of prompting procedures that are individualized for each child to help them develop new skills, and those procedures are systematically faded (aka: phased out) over time. Chaining procedures are used to link important skills together to create a more complex skill, such as toothbrushing, and shaping procedures are used to improve a skill or response to make it more perfect. Lastly, but possibly most importantly, reinforcement takes center stage in all ABA therapy sessions.
Revisiting my earlier shout out to “motivation”, reinforcement (rewards), are the best way to motivate a child to make behavior change. If a child is learning to talk, then talking should equal something meaningful to them, like getting the items that they want access to. If a child is learning to sit at the table without flopping out of their chair, then sitting at the table correctly should result in gaining access to something important to them, and we should look for ways to make table sitting less aversive and more desired. If a child is throwing items to get attention, then the alternate behavior of using a picture card to request attention needs to be heavily rewarded….then, throwing suddenly has no value.
As mentioned before, ABA is effective in countless applications, and with limitless populations. Our strategies have been studied extensively with children with autism and have stood the test of time regarding effectiveness. Each child is different, but ABA accounts for that with its individualized approach, and socially significant life improvements are our #1 goal. If a child in your life needs positive behavior change, ABA has you covered! Please reach out to any one of BCOTB’s four clinic locations for more information on what ABA can do for your family.
National Autism Center. (2015). Findings and conclusions: National standards project, Phase 2. http://www.nationalautismcenter.org/
**BCOTB has been Tampa’s leading provider of pediatric ABA therapy since 2003. With four clinic locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, we know that our clinic is the right spot for your early learner! BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including, but not limited to: Aetna, Anthem, Baycare, Beacon, BCBS, Cigna, CMS, Florida Blue, Humana, MHNet, Meritain Health, Magella Health, UnitedHealthcare, and TRICARE.**