What is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science of behavior which focuses on the application of behavioral principles in real-world settings such as clinics, schools, and the work place with the aim of improving socially significant behaviors such as behavior problems and learning (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968).
Socially significant behaviors can include:
- Functional communication
- Receptive and expressive identification
- Gross and fine motor skills
- Activities of daily living
- Social skills
- Play skills
- Reducing/eliminating problem behaviors
How can ABA therapy help my child?
If you are a parent of a child with learning and/or behavioral concerns, ABA can help address and treat these concerns. After an initial assessment of your child, an individualized treatment program will be developed with goals tailored to your child’s specific needs. Progress towards these goals will be constantly monitored, and data will be collected daily for each goal. ABA sessions can take place in your home, in the school, or in a clinic setting.
ABA sessions vary by the child, but typically consist of a combination of table work to work on skill development and natural environment training to generalize those skills to real life situations. Behavior plans are also implemented during ABA sessions to address any behavioral concerns. ABA sessions that take place in the home can also have a parent training component which allow the parents to learn effective strategies to address their child’s problem behaviors.
What are the qualifications of an ABA therapist?
ABA therapy differs from other disciplines like speech and occupational therapy in that there are usually at least two or more therapists that are part of your child’s treatment team.
A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), who holds at least a Master’s degree and has attained board certification by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB), conducts the initial assessments, designs and oversees the individualized therapy program, and monitors progress. A behavior therapist, who has a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree carries out the direct one-on-one therapy sessions with the child. Often times a child may have 2-3 behavior therapists that they work with each week. This is actually very beneficial to the child, as it ensures skills are being generalized across various people.
Misconceptions of ABA
Over the years, there have been many misconceptions about ABA which may cause parents to be hesitant about beginning ABA therapy for their child.
Common misconceptions include:
- ABA uses punishment and/or aversive items to decrease problem behaviors: Physical punishment is never used in any reputable ABA program. Reinforcement-based strategies are always preferred and utilized over any type of punishment procedure. If punishment is used, it is never used to injure or harm the child. Common punishments include time-out from reinforcement or the loss of a privilege.
- ABA uses bribery: Bribes are never used in ABA as they are not an effective behavioral strategy. Bribery is ineffective because it used after a negative behavior has already occurred (i.e., If you stop crying, I will give you a cookie). ABA teaches individuals that rewards are contingent on appropriate behaviors (i.e., if I do what my mom says, I will get rewarded).
- ABA is like animal training for people: This misconception is most likely due to the fact that many therapists use edibles when conducting ABA therapy, especially early on in treatment. Edibles are used due to the fact that food is a very powerful reinforcer. However, the goal is to always to fade out the use of edibles over time and use more natural reinforcers like social praise.
- ABA is all table work: Yes, most ABA sessions take place at a table, for at least a part of the session. This is because for optimal learning to occur, the individual needs to be focused and attending to what they are learning, and the table is the best place for this. Just as students sit at desks in school, for learning, the same applies during ABA therapy. However, natural environment training, which takes place away from the table, is also a crucial aspect of ABA and should be incorporated into each session.
- ABA can only be used for children with autism: While ABA is very commonly used for children with autism, it can be used with a wide variety of individuals with or without a diagnosis, in various settings.