Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior.
Behavior analysis helps us to understand:
- How behavior works
- How behavior is affected by the environment
- How learning takes place
ABA therapy applies our understanding of how behavior works to real situations. The goal is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning.
ABA therapy programs can help:
- Increase language and communication skills
- Improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics
- Decrease problem behaviors
The methods of behavior analysis have been used and studied for decades. They have helped many kinds of learners gain different skills – from healthier lifestyles to learning a new language. Therapists have used ABA to help children with autism and related developmental disorders since the 1960s.
How does ABA therapy work?
Applied Behavior Analysis involves many techniques for understanding and changing behavior. ABA is a flexible treatment:
- Can be adapted to meet the needs of each unique person
- Provided in many different locations – at home, at school, and in the community
- Teaches skills that are useful in everyday life
- Can involve one-to-one teaching or group instruction
Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA.
When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.
First, the therapist identifies a goal behavior. Each time the person uses the behavior or skill successfully, they get a reward. The reward is meaningful to the individual – examples include praise, a toy or book, watching a video, access to playground or other location, and more.
Positive rewards encourage the person to continue using the skill. Over time this leads to meaningful behavior change.
Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence
Understanding antecedents (what happens before a behavior occurs) and consequences (what happens after the behavior) is another important part of any ABA program.
The following three steps – the “A-B-Cs” – help us teach and understand behavior:
- An antecedent: this is what occurs right before the target behavior. It can be verbal, such as a command or request. It can also be physical, such a toy or object, or a light, sound, or something else in the environment. An antecedent may come from the environment, from another person, or be internal (such as a thought or feeling).
- A resulting behavior: this is the person’s response or lack of response to the antecedent. It can be an action, a verbal response, or something else.
- A consequence: this is what comes directly after the behavior. It can include positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, or no reaction for incorrect/inappropriate responses.
Looking at A-B-Cs helps us understand:
- Why a behavior may be happening
- How different consequences could affect whether the behavior is likely to happen again
- Antecedent: The teacher says “It’s time to clean up your toys” at the end of the day.
- Behavior: The student yells “no!”
- Consequence: The teacher removes the toys and says “Okay, toys are all done.”
How could ABA help the student learn a more appropriate behavior in this situation?
- Antecedent: The teacher says “time to clean up” at the end of the day.
- Behavior: The student is reminded to ask, “Can I have 5 more minutes?”
- Consequence: The teacher says, “Of course you can have 5 more minutes!”
With continued practice, the student will be able to replace the inappropriate behavior with one that is more helpful. This is an easier way for the student to satisfy the child’s needs!