What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is a therapy that is based on the science of how people learn and behave. It utilizes a behavior modification approach to work with children and young adults who have autism and other related diagnoses. ABA programs can help children increase their skills in communication, cooperation, and behavior.
ABA is useful in determining:
- The drivers behind certain behaviors
- How the environment affects how people act
- How things get learned
- How motivation affects behavior
ABA therapy is used to help modify behaviors in children by playing and replicating their natural environment. Some other benefits of ABA therapy for children with autism include:
- Improving cognitive skills such as communication and problem-solving.
- Helping children overcome specific challenges they have in communicating and learning.
- Training them in skills to create and maintain positive relationships and support.
ABA therapy takes what we know about how behavior works and applies it to real-life situations. The goal is to get people to do more of the good things and less of the bad things or things that get in the way of learning.
How does ABA therapy work?
ABA uses a wide variety of strategies for understanding and altering behavior including but not limit to:
- Tailored plan to accommodate the specific requirements of each person
- Offered in a wide variety of settings, including the home, the classroom, and the community at large
- One-on-one instruction
The use of positive reinforcement is a significant component of the ABA therapy approach. While negative reinforcement works to keep behavior in a prescribed set, positive reinforcement works with changing behavior regularly.
A person is more likely to repeat a behavior if it is followed by something that is valued (a reward), as this increases the likelihood of the person repeating the behavior. This motivates good behavior change over time, which is encouraging.
First, the therapist will decide upon a desired pattern of conduct. A reward is given to the individual whenever they successfully apply the behavior or skill in question. The individual is given a reward that has significance to them, such as praise, a toy or book, the opportunity to watch a video, access to a playground or another location, and many other possibilities.
A person is more likely to continue using a skill when they receive positive reinforcement for doing so. This ultimately results in significant changes in behavior over time. Positive reinforcement, in general, is a desirable and useful behavior modality that helps reduce unwanted behavior and establish new healthy ones.
Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence
The ability to recognize antecedents, events that take place before a behavior takes place, and consequences, or what happens as a result of the behavior, is another essential component of any ABA program. The focus here is on teaching your child how to perform the correct behavior, rather than just on preventing the behavior from occurring. The goal is to ensure that positive reinforcement becomes the main reward.
The following three steps, also known as the "A-B-Cs," are helpful in both the teaching and understanding of behavior:
- An antecedent: This is what takes place just before the behavior that is being targeted. It can be verbal, like a request or a command. It is also possible for it to be something tangible, such as a toy or object, or it could be a sound, a light, or something else in the surrounding environment. An antecedent can be something internal, something that comes from the environment, or something that comes from another person.
- A resulting behavior: This is the person's reaction to the antecedent, or the lack of reaction if there was one. It may take the form of an action, a vocal response, or another response entirely.
- A consequence: This is the next thing that happens right following the behavior. It may involve providing positive rewards for the conduct that is wanted, or it may involve providing no reaction for behaviors that are improper or inappropriate.
Keeping in mind the ABCs is helpful in understanding:
- Possible reasons as to why behavior is taking place?
- What effects, if any, would the various consequences have on the likelihood that the behavior would be repeated?
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 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!”
The student will eventually be able to replace the unhelpful habit with one that is more beneficial if they continue to practice replacing it. This makes it much simpler for the student to fulfill the requirements of the child!
What Does an ABA Program Involve?
In the case of autism, there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to effective ABA treatment. To think about ABA as a predetermined series of exercises is to do it a disservice. Rather, each program is written to meet the needs of the individual learner. Each participant in an ABA program is expected to make progress on a set of skills designed to increase his or her chances of immediate and long-term success.
Planning and Ongoing Assessment
The program is created and is directly supervised by a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA). Each student's ABA plan is tailored to their strengths, weaknesses, interests, preferences, and family dynamics.
At first, the BCBA will conduct an extensive evaluation of each client's abilities and personal preferences. They'll use it as a guide to craft individualized therapy plans. Possible additions consist of family aims and inclinations.
The treatment plan is tailored to the individual in terms of their age and current skill set. Targets can span a wide range of expertise, including but not limited to the following:
- Communication and language
- Social skills
- Self-care (such as toileting)
- Play and leisure
- Motor skills
Each of these abilities is dissected into manageable chunks in the lesson plan. The therapist guides the patient through a series of gradually more difficult exercises that begin with something as basic as replicating a single sound (e.g. carrying on a conversation).
The BCBA and technicians keep track of client development through regular data collection. They can keep tabs on the individual's development toward their targets thanks to the data collected.
The BCBA schedules regular meetings with the client's family and the program's staff to discuss the client's progress. They'll have more time to prepare and make any changes to lessons and objectives.
ABA works with people of all ages. It's useful from early childhood through adulthood!
Who provides ABA services?
The provider of ABA therapy services is a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA). The program itself is run by a team of technicians and educators. The qualified BCBA leads a collaborative approach to individualized treatment plans. A candidate for BCBA status must have the following:
- Earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. in psychology or behavior analysis
- Pass a national certification exam
- Seek a state license to practice (in some states)
Behavior Technicians (BTs), or Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), are also essential members of the ABA treatment team. The BCBA is responsible for the education and oversight of these technicians. They collaborate closely with clients to help them achieve the individualized goals set by the BCBA. Behavioral therapist, line technicians, behavior techs, etc. are all names you might encounter.
What is the evidence that ABA works?
Both the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association recognize ABA as an effective treatment supported by scientific evidence. The BCBA approach has long been regarded as the most rigorous in terms of evaluating alternative treatments.
Research suggests that ABA is as effective as speech and language therapy in the early years of life, but it is superior to other techniques in later childhood. ABA is especially effective in reducing behavior problems by about 70% when compared with non-active behavioral treatment.
Is ABA covered by insurance?
ABA services are generally covered by several different types of private and public health insurance policies. However, Insurance policies vary by type and state.
Medically essential care for those under the age of 21 is guaranteed by all Medicaid plans. To the extent that ABA is deemed medically necessary by your child's treating physician, Medicaid will pay for the treatment.
Where do I find ABA services?
Here's how to get started:
- Get in touch with your child's doctor or another medical professional for advice about ABA. They can help you figure out if ABA therapy is a good fit for your kid. If your health insurance plan covers ABA, they can write you a prescription.
- Find out if and how much ABA treatment is covered by your insurance.
- Find local ABA services.. You could also seek advice from your child's doctor and teachers.
What questions should I ask?
Finding an ABA provider and technicians who work well with your family is crucial. Your child's technicians will work on developing trusting relationships with your family. Your child's progress in therapy will be enhanced and they will look forward to attending therapy.
Asking the following questions will help you determine if a potential provider is a good fit for your loved ones. Never discount the value of your intuition!
- How many BCBAs do you have on staff?
- Are they licensed with the BACB and through the state?
- How many behavioral technicians do you have?
- How many technicians will be working with my child?
- What sort of training do your technicians receive? How often?
- How much direct supervision do technicians receive from BCBAs weekly?
- How do you manage safety concerns?
- What does a typical ABA session look like?
- Do you offer home-based or clinic-based therapy?
- How do you determine goals for my child? Do you consider input from parents?
- How often do you re-evaluate goals?
- How is progress evaluated?
- How many hours per week can you provide?
- Do you have a waitlist?
- What type of insurance do you accept?
All these queries and more will help you to narrow down your search. If you can't get an answer, move on to the next provider!
Remember, the goal is to find an ABA therapy provider that is a good fit for you or your family, and who will work well with your child.