What is Applied Behavior Analysis? (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a part of the study of human behavior and learning that began with the work of B.F. Skinner over 70 years ago. Skinner in his experiments found that learning can be accelerated by arranging the learning environment and consequences of behavior in classrooms. His theory, in psychological terms, was coined as the Operant Conditioning theory of which became the basis of ABA. The most significant parts of the learning environments that needs to be organized are:

  • what we do to make the behavior occur
  • what we do after the behavior occurs to make it stronger in the future
This process of arranging antecedents and consequences is the basis unit in teaching children with autism.
ABA views autism as a syndrome of behavioral deficits and excesses which can be changed with careful programming. ABA treatment focuses on breaking down behaviors into small steps and then teaching each step in succession providing guidance in the form of prompts and providing positive reinforcement for correct responding.

It is important to note that ABA is a framework for the practice of a science and not a specific program. It is a set of principles and guidelines upon which educational programs are based and shouldn't be used synonymously with a specific program. There are a number of ABA-based interventions such as the Lovaas model, Intensive Behavior Intervention (IBI), Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB), Discrete-Trial Training (DTT), Pivotal Response Traning and Natural Environment Training (NET). Each has its own unique system of instruction and identifies different behaviors of focus but are all based on the science of ABA.

On a personal note I have practiced many of the programs I mentioned above and it is absolutely amazing how effective these are. I worked with highly functional autistic children that were 3 and 5 and saw vast improvement within a fairly short amount of time. These programs are practiced on a continuous basis in both the home as well as the classroom. Behavior interventions require a huge amount of time and patience on a daily basis and usually one child will need around 20+ hours of therapy each week. I have seen a child who cannot speak at all running towards her mom calling "mommy" which is both rewarding as well as comforting. I encourage all to look into this subject and to support these programs.

Most of this information is derived from my own knowledge of the subject as well as my training manual copyright 2003 Jacobsen/Matchneva ABA Consulting.