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ABA 101

What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of intensive therapy that focuses and relies on the principles of learning to bring about a desired change in behavior. ABA applies these principles to everyday situations with the goal of increasing strengths and developing new skills while simultaneously reducing the behaviors that may be harmful or may be interfering with learning.

Using the principles of learning developed by B.F. Skinner in the 1950s, ABA relies on changing the factors surrounding a certain behavior, such as the stimuli that produce the behavior and/or the consequences that follow the behavior, in order to encourage positive behavior and discourage maladaptive behavior. This is reflected in one of the primary concepts of ABA which states that when a behavior is followed by a positive experience it is more likely to be “learned” and to be repeated in the future.


What is an ABA therapy session like?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a structured ABA teaching technique that breaks down skills into small, distinct components. Instead of teaching an entire skill at one time, DTT breaks down the skill into smaller steps and teaches each step using “discrete trials” that eventually build up to the complete skill. Each "discrete trial” is effectively an attempt to teach the child a targeted smaller skill. Each trial involves three distinct phases, giving the teaching trial a clear beginning and end.

 
 How ABA works, Antecedent, response, consequence, therapy, Applied Behavior analysis
 
 

1. Antecedent: The therapist presents a specific instruction.
2. Response: The child responds to the instruction.
3. Consequence: If the response is correct, the therapist provides positive encouragement and/or a “reward” to the child.

If the response is incorrect, the therapist gently corrects the behavior by prompting the child to perform the action correctly before the next trial begins.

As an example, consider a therapist trying to teach John to wave hello:
1. Antecedent: The therapist says, “Wave at Jill.”
2. Response: John raises his hand and waves.
3. Consequence: The therapist says, “Great job, John!” and delivers an item that John enjoys.

The child may not respond correctly the first time, in which case the therapist corrects the behavior by demonstrating and prompting the correct action, and then repeats the trial. Along the way, the therapist records the child’s responses, in order to track progress over time. ABA can be used to teach a variety of basic language and communication skills including attending to others, listening, requesting and imitating, as well as more complex academic and social skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective. 


What are AIM's core principles in providing ABA therapy?

Authentic

ABA is an evidence-based treatment backed up by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies spanning over 50 years that prove the effectiveness of ABA in treating children with autism. This is why ABA has been widely recognized by the CDC, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Surgeon General, Autism Speaks, and many others.

Individualized

 

ABA begins with an in-depth assessment of your child performed by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Based on each child’s individual skill levels and needs, a unique and detailed behavior-analytic treatment plan is developed. No two plans are the same – the BCBA designs the plan to focus on specific goals that are relevant and important to each child and their family. From there, your child works in one-on- one sessions with a Behavior Technician to implement the treatment plan, with ongoing supervision and guidance provided by the BCBA

 

Measurable

 

Through each structured therapy session, direct observational data of behavior is collected and quantified. The data is regularly analyzed by the BCBA to maximize progress toward the goals outlined in the treatment plan, and the plan is adjusted according to the child’s progress and needs.


What scientific evidence indicates that ABA is the best treatment for autism?

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that have shown how ABA therapy has helped children with autism. Consider these studies, for example:

Cohen, H., Amerine-Dickens, M. and Smith, T. (2006) compared 21 children with ASD who received 35-40 hours of ABA per week to a control group of 21 children with ASD who received only public school special education classes. Their work found that: 

  • The group of children receiving ABA showed significantly higher IQ and adaptive behavior scores than the control group
  • 17 out of the 21 children receiving ABA were included in regular education after 3 years; while only 1 out of the 21 children in the control group was included in regular education after three years

To read the entire study, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16685181

Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2014) studied a group of children ages 4-7 with ASD, of which 13 received behavioral treatment and 12 did not. Their work found that: 

  • At the end of the three year treatment period, the children who received behavioral treatment showed larger increases in IQ and adaptive functioning than the children who did not receive treatment
  • The IQ scores of children receiving behavioral treatment increased by 34 points on average

To read the entire study, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17438342