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What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis and, in short, is the science behind understanding behavior. This approach differs from other fields, such as counseling, in that it identifies environmental variables and uses a step-by-step approach to teach and promote lasting behavior change.

ABA is the most effective and evidence based treatment modality to assist children with Autism in obtaining skills and reducing problem behaviors. ABA is about teaching socially appropriate skills, by breaking behaviors into small teachable steps, primarily through play and positive reinforcement.  

The focus of ABA is observable behavior. An ABA practitioner observes behavior in the natural environment (the classroom, home, etc.) and identifies what in that environment is maintaining the behavior (why the behavior keeps happening), as well as what environmental factors are preventing other behaviors from occurring.  

The techniques used to bring about behavior change are called evidence-based practices. Tested by research and experience for more than 35 years, ABA practices have been endorsed by the Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Association for Science in Autism Research.

Ultimately, the environment (home, school, grandma’s, the supermarket, the clinic, etc.) is altered in such a way as to reduce the likelihood that problematic behaviors will continue to occur (e.g. severe tantrums, aggression toward self/others, and other inappropriate behaviors). At the same time, other training procedures are implemented to teach the individual appropriate social skills (peer interaction, appropriate classroom behavior, play skills, etc.), communication skills (developing vocal language or using alternative communication devices), academic skills (writing, reading, etc.), and functional living skills (toilet training, dressing skills, brushing teeth, etc.)

What is an ABA Program?

“ABA program” is the term often used to refer to the total service or therapy program that your child will receive. An initial assessment will inform the treatment plan developed for your child, and continuous data collection will provide information about your child's response to treatment and progress.   An ABA program is typically overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. An ABA Program is delivered 1:1 with an individual by Behavior Technicians who are trained by the BCBA. The BCBA will manage the program, track data, and supervise staff implementing the program.

Throughout the assessment process and ongoing treatment, the BCBA will:

  • Determine your child’s strengths and areas that need improvement (called target behaviors)
  • Write instructions that tell you how to address challenging behavior, called Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs)
  • Provide ongoing training and supervision to the Behavior Technicians that will work with your child
  • Provide ongoing and frequent check-ins to monitor your child’s progress. The BCBA overseeing your child’s program will observe your child’s behavior and observe staff to figure out why a particular intervention may not be working as expected or to identify a different intervention that may work better with your child

Goals for ABA can include many different skill areas, such as:

  • Language and communication

  • Social relationships

  • Play skills

  • Safety skills

  • Family relationships

  • Self-care skills

  • Reduced problem behaviors

  • Coping and distress tolerance skills
  • Emotional Development
  • Pre-Academic skills
  • Community participation
  • Independence and self-advocacy
  • Vocational skills

An effective ABA intervention for Autism is not a "one size fits all" approach and should never be viewed as a "canned" set of programs or drills. On the contrary, it is a customized intervention for each learner's skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner.