What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

The tenets of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) were first officially codified in the late 1960s. Today, the theoretical and practical approaches of ABA have been employed to assist individuals diagnosed with cognitive and behavioral disorders, such as those with autistic spectrum disorders. Below, the article will explore the finer points of this approach and why it’s effective.

To Observe and Act

Paraphrasing the seminal 1968 work of Baer, Wolf, and Risley, Applied Behavioral Analysis systematically implements informed interventions in order to improve social behaviors to “a meaningful degree.” As well, a secondary goal of ABA is to demonstrate that the applied interventions are the primary driver of the improvement.

ABA relies on a foundation of Learning Theory. Simply stated, interventions are crafted to instruct, reinforce, and evaluate behavioral goals established prior to action. Individuals with autistic spectrum disorders have, in the past forty years, displayed a high degree of responsiveness to this approach. However, another prominent feature contributes to this success.

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ABA is a self-evaluating systematic approach. What this means is, it must be proven as the driving factor for its own success. Significant indicators of efficacy must be present upon evaluation of an intervention action. If they are not, the parties applying the actions must remodel their approach to address any points lacking. In essence, ABA allows a therapeutic approach to behavioral issues that is tailored to an individual. It takes into account all variables and specific needs of a patient.

Autism and ABA

Due to a recent adjustment of how we categorize autistic disorders—on a spectrum, rather than as discrete disorders—ABA has proven successful in assisting individuals with autism to be more social. Learning Theory incorporates a variety of teaching approaches, from chaining or shaping specific behavioral sequences to fluency-based inculcation.

ABA-based interventions are grouped into two basic categories. Comprehensive interventions focus on enhancing discrete skills that have an impact on many other areas of cognitive function, such as IQ, ability to adapt to changing routines, and social interaction. Children with autism are generally introduced and exposed to repetition of instruction in both home-based and center-based atmospheres. Such programs can last for several years, and provide a cognitive basis for more advanced intervention activities.

Focused interventions target more limited behavioral issues that often represent regression. These can include violent behavior towards others, self-harm, pica, anti-social or disruptive behaviors, and other issues. First, an assessment of the negative behaviors is conducted. Caregivers are encouraged to assist in identifying the negative behaviors and the context in which they occur. Then, this information is used to craft a plan to help encourage positive behavior in the place of the problem action. Focused interventions can also be utilized to teach an autistic individual self-care skills and social interaction tactics to help reduce anxiety and development of negative habits.

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It’s important to understand that this type of intervention program must be tailored to an individual case. Medical professionals can assist parents or caregivers in assessing the best possible approaches for an individual, as well as crafting goals and interpreting outcomes. Every person is different, but this approach encourages patience and sensitivity to progress. Careful instruction and repetition are also crucial. In the long term, the self-evaluating nature of applied behavioral analysis is the factor that often makes it successful.

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