What is ABA?
Applied Behavioural Analysis employs methods based on scientific principles of behaviours to build socially useful repertoires and reduce problematic ones.
The behavioural analytical view is that autism is a syndrome of behavioural deficits and excesses that have a neurological basis but are nonetheless amenable to change in response to specific, carefully programmed, constructive interactions with the environment.
Behavioural analytical treatment for autism focuses on teaching small, measurable units of behaviour systematically. Every skill the child with autism does not demonstrate, from relatively simple responses like looking at others to complex acts like spontaneous communication and social interaction, is broken down into small steps. Each step is taught, often in one-to-one teaching situations, by presenting a specific cue or instruction. Sometimes a prompt is added, such as gentle physical guidance, to get the child started.
Appropriate responses are followed by consequences that have been found to function effectively as reinforcers.
A high priority goal is to make learning fun for the child. Another is to teach the child how to discriminate among many different stimuli: his name from other spoken words, colours, shapes, letters and numbers as well as appropriate from inappropriate behaviour.
Problematic responses (such as tantrums, self injury, withdrawal) are explicitly not reinforced which often requires systematic analyses to determine exactly what events function as reinforcers for those responses. Preferably the child is guided to engage in appropriate responses that are incompatible with the problem responses.
Teaching trials are repeated many times, initially in rapid succession until the child performs a response readily without adult-delivered prompts. The child’s responses are recorded and evaluated according to specific, objective definitions and criteria.
To maximize the child’s success, emerging skills are also practiced and reinforced in many less structured situations. With some children, certain skills can be taught entirely in relatively unstructured situations from the outset. Such ‘incidental’ or ‘naturalistic’ practice opportunities have to be arranged carefully, however, to ensure that they occur frequently and that consequences provide consistency.
Ideally there is a gradual progression from one-to-one, to small group, to large group instruction.