What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is probably the best-known, best-researched, and the only treatment for children with autism that has produced significant and comprehensive improvements, up to and including recovery.
ABA is a specialized area within the field of Psychology. The goal of ABA is to apply specific psychological principles (e.g., reinforcement, prompting, generalization, etc.) to issues that are socially important (like autism) to produce meaningful change (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968/1987).
“ABA involves the breakdown of all skills into small, discrete tasks, taught in a highly structured and hierarchical manner. Central to the successful application of this method is the art of differential reinforcement. That is, the therapist or parent learns how to systematically reward or reinforce desired behaviors, and ignore, redirect, or discourage inappropriate behaviors. Also central to any well-run behavioral program is the therapist’s close monitoring of what is working and what is not working. Data on all the child’s learning are recorded regularly and the therapist adjusts the teaching programs and protocol with respect to what the data indicate about the child’s progress.” (Maurice, Green, and Luce, 1996)
In an ABA program, lessons to be taught are broken down into their simplest elements. ABA focuses on teaching small, measurable units of behavior systematically. At first, the child may be rewarded for doing something close to the desired response. Over time, as the child masters the lesson, expectations are raised and primary reinforcers (like bits of food) are replaced with social reinforcers (hugs, praise, etc.). As the child masters the skill and generalizes it, it becomes self-reinforcing. ABA focuses on increasing appropriate behaviors and celebrating successes and minimizing attention and energy wasted on inappropriate behaviors. Creating a positive and fun learning environment facilitates the learning process in all domains including social, play, and language. In this way simple responses are built systematically into complex and fluid combinations of typical, age-appropriate responses.