What Is ABA?

What is ABA? Most parents that have a child or children with autism know what ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is. But if you are a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed, this learning approach is something you'll want to know about.

As an ABA therapist, whether you use discrete trial teaching or the verbal behavior approach, I find it to be the most effective way for teaching a child with autism. I'll give you an overview here.

Over the last 50 years, ABA has been researched very carefully and much data has been gathered to prove its effectiveness for presenting instruction for children with autism and reducing problem behaviors.

ABA is based on the knowledge that behavior is acquired through interactions with the environment, and changing the events in the environment can change a behavior. An ABA-based program, through data collection, monitoring, and changes if need be, shows a child's behavior and learning progress.

It involves breaking down a specific skill into small steps, and reinforcing a child with either verbal praise, edibles, tickles, or what ever is motivating at that time to help the child want to learn that specific step. Once little steps are mastered, they become a little more involved. When first starting with ABA, students are prompted to respond correctly to leave less opportunities for error and more for success.

Children who have ABA home programs and are taught one on one, will also be practiced in a more typical setting for the child to generalize the skill.

There are different parts of ABA, they are as follows: discrete trial teaching, which involves repeatedly teaching the same skill over and over five to ten times; verbal behavior, which will be discussed separately, and incidental teaching, which is teaching in a more natural setting. Students are taught many stimuli over time, data is collected according to specific criteria, and graphed to provide a visual picture of how a student is learning a skill or skills. Once your child is able to discriminate, choice making for reinforcers become highly motivating to your learner.

An Example of ABA Works

I will give a couple of examples on how an ABA discrete trial approach could work: a child is going to learn the skill of clapping hands as a way of following directions. The therapist or instructor would say to your child, "clap hands" and see if your child responds at all and is correct or responds and is incorrect. If your child responds correctly within 3 to 5 seconds, your child will be reinforced with either tangibles, edibles, or maybe tickles. Just to give you a few examples. If your child does not respond , the therapist may give full or partial physical prompt or maybe even a model prompt, then repeat as well as verbally say this is "clap hands." If your child errors, an error correction procedure takes place and direction is asked again.

If your child exhibits behaviors that we want to change while teaching the skill, like having a tantrum, resisting prompts and then crying, the behaviors are ignored, skill is not reinforced, and is presented again. Once a skill is mastered and a appropriate behaviors accompany the skill.

Remember a skill is different then the steps. It takes the one by one steps to master the skill. It is then taught in more settings so the skill becomes generalized, meaning that if the child was asked to clap hands in the living room, or at the playground or at a lunch table, the child is able to do it.

This next example is a child with no expressive language might be taught to make the sound "mmm" for more. If the child imitates "mmm" he/she will obtain a preferred item.Then the next step would be the child would be expected to make a more clearly pronounced "mmm" sound. Over time the reinforcement would be delayed until the child says "more" Once that is done successfully, the child would learn that whenever he/she wanted something done again the word more would have to be used.

Sooner or later preferred labels would be taught because that would be most motivating to learn. Once preferred labels are learned ( cookie, milk, juice) are learned, then the child wold learn to put the two words together (more cookie).

Every child is different and could be at different skill levels. Keeping that in mind, remember depending in the learner, depends on how far a skill would need to be broken down. An important component of ABA is that teaching trials be presented many times to give the learner more opportunities to learn. Repetition is the most effective way children with autism learn new skills.

ABA also is helpful when teaching children to complete tasks, such as puzzles, shape sorters, stringing bead, doing pop beads, or peg boards. For these types of activities, a therapist would use hand over hand with the child to guide the correct response. For example, if doing a 3 piece puzzle, the therapist might only leave one piece out to show the learner the piece out can only go one place, and if need be hand over hand to show how it is done, then do that same piece and see if the child can do it independently. Once the child can do one piece independently, the therapist would then leave two pieces out and build up to having all three pieces out.

During this teaching procedure the therapist would say "do puzzle" and while doing hand over hand, say 'this is doing the puzzle" so the learner hears the instruction again.

Due to the research defending repetition, it is recommended that a child in an ABA home program receive 20-40 hours of therapy a week.

I know this may be difficult or impossible for some families, so my goal is to give you as many tools as possible that you can use yourself, or to complement therapy you may be receiving.

What is ABA? Learn more here. behavior services in Florida