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What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

In the past century, much knowledge has come forth surrounding autism treatment and psychology in general. We have seen humanism, inclusion advocacy, disability rights and equal access rights being massively purported in a bid to help those with severe disabilities access the care and treatment they deserve. One such development in the psychological community is that of Applied Behavior Analysis, commonly called ABA. ABA has quickly become the most sought after and expensive treatment option for children on the autism spectrum as well as for children with other behavioral and emotional disorders. What is ABA? We will take a look at what it entails and dive into some common principles which underlie it’s philosophy.

Unlike famous psychologists from the 19th century such as Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson, John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner studied behavior, emotions and mental states of individuals from the perspective of what can be seen and measured. This went against popular traditions of other pioneering psychologists of their time who believed behavior should be explored in order to ascertain the emotions, thoughts and feelings of the individual. This huge contrast in perspective led to a scientific study and account of various behaviors and birthed the field of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Today, ABA as we know it treats behavior as an event which is caused either by another event before or after it. Scientifically speaking, therapists would classify these events as antecedents and consequences respectively. Within the study of behavior, from the view of the behaviorist, only characteristics of behavior which can be measured are worth investigation. Hence, various parameters for studying behavior have been traditionally used. These are: rate, frequency, duration, latency, locus, topography and force. Using the information derived from these objective accounts of behavior, a therapist then goes to work to create a plan to change socially significant problem behavior.

There are many procedures in the toolkit of a behaviorist. Behavior change can be carried out in a variety of ways depending upon the case. Some common procedures are:

  • Shaping and chaining – a systematic procedure of teaching new behaviors by building upon previously taught steps or behaviors within a chain of an organised sequence.

  • Prompting – teaching new behavior by using gestures, pictures or physical touch to assist a child in repeating a behavior which he or she is being trained to do independently.

  • Behavior contracts – an agreement used in schools between the therapist, client, parents and teachers to systematically and officially declare an intervention, its terms and consequences. This is normally used for severe and disruptive behavior in schools.

  • Token Economy – A system based on the foundational ABA principle of reinforcement. This is used within a class to implement widescale rules and expectations for the duration of the school term.

  • PECS – used for children on the autism spectrum who are non-verbal or show signs of delayed speech. This involves using pictures with words below to communicate needs and desires to other persons.

There are many more procedures used in ABA, and so many more to come! ABA is still a new and developing practice in many parts of the world. As a result, there currently exists unequal access to this life-changing therapy. We encourage greater advocacy and awareness so that children who desperately need help, get the attention they deserve.

This is why we provide the services we do and hope our read-aloud stories can help those with special needs.

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