ABA therapy: an overview
Behavior Analysts (BT) and Registered Behavior Technicians RBT) use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to care for individuals who think and learn differently, like children with autism. The main strategy used in ABA therapy is positive reinforcement. If a behavior is reinforced the individual is more likely to repeat that same behavior and over time positive behavioral change can be established. However, this can also be true of maladaptive behavior. If an undesired or maladaptive behavior is unintentionally reinforced, this behavior could be more likely to continue.
The main goal of ABA therapy is to help individuals work on skills that will help them become functionally and socially independent and to improve their overall quality of life.
Uses of ABA therapy
ABA therapy aims to determine the reason why an individual engages in maladaptive behaviors. Based on the reason why, or the function of the behavior, the behavior analysts and technicians will utilize evidence-based practices to address the behaviors. ABA therapy can be used in clinics, schools, communities, and homes.
ABA therapists make use of the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) approach to improve specific behaviors and target them. That includes:
- The stimulus that provokes a particular kind of behavior or what happens immediately before the behavior
- The resulting behavior
- The response to the behavior- this can be either positive or negative
For example, parents may ask their children to clean the plates from the table after dinner. If the children follow the directions, they get reinforced. The antecedent is the direction to clean the plates from the table, the behavior is the child following directions, the consequence, in this case positive, is reinforcement for following directions.
ABA therapy examples
ABA may use a wide variety of techniques to reduce maladaptive behavior and encourage positive behavior. These techniques will vary based on the therapy setting, individual, and targeted behaviors. The following are some prominent ABA therapy examples:
- Discrete Trial Training
Discrete Trial Training, also known as DTT, consists of a one-on-one, controlled environment in which ABA therapy is used. In this case, the therapist provides the direction or the discriminative stimulus for the desired behavior, the child responds and then reinforces the appropriate response or behavior. The therapist repeats this process again and again until the desired behavior is consistently displayed.
In modeling, a therapist may use various means to demonstrate the desired behavior during ABA therapy. Mostly, a video, audio, or in-person source is provided to show what the individual is expected to do. For example, the individual may be asked to say thank you when given a gift or an object. This technique is effective in developing communication and social skills in children.
- Picture Exchange Communication System
Picture Exchange Communication System, also known as PECS, uses pictures to teach vocabulary and reciprocal communication skills to children. There are multiple phases to PECS training which may result in a long process for your child. The general outline of PECS is to teach the child to exchange a picture or sentence of pictures of the desired item with the therapist or other communicator for the desired item.
- Reinforcement Systems
Reinforcement systems are used by ABA therapists to teach individuals the consequences of particular behaviors. The reinforcement may be withheld, or individuals may be prompted to try again if they do not engage in the target behavior. However, if they do engage in the target behavior, they receive specific positive reinforcement. For example, the therapist may provide tokens to children that can be exchanged for tangible, social, or edible reinforcements.
5 Techniques used in ABA therapy
ABA therapy involves several techniques that help produce positive outcomes for individuals who can benefit from behavior modification. Some of these include:
1. Positive reinforcement
Individuals who face challenges in social interactions or learning may not know how to respond in many situations. Positive reinforcement is an impactful technique used to encourage positive behaviors. Positive reinforcement is the act of adding something to increase the likelihood that it will happen again. For example, adding jellybeans to a jar for each time homework is complete, therefore increasing the likelihood that homework completion will continue to occur.
2. Negative reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is the removal of something to increase the likelihood that something will happen again. For example, a child is taught to say no and when they say no, an item or activity is removed. Therefore teaching the appropriate response of ‘no’ as a replacement for maladaptive behaviors. .
3. Prompts and cues
Verbal or visual cues used to encourage positive behavior are prompts. Verbal cues can be used as gentle reminders. There are levels of prompts from least to most invasive. These include, in order, independent, visual, verbal, gestural, modeling, partial physical and full physical prompting.
4. Task analysis
The task analysis model serves to provide an outline of the skills needed and used to complete a task. Task analyses are typically used for items such as washing hands or brushing teeth. Therapists record the skills that can be done independently so they can then target the needed skills in order for total task completion.
Generalization is a skill taught so that the same behavior occurs across a variety of people or environments. This may be something as small as requesting bubbles from a different colored container or from a different person or in a different room.
ABA therapist skills
Aspiring ABA therapists are required to develop certain key skills and competencies to be successful in their field. Some of the important ones include:
- Communication Skills
ABA therapists must understand how to send and receive verbal and nonverbal cues. They must be able to communicate with teachers, parents, students, and colleagues effectively and clearly. This includes utilizing non-scientific terms when communicating with those who are not in the field of ABA
- Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking skills help ABA therapists to make informed decisions about therapy programs. For example, professionals using ABA therapy must design every session and program based on the skills, needs, and interests of the learners.
Empathy is a critical skill to make sure the person receiving therapy feels that their needs are understood and that they are connected to their therapist in order for ABA therapy to be successful.
Therapists using ABA therapy can apply various techniques to help make individuals with autism more independent, well-adjusted, and happy in the outside world. Techniques like positive reinforcement help individuals learn better and ultimately become functionally independent.
With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we at Songbird, are building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them. Contact us today if you are a parent looking to overcome challenges in your child’s skills.