After starting and running my son’s ABA programme for many years and also running Autism Support UK Saturday School this is a question I get asked all the time – What is ABA? In fact I must get asked this question more times than I get asked my name!
Simply put I feel ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is something that can help whatever your targets are in life – whether that is increasing exercise, decreasing eating habits, diabetes control or Autism programmes – ABA can help with them all.
Your Behaviour analyst will determine what behaviours to target for increasing and which to target for decreasing. We use ABA for our Autism programmes at ASUK, this means all children have individual interventions/targets set for them. It is not generic!
Every child has targets set for them as all people are individuals!
As a parent this was a huge plus for us and my son, I would be working on his needs rather than a blanket one size fits all strategy. ABA is a science (not a therapy) it is the Science of Behaviour Change that uses objective data to drive decision-making regarding programmes. Again, simply put – through data collection (taking data on responses) a Behaviour Analyst can see if the intervention put in place is working or not (if it’s effective) – this aids quicker progression as you don’t simply ‘Wonder’ if a child can or can’t do something, the data will tell you!
This gives the evidence to the behaviourist that a programme needs review, changing or breaking down. The data also shows if the child’s intervention is working and if the child has mastered that target and needs to move on to the next.
ABA uses principles of behaviour to set up an environment in which people learn, the programmes are put in place by your behaviourist and carried out by ABA tutors – a heavy emphasis on positive reinforcement and rewards is used using the what motivates the child – therefore creating a fun environment for your learner.
Positive reinforcement again simply is - When a target behaviour (for example - your child claps their hands) is followed by a reward, the behaviour (clapping hands) is more likely to be repeated.
ABA is not new!It’s been going for many years and Behaviourists have been working with children and adults since the 1960’s.
ASUK hope to bring ABA to more families in the North West.
Here is more about ABA:Based on the science of Behaviour Analysis, ABA is a child centred/data driven approach that involves the use of certain techniques to improve socially significant behaviour and teach functional skills, by breaking down each skill into smaller components and teaching them in a way that children with ASD can understand.
Reinforcement - Why is this important?
Reinforcement is the main principle used in order to alter behaviour, whereby desirable behaviours/skills that are reinforced are more likely to reoccur. The same applies to undesirable behaviours; if undesirable behaviours are not reinforced, they are less likely to occur in the future. When working with a child, behaviour therapists use items or other sources that are highly motivating to the child, in order to increase the likelihood that new skills and behaviours will reoccur.
Functions of behaviour – Why is this important?
As well as observing a behaviour (i.e. screaming, slamming doors, crying), ABA also takes into account the reason why a behaviour is occurring, known as the ‘Function’ of behaviour. This allows behaviour therapists to teach alternative, appropriate behaviours in order to meet this function and the child’s needs.
For example, if a child was in the supermarket and they started to cry when they passed the chocolate, this is a possible indication that they want access to chocolate. If the mother was to then give the child chocolate in order for him to stop crying, this crying behaviour is then reinforced, therefore the child may cry the next time he wants chocolate.
Behaviour therapists however would observe this behaviour and if the function was to gain access to chocolate, they would teach an alternative/socially acceptable behaviour, for example ‘I want chocolate’ if the child is vocal, or if the child is not vocal, we could teach a method of Picture Exchange Communication (PEC’s). When the child uses this skill, he will then be reinforced with the chocolate, which would ultimately increase the likelihood that this request would occur again.
The function could however also be ‘Escape’ as the child doesn’t like the chocolate isle, therefore in this situation the behaviour therapist would teach an alternative behaviour such as ‘Can we go?’
Child centred approach
ABA focuses heavily on the child’s motivation and making learning fun for the child. A lot of skills taught can be taught naturally through play without the child realising. The skills we teach are based on each individual child’s needs, taking into account their age and current abilities.
Why do we collect data?
Data is collected in order for behaviour therapists to visually see how a child is progressing in terms of specific skills, along with whether undesirable or desirable behaviours are increasing/decreasing. Based on the data that is taken, decisions can be made as to whether a particular intervention needs to be altered, or whether the skill needs to be broken down further. For example if a desirable behaviour/skill does not appear to be increasing or improving, changes need to be made.
What Skills Can we Teach Using ABA?
The areas we target at the Saturday school include:
- Increasing Communication Skills
- Group Skills
- Play Skills
- Social Skills
and Reducing Barriers To Learning