Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied Behavior Analysis, known as ABA, is a systematic approach to behavior modification that can be used to alter undesirable behavior. The basic principles of ABA can be applied to either humans or animals, of course, as the system follows a well known stimulus-response pattern that psychologists have traditionally used in a variety of experiments. The most usual application, however, is in an educational context where it is necessary to find solutions for consistent inappropriate behavior demonstrated by children or adults suffering from autism or similar psychological disorders.
Environmental manipulation is the fundamental technique used by ABA. Current behaviors are carefully observed and recorded and any observed patterns are used to determine how consequences should be manipulated in order to effect change. Psychologists teach desirable behavior in small incremental steps, and provide appropriate rewards as behavior alters and improves. Typically, the process involves four necessary steps:
a) Stimulus: This is usually in the form of a verbal command or request, but sometimes a visual signal may be used instead. It is important to ensure that the child understands what is being asked, and the response, whether appropriate or not, should be carefully recorded.
b) Prompt: Children will frequently avoid response, especially during the initial stages of training. In this case, the educator will use an appropriate reinforcement, either by repeating the request or by using encouraging facial expressions.
c) Response: Some kind of response must be noted. Growth and improvement are tracked by observing the child’s reaction to the stimulus. Undesirable responses may result from a stimulus that is too complex. In this case it should be broken down into simpler components.
d) Consequence: This usually comes in the form of praise or reward. It is important to reinforce positive response by ensuring desirable outcomes.
ABA has been used successfully to develop a variety of desirable social skills in children and adults. Verbal and communication skills are often a priority because learning in other areas is so dependent upon them, and in the case of young children, interactive play skills are needed as well. Children suffering from autism require consistent training and assistance with such things as ordinary eye contact and their ability to respond to simple instruction. When significant improvement in social behavior has been accomplished, more consistent development of cognitive skills is often noted as well.
Autistic children require consistency in order to develop desirable social and cognitive skills. Although ABA is based on a systematic and consistent method, children spend most of their time at home, and it is essential that parents be involved with all aspects of behavior modification. Parents cannot be expected to know how to assist professionals with the implementation of an ABA program without proper training and in-service. Fortunately, most child psychologists are very much aware of this and take steps to ensure that parents are fully involved in the process.
Like other systems developed to effect behavior modification, ABA is not accepted by all educators and parents as the perfect solution to problems related to autism. Some claim, for example, that such a rigid, meticulous system leads to robot-like behavior, depriving children of the right to be themselves through self expression. Others, while seeing the benefits and necessity of behavior modification, claim that ABA is an expensive system, and most parents and school authorities cannot afford the high cost of psychologists, therapists, and other professionals. Regardless of these views, ABA does have a demonstrable record of success with some children, and like all educational approaches, it should be used when appropriate with children who can benefit from its unique features.