What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that ensure learning. Positive reinforcement include delivery of a reward to ensure that behavior is repeated. Through decades of research, Applied Behavior Analysis has developed protocols to increase expected behaviors and to reduce those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.
Applied behavior analysis when practiced with children with Autism has shown encouraging results.
How is ABA different from other therapeutic methods related to autism?
There is a great deal of research literature that has demonstrated that ABA is effective for improving children’s outcomes, especially their cognitive and language abilities. Over the past several decades, different models using ABA have emerged, all of which use behavioral teaching.
A research article by Philip S.Strain brought out the fact that meaningful social relations should be a primary outcome of educational programs for young children with autism. A number of instructional strategies derived from applied behavior analysis were reviewed by him, with particular attention paid to the social validity and sustainability of behavior change. He said “more intensive, comprehensive, and ecologically valid intervention methods must be used in order to produce the level of behavior change desired by consumers and demanded by the complexity of the social world.”.
Like many other skills, social skills for children with Autism must often be taught directly. This is because children with autism do not easily acquire those skills naturally from their environment, like their typically developing peers. It is also because autistic children have greater difficulty reading subtle social cues, which makes interpreting meaning challenging.
Teaching social skills directly can take many forms. ABA involves breaking down a task into its component parts to teach it and using positive reinforcement to motivate the desired behavior.
Methodical records are kept of each teaching trial to assure mastery of a target. The data is reviewed by a behavior consultant who oversees the program. From the data, the consultant may decide to hold off on targets, put the target on a maintenance schedule, or introduce a new target.
What Does ABA Intervention Involve?
Effective ABA intervention for autism is not a “one size fits all” approach and should never be viewed as a “canned” set of programs or drills. On the contrary, a skilled therapist customizes the intervention to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner.
Researcher O. Ivar Lovaas (1927–2010) devoted nearly half a century to ground-breaking research and practice aimed at improving the lives of children with autism and their families. In the 1960s, he pioneered applied behavior analytic (ABA) interventions to decrease severe challenging behaviors and establish communicative language. Later, he sought to improve outcomes by emphasizing early intervention for preschoolers with autism, provided in family homes with active parental participation. His studies indicated that many children who received early intensive ABA made dramatic gains in development. Lovaas also disseminated ABA widely through intervention manuals, educational films, and public speaking. Moreover, as an enthusiastic teacher and devoted mentor, he inspired many students and colleagues to enter the field of ABA and autism intervention.
What Kind of Progress Can Be Expected with ABA?
Customized data driven ABA programes can help learners with autism make meaningful changes in many areas. However, changes do not typically occur quickly. Rather, most learners require intensive and ongoing instruction that builds on their step-by-step progress. Moreover, the rate of progress – like the goals of intervention – varies considerably from person to person depending on age, level of functioning, family goals and other factors.
An assessment was done by Diane Hayward from the UK and Svein Eikeseth from Akershus University, Norway, where this study was examined for progress after 1 year of treatment for children with autism who received a mean of 36 hours per week one-to-one University of California at Los Angeles Applied Behavior Analysis (UCLA ABA) treatment. They concluded that “Between intake and follow-up, children in both groups improved significantly on IQ, visual-spatial IQ, language comprehension, expressive language, social skills, motor skills and adaptive behaviour. There were no significant differences between the two groups on any of the measures at follow-up. Mean IQ for participants in both groups increased by 16 points between intake and follow-up. These findings are consistent with previous studies demonstrating the benefits of ABA treatment.”.