Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) in Autism

Applied Behavioral Analysis in Autism OTprinciple
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Applied behavioral analysis or ABA is a therapeutic technique used for teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior. This technique is developed by psychologist Ivar Lovaas at the Lovaas Institute for early intervention.

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is an applied behaviour modification techniques to teach children to respond, request and communicate. This method has been one of the standards for the behaviour treatment of autism.

ABA programs can help the individual increase language and communication skills, attention-focused social skills, memory, and academic and decrease undesired behavior.

You can find applied behavioral analysis in many public and private settings where children with Autism work with social education therapists. ABA is also practiced by the occupational therapist who specialized in working with children with Autism spectrum disorder.

How Applied Behavioral Analysis works?

Currently, the ABA method mainly focuses on encouraging the child in his way, learning in natural settings, and using the child’s curiosity about a subject in which to build a lesson. In other words, we can say that ABA therapy more emphasizes how children learn naturally and less like a classroom exercise or skill training.

The main focus of ABA therapy is on engaging the child continuously and discouraging him from activities such as repeated play or self-stimulating activities. ABA technique is not unpleasant for the child at all, the therapist provides a penalty of brakes, rewards, and opportunities for play.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a flexible treatment method. ABA can be adapted according to a person uniqueness to meet his or her needs:

  • It can be provided in many locations such as home, school community, and therapeutics setup
  • It teaches the skills that are useful to everyday life
  • ABA may involve one to one  teaching or group instructions

Getting the route of behavior

The most valuable contributor of applied behavior analysis is the concept of analyzing antecedence, behavior, and consequence. Analyzing the source of behavior and what may be causing it is useful, no matter what methodology or approach is used in the intervention. The challenge of figuring out the meaning of behavior starts with examining possible antecedence.

Antecedent, behavior and consequences (ABC)

  1. Antecedent- This is what happens before a behaviour occurs it may be verbal such as command and request a physical suggestion like object or light sound etc. The antecedent may come from the environment, from another person or from the person itself such as thoughts and feelings.
  2. Behaviour- This is the person’s response (or maybe lack of response) to the antecedent. It may be a physical action, verbal response or something else.
  3. Consequences- This is the result of behaviour. It may include positive reinforcement of the desired behaviour or not enforcement for inappropriate behaviour.

For example, when we are hungry (antecedent) we eat something (behavior) and then we feel better (consequence).

Suppose the child shows aggressive behavior when you turn on the television. You want to analyze what causes this behaviour. Maybe the child experiences sensory overload from the high pitch of the picture tube that most people cannot even hear or maybe he perceives the screen flicker rate the way most people see a strobe light. A very rare possibility is the child is seeking attention.

Consequence refers to the condition required to maintain the behavior for example by acting out the child motivates you to turn off the TV.

With some experimentation, you can find a solution to the challenging behavior such as using an LCD screen rather than a picture tube to eliminate the possible sensory overload. Additionally, you may analyze behavior by using a functional behavior assessment.

Positive reinforcement: The main strategies in Applied Behavioral Analysis

Positive reinforcement works on the principle that when a behaviour is followed by something that is valued like a reward, person is more likely to repeat that behaviour over time it motivates positive behaviour change.

The rewards should be meaningful to the individual. It may include a physical reward such as a toy, chocolate or any action that motivates the person to do that thing.

Breaking actions into small steps

The Discrete Trial Training (DTT) was the original type of applied behavioral analysis.

Discrete trial training (DTT) is one of the types of applied behaviour analysis. DTT breakdown task into small discrete components. Systematically the therapist teaches these discrete components/skills one by one. During this process, the therapist uses reinforcements for desired behaviour like the therapist may use a candy or a small toy to reinforce the desired behaviour.

Using the task analysis, therapists break down a skill or task, or routine into minute parts and teach each part separately and chained/combine together as an entire process.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) takes place in a one-on-one teaching situation and emphasizes root skill-building through a very systematic and consistent approach by the therapist. For example, a child could spend hours practicing trying to butter a piece of bread after breaking down the task into its separate component.

Example of DTT (Steps of the bread buttering process) in Applied behavioral analysis (AVA) OTprinciple
Here’s to hoping that the butter isn’t too cold and spreads easily!

If the child does the task correctly, the therapist or train reward him or her. They don’t reinforce incorrect responses children learn tasks/skills systematically by repetitive trials. Some children may be able to combine steps and others may need one or more individual steps broken down further.

Does ABA works?

  • Lovaas, 1987 studies show that 40 hours every week leads to a significant increase in functioning over time.
  • Currently, ABA is an evidence-based practice treatment that includes many techniques. All of these techniques mainly focus on antecedents and consequences.
  • After more than 20 studies, established that intensive and long-term (25-40 hours per week for 1-3 years) using ABA principal involves outcome for many but not all children with autism, children gain in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills, and social functioning.

Applied Behavioral Analysis: Introducing to a new child

Language is supposed to be the foundation of many other skills. Therefore when a therapist teaches language first it makes it easier to acquire other skills.

Applied verbal behavior (AVA) is an approach to applied behavioral analysis that stresses language development. AVA teaches children to imitate, follow instruction, match, and requesting by using vocalization, signs, or picture exchange communication systems (PECS).

The therapists program the AVA according to learners skills, need interests, preferences and family situation.

The therapist decides treatment goals based on the age and ability level of a person with Autism or ASD. Treatment focuses on:

  • Communication and language
  • Self-care activities 
  • Social skills
  • Play and Leisure
  • Motor skills like the range of motion, endurance, strength, etc.
  • Learning and academic skills

The instruction plan breakdown each of the skills into small concrete steps. Refer to discrete trial training (DTT) for more information.

The therapist in applied behavioral analysis measures progress by collecting data in each therapy session it helps to monitor the person’s progress towards a goal on an ongoing basis.


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