Behaviour Analysis is the scientific study of the principles of behaviour and how learning takes place. An example of this is positive reinforcement: when behaviour is followed by a strong enough reward, the behaviour is more likely to be repeated in the future. Through decades of research, the field of behaviour analysis has developed many techniques for increasing desired, positive behaviours and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles of learning and motivation to bring about meaningful and positive change in behaviour. The effectiveness ABA has been widely researched over the past 30 years, within various environments and with a children and adults with a range of difficulties.
Key features of an ABA approach
Planning and Ongoing Assessment
- A qualified and trained professional plans and directly oversees the intervention
- A detailed assessment of the client’s current level of language, communication and other skills takes place initially.
- Therapy goals and targets are established and discussed with parents, carers and other professions. Therapy goals are developmentally appropriate and may target a broad range of skill areas such as communication, sociability, self-care, play and leisure and motor development. Targets for therapy breaks down desired skills into manageable steps to be taught from the simplest (e.g. imitating single sounds) to the more complex (e.g. carrying on a conversation).
- The intervention involves ongoing assessment of the client’s progress during the duration of therapy. The information is frequently reviewed from ongoing assessment to adapt therapy procedures and goals as needed.
- The analyst meets regularly with family members and program staff to plan ahead, review progress and make adjustments as needed.
ABA Techniques and Philosophy
- Parents and carers are involved as much as possible in therapy and given guideance from the therapist so they can support learning and skill practice throughout the day.
- The client’s day should be structured to provide many opportunities to practice skills developed during therapy in both structured and unstructured situations.
- The use of postive reinforcement is very important to the success of an ABA programme. The client receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors. The emphasis is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning.
- The client receives no reinforcement for undesirable behaviours or challenging behaviours. Punishment is not used in this approach.
Assessment of challenging behaviours
In order to develop an understanding of a person’s behaviour and how to adapt it, a comprehensive assessment of the undesired behaviour is required.
Information for behavioural assessment is most frequently gathered using observation forms, such as ABC charts. ABC charts allow the recorder to note information about the following:
A – Antecedents – What happened before the particular behaviour?
B – Behaviour – What did the person actually do/what was the behaviour?
C – Consequence – What happened after the behaviour?
It is also important to gather information about the possible function of undesired behaviour.
Once this information is gathered and analysed conclusions can be made about how to bring about a positive change in behaviour by modifying the “before” and “after” of the behaviour, i.e. antecedents and consequences.