What Is ABA?
In the recent decades, the increased demand for treatment for individuals with special needs has amplified the general public’s exposure to applied behavior analysis (ABA); evident with popular media reports and internet postings (an informal Google search with the keywords: “applied behavior analysis” yielded 9,850,000 results). Some have observed that ABA is becoming synonymous with treatments for autism (Poling, 2010). While numerous websites and media reports narrowly describe ABA as a particular method such as discrete trial training (DTT), these examples may provide an incomplete or even inaccurate account of ABA.
We would like to offer the “textbook” definition as our introduction to ABA: Applied behavior analysis is “the science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied systematically to improve socially significant behavior and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior change” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 20).
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Behavioral – First, the behavior targeted for change must be the behavior that improves. For instance, if the behavior selected for change is to drive slower than the legal limit, then talking about reducing driving speed (talking is a behavior) alone is not enough. Second, the behavior must be as precisely and reliably measurable to the greatest extent possible. Third, the behavior selected for change must be the only behavior that changes, and not the observers’ behavior. We constantly question whether it is truly the behavior of interest that changed or if our behaviors (i.e., our observation) have changed.
Analytical – To demonstrate the intervention (manipulated events) is responsible for the behavior change. Ideally, we should expect the behavior change to occur with the intervention and not to occur when the intervention is absent. This is critical in the clinical setting because we want to be sure that the intervention used is responsible for the individual’s learning.
Technological – The procedures and techniques responsible for behavior change are comprehensively described. The technology notes the “how and what was done” in the intervention.
Effective – The behavior selected for change needs to be impactful to a clinical or socially significant degree. To address this question, people involved in dealing with the behavior should be asked how much the behavior needs to change. Additionally, to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention, the behavior change should also change the original reasons as to why the behaviors were selected to be improved in the first place.
Conceptually Systematic – all of the tactics, methods, and strategies used for behavior change must be derived from the principles of behavior. This is analogous to a tree, which may have an infinite number of branches and leaves are the tactics, however, they all can be traced to the tree’s roots, which are the principles of behavior. This significant characteristic is why various teaching methods (e.g., DTT, natural environment teaching (NET), pivotal-response training (PRT), etc.) are all accounted in the science and practice of ABA and that these specific methods are NOT independent of ABA.
Generality – The behavior change should
1) last over time
2) occur across different environments
3) spread to other behaviors that were not intervened directly. What good is the behavior change if it occurs narrowly under specific circumstances? Our goal is to teach lasting skills that the individual may demonstrate across different natural conditions.
Applied – The behavior selected for change must be socially important and results in improving the quality of life for the individual.
However, ABA is the science that is devoted to improving and understanding of what we do (our behaviors). Imagine if an individual improves how he eats by using utensils rather than using his hands, or changes how he drives a car so as to reduce the number of accidents, then you can see the purpose and importance of this science and why it is appropriately named applied behavior analysis. The understanding of behavior lies in its analysis, and we want to determine what is responsible for behavior change. Let us suppose that your computer suddenly freezes and stops working and you bring it in for repairs. The repair person instructs you to, “Repeatedly mash the keys on the keyboard with your palms.” You follow the instructions and eventually, the computer works again. Although we see the effects, we are not sure what was responsible for turning on the computer (i.e., a single key stroke, a combination of key strokes, all of the keys, etc.). This lighthearted example may seem trivial, but in clinical treatment – it is important to know that the intervention is responsible for the behavior change.
In fact, ABA is one of three domains that form the overarching discipline of behavior analysis. The other two domains include behaviorism – which is the philosophy of the science of behavior and experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) – which conducts basic research. The central difference between EAB and ABA is the selection and emphasis of behavior for change (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968). ABA selects behaviors that are socially significant and the outcome of the behavior change will improve the quality of life for the individual and his/her social community. On the other hand, EAB may select any behavior that may or may not result in the improvement of the participant’s lives. These three domains are interrelated and inform the science and application of behavior analysis (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 20).
The beginning of ABA can be traced back to 1968, when Donald Baer, Montrose Wolf, and Todd Risley from University of Kansas published the seminal paper, “Some Current Dimension of Applied Behavior Analysis.” These founding fathers outlined 7 characteristics of ABA that have defined the field (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968).
The same year also marked the inaugural publication of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA). For over 40 years, JABA has been the main platform for disseminating applied research. The rich collection of research over the years has led to the development of behavioral technology and the advancement of our understanding of behavior. The research methods and findings illustrated in JABA and other peer-reviewed literature (i.e., Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior; JEAB) are some of the reasons why ABA based treatment are “scientifically validated” and “evidence-based.” At SEEK Education, we look to JABA and other empirical literature as one of our primary source of guidance, and we affectionately view JABA as our “textbook” (Iwata, 1993).
Over the past 40 years, thousands of published studies have demonstrated ABA’s effectiveness in improving a variety of social issues (i.e., traffic safety, work-place safety, recycling, etc.). In addition, ABA based treatment has been empirically validated as an effective intervention for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities (Odom et al., 2003). SEEK Education welcomes you to learn more about ABA by exploring our website and visiting the links from our resource page. We also encourage you to look for the defining characteristics when evaluating ABA services. SEEK Education is proud to be a part of this wonderful field, and we strive to provide you with accurate information and resources so the community may be well-informed.
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1), 91–97.
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1987). Some still-current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20(4), 313-327.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Iwata, B. A. (1993). Editors are students of JABA. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(4), 548-551.
Odom, S. L., Brown, W. H., Frey, T., Karasu, N., Smith-Canter, L. L., & Strain, P. S. (2003). Evidence-based practices for young children with autism: Contributions from single-subject design research. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18, 166-175.
Poling, A. (2010). Looking to the future: Will behavior analysis survive and prosper? The Behavior Analyst, 33(1), 7-17.
Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10(2), 349-367.
OUR CORE VALUES
To provide caring services and quality interventions for the population with autism and other disabilities to empower our professionals to excel in the clinical sciences.
Accountability – We hold ourselves responsible by providing the highest quality and cost-effective services that produce the optimal outcomes in our community.
Supportive Teamwork – We learn and work cooperatively with one another to achieve our common goals and our vision.
Dignity – We provide compassionate services with the belief in the individual’s value and potential.
Clinical Excellence – We strive to advance the clinical practice guided by the principles of behavior analysis that result in providing effective treatment for underserved populations.
SEEK Education is a nonprofit organization founded in 2000 in response to the need for excellent ABA services that encompass the scientific aspects of treatment with the genuine compassion and empathy for families and children. Our parent-founded board of directors leads the organization and ensures our philosophy is embedded in our services.
We remain loyal to the belief that quality services should be universally accessible to all families, regardless of their background, language barrier, age, or individual challenges. We are proud to have a team of professionals who have set new ethical and clinical standards that serve as the model for service providers.
SEEK Education stands by the defining characteristics of behavior analysis in that the knowledge and skills are to be shared with all those we serve. It is this same value that established our trainer-to-trainer approach and drives us to advance our systems and services.