What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

ABA is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. ABA focuses on the principles of behavior which provide us with a greater understanding of why we do what we do. Living with the challenging behaviors exhibited by a child with ASD can be very hard on a family. ABA can help reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors (i.e. self-injury, screaming, biting, extreme fears, rigidity, limited food repertoires). This can dramatically improve the quality of life for the family by lowering stress levels in the home environment. At CARE we believe a strong, healthy family is the best
gift we can give a person with ASD.  Behavior analysts began working with young children with ASD and related disorders in the 1960s. Since then, techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with ASD, from toddlers through adulthood, using principles of ABA. These procedures can be applied with the individual with ASD during everyday situations, (i.e.grocery shopping, dinnertime, bedtime, or at the local playground). ABA therapy can occur in one-on-one sessions with the therapist and the individual with ASD or in larger group settings.

Behavior Analysis Overview Video

How does ABA Therapy Work?

ABA is effective in a variety of settings (i.e. schools, workplaces, homes, and clinics). ABA involves many techniques and procedures for understanding and changing behavior. ABA is a flexible treatment and when applied appropriately can increase the individual’s overall quality of life and level of independence. ABA has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and U.S. Surgeon General. ABA is widely recognized as the most evidenced-based intervention for persons with ASD.

Positive Reinforcement

  • Positive reinforcement is one of the main procedures used in ABA.
  • When a behavior is followed by something that is valued, such as a reward, a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.
  • First, the therapist identifies a goal behavior. Each time the person exhibits the behavior or skill successfully, he will get access to a reward/reinforcer that is meaningful to him (i.e. verbal praise, a toy or book, watching a video, access to playground or other location, and much more).
  • Positive rewards/reinforcers encourage the individual with ASD to continue using the new skill. Overtime, this leads to meaningful behavior change.

ABA therapy programs can help:

  • Increase language, communication and pragmatic skills
  • Improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics 
  • Decrease problem behaviors and increase desired behaviors
  • Increase overall level of independence
  • Increase play, recreation and leisure skills
  • Increase self-care and adaptive skills
  • Increase problem-solving skills

Behavior analysts use strategies and procedures that have been used and studied for decades. They have helped all kinds of learners gain different skills – from healthier lifestyles to learning a new language or a sport. Therapists have used ABA to help children with ASD and related disorders since the 1960s.

Who provides ABA services?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) provides ABA therapy services. To become a BCBA, the following is required:

  • Hold a master’s degree or PhD in psychology, behavior analysis or a related degree.
  • Completes an internship under the supervision of a BCBA.
  • Passes a national certification exam and become certified as a BCBA 
  • Obtain a state license to practice (required in many states)

To become a BCaBA, the following is required:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology, behavior analysis or a related degree.
  • Complete an internship under the supervision of a BCBA.
  • Pass a national certification exam and become certified as a BCaBA.
  • Obtain a state license to practice (required in many states)
  • Provide behavior-analytic services under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
  • May provide supervision to Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs)

ABA therapy programs are often implemented by Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). They are trained and supervised by the BCBA or BCaBA. RBTs work directly with toddlers, preschoolers, children, adolescents and adults with ASD and teach skills identified as goals in the individual’s treatment plan that was developed by the BCBA or BCaBA following an assessment.  The implementation of the treatment plan by the RBTs along with progress towards the goals is supervised by the BCBA/BCaBA who analyzes the data that has been collected.  Once a goal is mastered, additional goals are added to the individual’s treatment plan in order to maximize progress across a variety of domains.

RBTs may also be referred to as: Behavior Therapists, Frontline Providers, Behavior Technicians.

To become a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), the following is required:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older
  • Must have a Highschool Diploma
  • Must pass a background check
  • Complete 40 hour training program (this program is offered online by CARE for those seeking employment as an RBT)
  • Complete an initial competency assessment
  • Apply and pass the RBT exam
  • May need to obtain a license (in some states)
  • Maintain certification

What is the evidence that ABA works?

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

“Evidence-based” means that ABA has passed scientific tests of its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness. ABA therapy includes many different techniques.  All of these techniques focus on Antecedents (what happens before a behavior occurs), Behavior (the observable behavior the therapist wants to increase or decrease in the individual) and on Consequences (what occurs right after the individual displays a behavior). This is sometimes referred to the ABC’s of Behavior.

More than 20 studies have established that intensive and long-term therapy using ABA principles improves outcomes for many but not all children with ASD. “Intensive” and “long-term” refer to programs that provide 25 to 40 hours a week of therapy for 1 to 3 years. These studies show gains in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills and social functioning. Studies with adults using ABA principles, though fewer in number, show similar benefits.

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