For a considerable number of parents who have heard of ABA, the practice comes with certain connotations attached to it. But nonetheless, it is deserving of a second look, with a variety of use cases that might surprise you.
Applied behavior analysis (or ABA for short) is the science of changing socially significant behavior that matters most for an individual’s success and wellbeing.
Its use has commonly become associated with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD). Notably, though, when it was first developed in the 1900s, lead researchers such as B.F. Skinner were more interested in examining classical and operant conditioning to better understand how behaviors are formed and how they can be changed.
Because ABA method and solutions for ASD often go hand in hand, many parents may feel skeptical about the use of ABA, or doubt that it could help their children in school or other settings, if their kids do not have an autism spectrum disorder.
But ABA is not only for kids with autism – in the same way that it can also apply to non-academic solutions. An ABA-trained practitioner can help determine whether or not an evidence-based ABA solution would be suitable for a difficulty your child is facing.
The basis of ABA therapy
ABA therapy works to simultaneously reduce negative behaviors, while also teaching new skills.
Despite the exact execution of an ABA treatment strategy varying, there are a few basic principles that are applied across use cases.
- Behaviors are actions that can be observed and measured.
- Consequences, be they natural consequences or social consequences, can strengthen or weaken behavior. An example of a natural consequence of a behavior is feeling cold if you go outside without a coat. A social consequence might be a child feeling left out of a play group if they have difficulty sharing toys.
- All behavior serves a purpose or has a function – and this includes maladaptive behaviors.
- If a behavior is increasing, it’s being reinforced.
- Positive and negative reinforcement does not equate to “good” and “bad.” Instead, what it means is to add (positive) or take away (negative).
Whoever you are and at whatever stage of life you’re in, you may actually be able to see your own daily behaviors and experiences reflected back by the principles of applied behavior analysis. This can make it easier to see why ABA methods are so widely applicable.
Examples of ABA method in practice
Psyched Services has previously discussed the use of ABA to teach social skills. For example, let’s say that a student has difficulty sitting still in class. “Sits in circle time” may have been a goal that the teaching team, to no avail, has sought to achieve. With ABA, this might be reframed and specified as: “The student will sit with their hands to themselves, and not get out of the circle for the 10-minute duration of circle time.”
“Sits in circle time” is somewhat vague, and does not provide goalposts against which to measure progress. But the more specific goal:
- Creates opportunities (and creates a clear setting) for the child to practice the target behavior.
- Allows the team to provide reinforcement when the skill is successfully completed, or redirect it when the child isn’t modeling the desired behavior.
- Affords the chance for active, positive and non-punitive feedback, including praising what went well and guiding the child on how they can do better next time.
In fact, with our pocket coaching services, applying ABA principles can work especially well here. The behavior analyst (or BCBA) involved with the pocket coaching specializes in bridging the gap between behavioral expertise and real-life applications in order to provide families with approachable strategies, individualized for their family's needs.
This can help parents to strengthen your child’s study skills and create independence in chores and routines, social-emotional skills, and behavioral functioning.
When would ABA therapy benefit my child?
While applied behavior analysis is often used with children who are affected by learning differences, this isn’t always the case, and ABA therapy is suitable for a variety of target behaviors.
Each case will vary, but you might find ABA to be especially helpful or effective when:
- A behavior or coping mechanism is interfering with a child’s ability to succeed at home, in social settings or in the classroom.
- A broader approach to amend problem-causing behavior hasn’t worked.
- Your child and you need to work with smaller, bite-sized goals to achieve a bigger goal.