Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a highly effective method of behavior therapy for children on the autism spectrum based on teaching desired behaviors through a system of positive reinforcement.
In ABA, behavioral principles are applied to behavioral goals, and the results are carefully measured and analyzed. In this way, ABA has an advantage over other behavioral therapy techniques with its basis in analysis and the scientific method and is considered the gold standard of autism spectrum behavioral therapy.
Fundamentally, the principles of behavior are going to include the environmental factors that impact behavior.
This can consist of various factors, but the most important to consider will be identifying what happens right before a behavior occurs (this is called an antecedent in behavioral terms) and what happens right after a behavior occurs (this is called a consequence in behavioral terms). Together, these components make up the ‘three-term contingency,’ which can be used to determine what may be triggering behavior and why behavior continues to occur.
Below, we’ll talk about three fundamental concepts of ABA and how each concept is core to what makes this method so successful.
Discrete Trial Training
Discrete trial training (DTT) is a highly structured intervention strategy that focuses on breaking down tasks into small increments to teach a behavior, concept, or set of concepts.
DTT is composed of four parts:
A discriminative stimulus (Sd) is a cue that indicates to a person that reinforcement is available if they engage in a specific behavior. Discriminative stimuli can be found in multiple formats. They can be verbal directives, the presence of certain people or objects, gestures, etc. The proper response is then reinforced to encourage future repeating of that response when the same stimulus is given.
The stimulus must only be delivered when the learner’s attention is gained. The same stimulus will be repeated until the learner makes a connection between the stimulus and the response.
The child response is the exhibited behavior in response to the discriminative stimulus. Responses have to be observable and clearly described.
Positive reinforcement serves as the change in a stimulus that follows the response and which works to increase the behavior’s frequency in the future.
The intertrial interval is the 3-5 second pause between a consequence and the stimulus. This pause serves as an indication that a new trial is beginning.
Sometimes, in the early stages of DTT, a prompt is used between the stimulus and the responses to assist the learning. The prompt can be visual, gestural, or physical.
Generalization is the ability for the learner to carry over learned skills and behavior across settings, interactions with other people, and time. It involves practicing skills thoroughly and often enough that the learner can utilize those skills when needed in any situation or environment.
There are several core methodologies for generalization, including using many examples to teach a single concept, focusing on functional behaviors, and maintaining a learning environment that spans outside of sessions and across environments.
Generalization is a long process that usually occurs in very small steps. It’s crucial to maintain consistency with lessons and to be patient and give it enough time for it to have a chance to be effective.
Data Collection and Analysis
One of the reasons that ABA is so successful is that it is entirely based on data. Every instructional decision is based on a foundation of data and analysis informing the instructor if progress is being made.
In ABA, data collection means recording behavioral information. Those behaviors can be desirable or undesirable. The data is then used to enable instructors or a computer-based program to see what is working and then assess which types of intervention methods are most suitable for the individual learner.
Using data collection and analysis makes it easier for instructors to understand behavior patterns and measure learner progress. Most importantly, it means that all decisions regarding learning methodology are informed and educated due to being based on data. It’s the scientific approach that makes ABA so successful and sought out.
TeachTown Programs and ABA
Board certified behavior analysts, referred to as BCBAs, are generally spread thinly across educational districts, so their availability is often limited. Often, teachers who are working with students on the autism spectrum are left on their own to deal with behavioral issues with little aid in the way of trained professionals.
All of TeachTown’s programs are based on ABA principles, so even in the absence of BCBA support, students using the programs benefit from the therapeutic approach. For instance, TeachTown Basics combines teacher-led and computer-based ABA lessons. All lessons are presented in DTT format, and computer-based lessons track each student’s progress to inform individual learning plans and areas where the student needs additional support. Further, teacher-led lessons focus specifically on generalization to help students more quickly apply learnings and concepts across various settings and scenarios.
Our ABA Pro resource center is designed for teachers looking for enhanced instruction in how to aid students with behavioral difficulties in the classroom. Featuring more than 100 educator tools and content created by certified BCBAs, this self-guided, technology-delivered professional development library provides a universal training and support platform for all school staff members. For more information on our programs, the ABA Pro resource center, or to speak to a representative, feel free to contact us.