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What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Where science & compassion meet the challenge of autism.

Applied behavior analysis is the study of behavior devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior. The methods used within ABA are based on scientific research findings.

  • Behavior is the activity of an individual that is observable and measurable (e.g., clapping, smiling, greeting another individual, taking a shower, tying your shoes, doing the laundry).
  • Behavior analysts are interested in observable behavior rather than things that cannot be observed or measured (e.g., we can observe and measure smiling behavior but we cannot observe and measure "happiness;" we can measure an increase in heart rate and respiration, but we cannot measure "anxiety").

ABA is the only evidence based intervention for addressing the core deficits associated with ASD

ABA is all about learning.

  • ABA focuses on objectively defined and observable behaviors of social significance.
    • We define the behavior so that anyone who observes the individual can see if it is or is not occurring.
    • When we speak of social significance or social importance, we mean behaviors or changes in behavior that are deemed important to the individual with ASD, their family and friends, and others in the individual's daily life (e.g., teachers, babysitters).
  • ABA seeks to demonstrate a reliable relationship between the procedures that are used and the improvement of behavior.
    • We use data that are collected on these specifically defined behaviors to measure if what we are doing is truly making a change, instead of accepting opinions that a behavior "seems to be changing."Behavior analysts want proof.
  • ABA applies the science of behavior to learning.
    • All of the procedures used in behavior analysis are derived from research demonstrating the effectiveness and/or efficiency of teaching methods.
  • ABA teaches skills in a planned, controlled, and systematic manner.
    • By following defined procedures and using them consistently, we can explain how the behavior was changed.
  • ABA teaches skills that individuals need to learn.
    • The focus of the behaviors we look to change are selected to improve the life of the individual and the people in that individual's life.
  • ABA individualizes the learning process to meet the unique learning needs of the individual.
    • As mentioned earlier, each individual with ASD is an individual. Like anyone, one person with ASD may learn differently than another (e.g., visual learner, auditory learner) and all of that should be taken into account when deciding how to teach that specific individual.

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Published studies have shown that specific teaching techniques based on the principles of ABA can help individuals with ASD, regardless of their age, learn specific skills, such as how to communicate; develop relationships; play; care for themselves; learn in school; succeed at work; and participate fully and productively in family and community activities.

ABA methods have been used successfully with many individuals of all ages, with and without disabilities, in many different settings (e.g., raising children, marital interactions, smoking cessation, physical fitness).

A wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with ASD of all ages. Those techniques are used in both structured situations, such as formal instruction in classrooms, and in more "natural" everyday situations, such as during play or during meals at home.

Instruction can take place in a 1-to-1 (i.e., one therapist working with one individual) format and in small group instruction. Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U. S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health.

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