What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based practice based on behavior analytic principles that focuses on creating meaningful changes in behavior. This includes modifications of antecedents and consequences, to teach your child new skills as well as reduce behavioral challenges. In behavior analysis, antecedents are events that occur directly before a target behavior or skill, and consequences are those events that occur directly after the behavior or how individuals are responding to the behavior or skill. Some of the interventions associated with ABA include: Positive behavior supports, discrete trial training, pivotal response treatment, natural environment training, and verbal behavior.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS):

Positive behavioral support services are utilized with individuals of all ages and diagnoses and focus on adapting the settings where behavioral excesses are occurring. Positive behavior support services are driven by a comprehensive assessment that analyzes the function of behaviors in order to develop an individualized program designed to evoke behavior change. The emphasis of PBS programs is to increase the use of socially appropriate behaviors while decreasing the individual’s need to engage in maladaptive behaviors. Individualized programs typically include recommendations for changes needed within the child’s daily routines to reduce behaviors as well as a heavy focus on the instruction of new skills such as functional communication, social skills, anger/stress management, and self‐management and coping strategies.

Outcomes of PBS programs include enhanced quality of life, effective communication of basic wants and needs, and increased opportunities to engage in meaningful activities.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT):

Discrete trial training takes a task or process a child needs to learn and breaks it down into small discrete steps which can be taught in a graduated way. Discrete trial training normally occurs one‐on‐one with the therapist or parent prompting the child to do a specific action and rewarding success with positive reinforcement. This is based on the ABC model:

A – Antecedent (A directive or request for the child to perform an action).

B – Behavior (A behavior, or response from the child ‐ successful performance, noncompliance, or no response).

C – Consequence (A consequence, defined as the reaction from the therapist, which can range from strong positive reinforcement (i.e., a special treat, verbal praise) to a strong negative response, “No!” ).

Discrete Training Trials are highly structured. Only the child’s correct responses are reinforced whereas incorrect or off‐task behaviors are ignored or corrected.

Discrete trials can be used to develop most skills, which includes cognitive, verbal communication, play, social and self‐help skills.

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT):

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) provides a guideline for teaching skills and has been most successful for language, play and social interaction skills in children with autism.

The main components of PRT include:

  • Choice (shared control to increase motivation)
  • Clear and uninterrupted instructions or opportunities (make sure child is attending)
  • Reinforcement of approximations/ attempts
  • Reinforcement has a specific relationship to the desired behavior natural reinforcement(“ball” gets ball, not praise. Child chooses object for instruction and that object is used. This is done to increase motivation)
  • Contingent reinforcement (reinforcement occurs as a result of specific behaviors or approximations of behaviors
  • Multiple examples or multiple components presented (e.g., use two different objects but same verb such as “roll car” and then “roll ball” then “throw ball.” Multiple components also means using “new pants” or “red suit” versus just “pants” or “suit.” This is done to increase responsiveness to multiple cues.
  • Interspersal training is conducted to increase motivation and create behavioral momentum by presenting maintenance tasks followed by acquisition tasks

Natural Environment Training (NET):

The natural environment is the environment in which your child typically interacts with on a daily basis. The natural environment may include places like school, home, grandma’s house, church, day care, extracurricular activities, etc. The natural environment is where your child’s learning and communication skills should be “put to work.” Your ultimate goal of teaching should be your child’s ability to independently interact with others in the environment.

Training in the natural environment should be ongoing and continuous. Since the natural environment does not always allow multiple opportunities for your child to use their skills, we must “set up” the environment so that these learning situations may occur. Even though there are “set up” situations, it does not make the environment “unnatural.” Natural environment training teaches your child appropriate times that they may use the skills that they have been taught.

Verbal Behavior (VB):

Verbal Behavior is a form of ABA with an emphasis on verbal skills. The basic teaching procedures of VB include: shaping, prompting, fading, chaining and differential reinforcement. VB uses B.F. Skinner’s 1957 analysis of Verbal Behavior to teach and reinforce speech. Categories of speech or verbal behavior include:

  • Mands ‐ requests
  • Echoics ‐ verbal imitation
  • Tacts ‐ labels
  • Intraverbals ‐ conversational responses

A VB program will focus on getting a child to realize that language will get him what he wants, when he wants it. Requesting is often one of the first verbal skills taught.