Applied Behaviour Analysis explained
Applied Behaviour Analysis: this article explains Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) in a practical way. Next to what it is (definition), this article also highlights the theory as therapy in skill enhancement, the background, the Characteristics, the environment as a fundamental part of human behaviour and how it’s used within the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Enjoy reading!
What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?
The definition of Applied Behaviour Analysis
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a scientific technique that seeks to change behaviour and condition it in relation to the environment. This method can help change a person’s behaviour for social benefits and positive changes to the way a person interacts with his or her surrounding environment and other people.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) starts with the following questions to discover the behaviour and modifications of human behaviour.
- Why do people do things or actions according to the behaviour they have?
- How do people react to the environment they are in?
- How does the environment help them to improve their behaviour?
- How does this environment help them to improve their lives?
- How do they improve their interpersonal relations with other people according to their behaviour?
Guided by these questions, the ABA technique can help to progressively develop the improvement of human behaviour.
Applied Behaviour Analysis is used in the field of psychology and education for the intervention and support of people with disabilities and pathological disorders such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, anxiety, negative mood states and others. This Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) intervention also helps to improve daily activities such as social interaction, academic performance and communication skills for people suffering from these disorders.
ABA is dedicated to observing and accompanying the development of processes that will produce observable changes in people’s behaviour and how this behaviour can be influenced by the environment in which a person lives.
Behaviour is then essential to define the consequences of human behaviour in the actions and decisions a person makes. An alternative for ABA as a Human Behaviour Analysis is the Herrmann Whole Brain Model.
Applied Behaviour Analysis as a therapy in skill enhancement
This ABA technique is used as therapy and aims to help stimulate certain behaviours that are positive and helpful to people and decrease negative behaviours that are unhealthy for the subject as harmful behaviour can affect learning and social interaction.
This therapy also helps to develop the skills that a person has or can have in the areas of communication, language, social interaction, memory, and learning. As mentioned before, this technique is commonly used for children with autism and other disorders to help them with cognitive processes and skill development.
The exact treatment can be flexible and modified according to the person and their needs. It is necessary to identify the needs that the person has, in this case the child, in order to know how to proceed with the teaching of what will serve him/her in daily life from the personal as well as the academic field.
Behaviour is valued and follow-up is essential for the promotion of positive behavioural change and this can be rewarded as the person tends to repeat such behaviour which can be positive.
The therapist must then identify the target behaviour that the person needs. Each time the person develops the behaviour and skills with positive results, he or she gets a reward. This recognition or reward is important for the subject as it motivates and encourages them to develop the path to success and will eventually lead to a change in behaviour that is important for the person’s daily life as this behaviour and skill will become part of their life.
For decades psychologists and educationalists have implemented behaviour analysis with the idea of altering the different behaviours that a person may show. These behaviours are generally negative and ABA is used to develop positive behaviours for the well-being of the person’s life.
ABA is used for the causes described earlier, but it is also used for other situations that a person may face such as in the classroom, substance abuse disorders, safety and performance at work, positive behaviour in everyday life spaces, among others.
The Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas founded the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. It is a scholarly journal dating back to research related to applied behaviour analysis. It was established in 1968 and is published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.
Working professionals can also have intervention processes of ABA behavioural principles as the efficiency in the development of behavioural improvements can be applied in organisations for the improvement of work group management, work interaction, productivity and motivation in the workplace.
Characteristics of ABA
The three main characteristics of Applied Behaviour Analysis are:
- Analysis: progress is made on the basis of the interventions recorded in the process.
- Behavioural: it is based on scientific principles of behaviour.
- Applied: principles applied to the observed behaviours.
ABA focuses on the social meaning of behaviour. This means that the applied researcher studies the behaviour in the individual trying to change the behaviour to make it more acceptable. As for example the behaviour of communication skills, the person in this case is too shy to be able to relate to other people, the researcher will help apply the behaviour so that the person can be more open in social relationships.
Behaviour: this point is pragmatic as it asks how it is possible for the person to do effective actions. In this case the behaviour should be measured objectively.
This behavioural analysis brings good results when the analyst understands how to control the target behaviour. There are two methods used in applied settings for managing ethical control and accountability.
First the choice behaviour is measured, the intervention is introduced, and then the behaviour is measured again. Then the intervention is removed or reduced and the behaviour is measured again. The intervention is efficient as the behaviour changes and gives a positive response to this control.
Multiple baseline design
This is used for behaviours that seem difficult to change. Different behaviours are measured and then the intervention is applied to each behaviour. The efficiency of the intervention is revealed by changes in the behaviour to which the intervention is applied.
The basis of the methods for investigating behaviour and behavioural changes must be based on behavioural principles.
Analytical methods must have theoretical support to be effective. If an intervention does not bring positive results and does not produce practical effects then the analysis will fail.
Behaviour analysts must apply the methods in different settings to more than one behaviour and have lasting effects.
Applied Behaviour Analysis: behavior and consequences
In ABA it is necessary to understand the antecedents that happen before a specific behaviour occurs and the consequences that occur after the behaviour.
An antecedent mis what happens before the target behaviour. It can be verbal such as a request. It can also be physical such as an object in the form of a toy, a sound, a light or something in the environment. An antecedent comes from a place (environment) or from something internal such as feelings or thoughts. Behaviour is the resulting behaviour is the person’s response to the antecedent.
A consequence is what results after the behaviour. It can result in positive or negative outcomes to the behaviour a person has. This can result in right or wrong actions that are not well regarded by society.
Applied Behaviour Analysis: the environment as a fundamental part of human behaviour
The environment is the number one stimulus for Applied Behaviour Analysis. The events that can be generated in an environment can have specific outcomes for the improvement and modification of behaviour.
The type of therapy environment can bring motivation and understanding. In itself it is a network of trust to be able to open up spontaneously with the person giving the therapy. The environment is thus a stimulus for the individual’s receptiveness to receive information, process it, learn it and apply it in the best way.
Skills that can be developed with Applied Behaviour Analysis
- Communication and language skills
- Motor skills
- Academic learning skills
- Self-care skills
- Interpersonal relationship skills
Applied Behaviour Analysis in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
The ABA technique has been popular for use with children with autism. It helps in developing frameworks for the development of behavioural improvement in children with autism.
Autism can lead to difficulties in communication, interacting with other people, use of language and adapting to different environments and scenarios that may appear throughout their lives. Children with autism often possess unique abilities or isolated abilities that must be potentiated or developed with the guidance of an expert in the subject to be able to develop, improve and potentiate their abilities.
Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorders) has different categories like:
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, not specified
These are the primary categories, however, there are many more.
These disorders can lead to more intense behaviour and prevent children from being able to become independent and generate social interactions and communication skills for life. Therefore Applied Behaviour Analysis is commonly used in the development of skills and the progression of new behaviours of the infant.
Applied Behaviour Analysis is developed by B.F. Skinner. He believed that behaviour is changeable through positive reinforcement. Through his studies, he investigated that we learn through the consequences of behaviour and that this reinforced behaviour is given in the early stages of life by the family nucleus, which is the one that guides the behaviour and actions of the infant.
This is how ABA reinforces behaviours or creates and stimulates new behaviours so that the infant can have a healthy and social life in all aspects of his or her life. Applied Behaviour Analysis is about behavioural change, looking at the reinforcers of certain behaviour using the principles of learning as a basis for supporting changes in the infant’s behaviour.
Through Applied Behaviour Analysis goals you can develop the skills mentioned above with the strategies and goals set to achieve success. ABA therapies help to modify children’s behaviours and provide the opportunity to gain learned skills in different settings and environments. Improving the learning and social interaction of children with autism so that they can have an independent and healthy life in the different stages of adulthood.
It’s your turn
What do you think? Can Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) help as a positive therapy to improve or have new communicative skills for personal and professional life? Did you know that ABA helps children with autism disorder? Can ABA be used as a strategy for the modification of behaviours that a person has in different environments that may occur in daily life? Do you have any suggestions or something to add?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Mayer, G. R., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1977). Applying behavior-analysis procedures with children and youth. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
- Mohammadzaheri, F., Koegel, L. K., Rezaee, M., & Rafiee, S. M. (2014). A randomized clinical trial comparison between pivotal response treatment (PRT) and structured applied behavior analysis (ABA) intervention for children with autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 44(11), 2769-2777.
- Foxx, R. M. (2008). Applied behavior analysis treatment of autism: The state of the art. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17(4), 821-834.
- Steege, M. W., Mace, F. C., Perry, L., & Longenecker, H. (2007). Applied behavior analysis: Beyond discrete trial teaching. Psychology in the Schools, 44(1), 91-99.
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Original publication date: 15/02/2021 | Last update: 05/10/2023
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