Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is defined as the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior. Despite much confusion throughout the mental health community, ABA was previously called behavior modification but it revised as the earlier approach involved superimposing consequences to change behavior without determining the behavior-environment interactions first. Moreover, the current approach also seeks to emit replacement behaviors which serve the same function as the aberrant behaviors. By functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment as well as identifying antecedents and consequences, the methods of ABA can be used to change that behavior.
Methods in applied behavior analysis range from validated intensive behavioral interventionsmost notably utilized for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)to basic research which investigates the rules by which humans adapt and maintain behavior. However, ABA contributes to a full range of areas including: HIV prevention, conservation of natural resources, education,gerontology,health and exercise,organizational behavior management (i.e., industrial safety),language acquisition, littering,medical procedures, parenting,psychotherapy, seatbelt use,severe mental disorders, sports,substance abuse, and zoo management and care of animals.
ABA is defined as an applied natural science devoted to developing and analyzing procedures that produce effective and beneficial changes in behavior. It is one of the three fields of behavior analysis. The other two are radical behaviorism, or the philosophy of the science; and experimental analysis of behavior, or basic experimental research. ABA is also based on operant and respondent conditioning and social learning theory. While radical behaviorism forms the conceptual piece for behavior analysis and acknowledges the presence of cognition and emotions, methodological behaviorism only recognized observable behaviors; the latter was the basis behind behavior modification throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Contrary to popular belief, behavior analysts emphasize that the science of behavior must be a natural science as opposed to a social science. As such, behavior analysts focus on the observable relationship of behavior to the environment, including antecedents and consequences, without resort to “hypothetical constructs”.
Although deriving from a similar philosophy, behavior modification only changed behavior by superimposing consequential procedures; instead, ABA seeks to understand environmental contingencies. More specifically, it analyzes the function of behavior, such as what prompts that behavior (the antecedent) as well as promoting replacement behaviors and consequential strategies. Typically, ABA is based on data collection and assessments to accurately examine a behavior’s function and to discover the procedures that will produce measurable behavioral changes.
Much of the beginnings of ABA can be traced to a group of faculty and researchers at the University of Washington including Don Baer, Sidney Bijou, Bill Hopkins, Jay Birnbrauer, Ivar Lovaas, Todd Risley, James Sherman, and Montrose Wolf. In the 1960s, Baer, Hopkins, Risley, Sherman, and Wolf became faculty in the Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas. They and their colleagues began a concentrated effort at developing and perfecting the application of behavior analysis to address a wide variety of human problems. They also founded the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis in 1968 which publishes research examining the application of behavior analysis to socially relevant behavior.
ABA is a science used in a wide range of fields to change behavior with various subtypes, such as organizational behavior management, positive behavior support, and clinical behavior analysis (including contingency management, acceptance and commitment therapy, and habit reversal training). Most of the time people use the subtype term early intensive behavioral intervention (including discrete trial teaching), a treatment procedure used for young children with autism, interchangeably with ABA. However, the latter is a distinct psychological science.
Ole Ivar Lvaas is considered a grandfather of ABA and developed standardized teaching interventions based on those behavioral principals. Lovaas devoted nearly a half a century to groundbreaking research and practice aimed at improving the lives of children with autism and their families. In 1965, Lovaas published a series of articles that therapeutic approaches to autism. The first two articles presented his system for coding behaviors during direct observations and a pioneering investigation of superimposed antecedents and consequences that maintained a problem behavior. The subsequent articles built upon these methods and reported the first demonstration of an effective way to teach nonverbal children to speak, a study on establishing social (secondary) reinforcers, a procedure for teaching children to imitate, and several studies on interventions to reduce life-threatening self-injury and aggression.
Lovaas was cited in his early career to use low dosages of electroshock therapy to children with extreme self injurious behavior. In 1973, Lovaas published a long-term follow-up for the behavior modification intervention and was dismayed to find that most of the subjects had reverted to their pre-intervention behaviors. After these findings, Lovaas and his colleagues proposed several ways to improve outcomes such as starting intervention during the children’s preschool years instead of later in childhood or adolescence, involving parents in the intervention, and implementing the intervention in the family’s home rather than an institutional setting. Subsequent articles like the 1987 “Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children” reinforce this proposal of early and intensive interventionwithout the use of aversives (such as electric shocks)paired with continual therapy yields the most effective results for children with autism. Lovaas highly believed that the support and involvement in parents applying therapy at home contributed to a higher success rate. Lovaas dedicated his life to the study of autism and was a strong advocate for people with autism even co-founding what is today the Autism Society of America.
Baer, Wolf, and Risley’s 1968 article is still used as the standard description of ABA. It describes the seven dimensions of ABA: application; a focus on behavior; the use of analysis; and its technological, conceptually systematic, effective, and general approach.
Applied behavior analysis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia