What is Applied Behaviour Analysis and
why is it important for our children?
Individuals with Autism face many challenges in life. Whether it is from communication, behaviour, self-help, self-regulation, social to academic, many parents often struggle trying to find a suitable program for their child. Many services and treatments are offered to families who are in need, but the question upon these services rely on their credibility, the professional calibre of their staff and if their promised treatments are based on secure, evidence based research.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
When we want to examine the theory of Applied Behaviour Analysis, we can attribute this scientific field toward the creative work across various theorists (i.e. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner and Dr. Lovaas.) Combined with valid research, the theory of ABA uses a number of procedures demonstrated across various interactive settings (i.e. one to one or group). These procedures are thus implemented to help teach children with ASD the essential skills that are acquired to make them successful throughout life.
“Applied behaviour analysis is the science in which procedures derived from the principles of behaviour are systematically applied to improve socially significant behaviour to a meaningful degree and to demonstrate experimentally that the procedures employed were responsible for the improvement in behaviour.” (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 1987, p.14)
To simplify the definition of ABA, it is to examine the behaviour of individuals throughout their daily environment, and the application of numerous procedures to systematically shape and reinforce positive behaviours, as well as decreasing the occurrence of negative behaviours. Furthermore, these methods support individuals with Autism by teaching them new skills (i.e. academic, social, communication and motor). Finally, the wonderful thing about ABA is that it can be used across various settings (home and school) and across a number of students from different ages and levels on the spectrum.
Methods and Teaching Techniques found within ABA
Before implementing a program based on ABA principles, it is important to understand the essential components (when combined with the target goals or curriculum) before the onset of behavioural change. These components can be known as the following:
Motivation: In order for educators to see a dramatic increase in their student’s behaviour, it is important to first establish a strong motivation within the learner (MO). The MO allows the educator to understand what exactly their student wants to do, and how they will do to receive their desired item, activity or condition. Therefore, motivation will always dramatically increase a positive response within instruction as well as behavioural success.
Reinforcement: This condition is not only the foundation of ABA practices, but is something that every individual (typical or child with ASD) often experiences. Whether if it’s receiving a tangible item, activity, edible or social praise, when applied upon the presentation of desired behaviour or target goal, reinforcement will immediately commence. Thus an increase in future occurrences of a desired response will always occur.
Shaping: a process where behaviour or target goals are systematically changed , combined with consistent application of reinforcement. When using this procedure, it is important to remember to be consistent upon each target so that the behaviour continuously changes towards the final goal.
Prompts: typically known as additional hints, cues or clues that are used for the learner to promote successful, correct responses from the beginning of a lesson to the end. Examples of prompts can range from visual (pictures/objects), physical (hand-over-hand assistance), gestural (pointing/looking at desired item or response), modeling (demonstration of desired response), textual (written cues/words) and verbal (spoken cues). Finally, prompting always is applied throughout a most-to-least method, eventually fading out the assistance to allow for independent responses as well as mastery and generalization.
Task Analysis and Chaining: a detailed breakdown of a skill, where it is divided into a series of steps, and is taught one step at a time (either forward or backward) until a desired goal is mastered and generalized. Examples of task analysis or chaining can involve various self-help skills (i.e. brushing teeth, toileting, getting dressed) to academic skills (i.e. independent activity schedule).
When we want to further examine the elements proposed above, it is important to understand why its essential to apply ABA principles across all learning environments, and its differences between typical children in a classroom setting vs. children with Autism in a ABA setting.
ABA Technique: Motivation
When introducing a lesson, teachers would observe and manipulate their teaching environment to motivate their students. When entering a typical classroom, you would immediately notice various visuals, pictures, videos, multimedia displays, books and materials that are implemented daily to reinforce student engagement, interest and participation. Furthermore, these tools are also used to accommodate various students who are either English as a second language (ESL) or students with exceptionalities.
Child with Autism
Motivation is primarily associated with the interests or activities of the child. Therefore, teachers would try to establish their student’s wants and needs, (MO) and use this as a driving force to establish a desired response.
ABA Technique: Reinforcement
A variety of reinforcing activities (video games), tangible items (stickers, toys), edible items (candy, pizza parties), social praise and token systems are often applied in any typical classroom setting to promote positive, desirable behaviours (i.e. completing an academic task, social behaviours, etc.) Furthermore, typical children tend to have a wide range of reinforcing selections.
Child with Autism
Reinforcement is extremely crucial and must be applied in a classroom setting catering to children on the spectrum. Without a positive reinforcing system, desirable behaviours will cease to exist. Also children with ASD tend to have a smaller range of reinforcing preferences, and are very child specific.
ABA Technique: Shaping
This technique is often implemented incidentally among typical children. Furthermore, having the ability to imitate and model allows for quick assistance and mastery of skills. Shaping in a typical classroom often occurs during subjects such as physical education, music, art, printing and social interactions.
Child with Autism
Children with Autism require precise, systematic steps that are consistent and clear to help achieve their target goal. Shaping must also be paired with consistent reinforcement to motivate and maintain behaviour.
ABA Technique: Prompts
Prompting always allows teachers to guide their students throughout their learning experiences, and can vary upon presentation (i.e. textual examples on tests, verbal prompts during group discussions, modeling socially appropriate behaviours during class time and physical or gestural prompts during physical education.)
Child with Autism
When teaching individuals with Autism, prompting always follows an “errorless teaching” format. Therefore, the student is provided most-to-least prompting upon the new skill being taught, without having to re-teach or correct any elicited responses. Prompts are also immediately faded to promote mastery and generalization across different learning environments and staff.
ABA Technique: Task Analysis & Chaining
This procedure is rarely used among typical learners, especially when it comes to teaching life skills. However, we can still find systematic chaining when teaching concepts involving mathematics or science (i.e. where each step or equation/formula must be completed before moving onto the next).
Child with Autism
This procedure tends to be one of the most popular within the ASD population. Many children as well as adults with ASD require a task analysis or chaining through intensive interventions as a way to successfully maximize their potential for independence when it comes to various self-help skills.
How the Lighthouse Incorporates ABA Therapy into Its School Program
Based on this research, it is evident that there is a vast difference between the teaching components of a typical classroom vs. a classroom catering to children with ASD. To establish and implement an effective ABA environment, it is essential to employ highly trained professionals who have not only received the adequate training required to implement these teaching strategies, but also fully understand the concepts and can implement various teaching strategies / materials to children on the spectrum.
- With consistent positive reinforcement which allows for shaping of positive behaviour
- By basing our lessons around preferred interests of the students thus consistently motivating them
- Using appropriate prompts “prompt hierarchy” to gradually fade into independence
- Implementing appropriate learning strategies such as Direct Instruction to ensure success