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Q: What is ABA?  A: Applied Behavior Analysis is 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.

Q: What can ABA be used for?  A: The short answer is: almost anything. If it is a behavior, and it can be observed, ABA principles exist that can be used to either increase or decrease that behavior.  As a discipline, ABA providers are charged with the improvement of socially significant behaviors. Socially significant behaviors include communication, social skills, academics, reading and adaptive living skills such as gross and fine motor skills, toileting, dressing, eating, personal self-care, domestic skills, and work skills.

Q: How much ABA is enough?  A: Research supports, at a minimum, 25 hours per week of intensive behavioral intervention for young children diagnosed with autism. There is no single study that can inform a parent of the optimal number for their child.  But, frankly, ABA, like breathing and eating, should be incorporated into a family’s lifestyle.  This does not mean doing flashcards all day long, or sitting at a desk for every waking hour. It does mean that the family should learn ABA principles and how to apply them in the context of daily activities. 

Q: What is the role of parents in the ABA program?  A: Parents are indispensable in the child’s program. They play a necessary and critical role.  Studies show that children whose parents are actively engaged in the process make measurable gains. First, no one knows the child better than the parent; the parent’s provide critical and insightful information that will help guide the ABA program. Second, parents are able to continue to prompt and reinforce the child through his and her various daily activities - an essential component to generalizing skills. Finally, parents are in a position to be able to record and track ABC data in the home and community setting. This information is vital in hypothesizing the function (the “why”) of specific behaviors as well as for determining what conditions encourage behaviors to occur.

Q: What does and effective ABA program look like?  A: The following components meet the criteria of research-based, effective interventions for children with autism:
Antecedent manipulation - modification of situational events that precede the target behavior.  These alterations are designed to increase the likelihood of success of the targeted behavior. Examples include: prompt/fading procedures, behavioral momentum, contrived motivational operations, inter-trial intervals, incorporation special interests, etc.

Behavioral treatment -programs designed to decrease problem behaviors and to increase functional alternative behaviors. Examples include: functional communication training, chaining, discrete trial training, mand training, generalization training, reinforcement, shaping, etc. 

Comprehensive intervention - low student to teacher ratio (1:1, or low as appropriate) in a variety of settings, including home school and community. Effective programs are based on a treatment manual, provide intensive treatment (25hrs/wk+), and include data-driven decision-making.

Joint attention intervention - programs designed to teach a child to respond to the social bids of another, or to initiate joint attention interactions. Examples include: pointing to objects, showing items, activities to another, and following eye gaze. 

Modeling - adults or peers provide a demonstration of the target behavior; the student is expected to imitate. Thus, imitation skills are a necessary prerequisite to this type intervention. Modeling is often combined with prompting and reinforcement strategies which can assist the student to acquire imitation skills.

Naturalistic teaching strategies - use of child-initiated interactions to teach functional skills in the natural environment. This intervention requires providing a stimulating environment, modeling play, providing choices, encouraging conversation and rewarding reasonable attempts

Peer training - involves training peers without disabilities strategies for interacting (play and social) with children with autism. Some commonly known peer-training programs include: circle of friends, buddy skills, peer networks, etc.

Pivotal response training - program designed to target specific, “pivotal,” behaviors that lead to improvement across a broad range of behaviors.  These pivotal behaviors include: motivation to engage in social communication, self-initiation, self-management, responsiveness to multiple cues, etc.

Schedules - teaching a student to follow a task list (picture- or word-based) through a series of activities or steps in order to complete a specific activity. Schedules are accompanied by other behavioral interventions, including reinforcement.

Self-management - this treatment intervention teaches a student to regulate his or her behavior by recording the occurrence or non-occurrence of the target behavior, and secure reinforcement for doing so.

Story-based interventions - involves a written description of the situations under which specific behaviors are expected to occur. The stories seek to teach the: who, what, when, where and why of social interactions to improve perspective taking. The most well-known of these interventions is Carol Gray’s “Social Stories.”

Q: Who should provide ABA?  A: Parents will need to find a qualified provider of ABA services. There is a formal credentialing within the profession of behavior analysts coordinated by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (http://bacb.com). Certification under this process provides parents with some safeguards with respect to the services of the professional. It assures the parent that the professional has undergone specific training and supervision by qualified Behavior Analysts and has completed specific coursework related to behavioral analysis and interventions. Currently there are no laws in the state of Iowa regulating ABA practice. Thus, anyone can claim to provide this therapy. It is the parent's responsibility to ask for credentials. Begin by looking for the credentialing "BCBA" with their title. Parents are urged to follow this by requesting documented information relating to their qualifications, and experience. With the lapse in regulations, the increased attention that autism is now getting, compounded with the desperation of many families, it is an open invitation for below standard care to emerge. Be vigilant and insist on top quality programs that enlist Board Certified Behavior Analysts for your child. Time is of the essence for those with autism. Safeguard that time by ensuring the quality care that provides maximum, long term results. Keep in mind that a "practitioner" MAY carry out the hands on therapy your child with direct supervision and training from a BCBA to ensure procedures are done accurately and with fidelity. 

Q: Can anyone do ABA?  A: While it is not uncommon to offer training to parents, teachers, or others who provide direct service there is incredible danger designing procedures without a comprehensive understanding of Applied Behavior Analytic principles.  It is recommended by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board [BACB] that the (Board Certified Behavior Analyst or Equivalent) "BCBA designs and supervises behavior analytic interventions.  The BCBA is able to effectively develop and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods for use in familiar situations and for a range of cases".  The Board also states that BCBA's supervise BCaBA's and others who implement behavior analytic services.

Q: I have found a quality ABA provider, now where do I begin?  A: The first step for parents wanting to start an ABA program is to get a quality comprehensive assessment of their child’s current skill level. There are a number of assessments available, and parents should try to get an assessment that is as comprehensive as possible. Your BCBA provider will be able to assist and begin this process with you. The next step is to have a consultation meeting with your BCBA to consider goals and treatment plans. The BCBA should be assist in providing guidance in the development of goals and plans for therapy. Finally, the hands on therapy (ABA) can begin with the BCBA or trained practitioner. Regular team meetings, consisting of the BCBA, the practitioner, teachers, medical providers, and family members are critical in maintaining an effective plan. 

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Great Pinterest on ABA!  

Victoria Ries,
Mar 12, 2016, 8:01 PM
Victoria Ries,
Mar 12, 2016, 8:01 PM