What is ABA exactly?

By Foeke Rienks

People ask me all the time what I do for a living. When I bring up that I am a Behavior Analyst and provide Applied Behavior Analysis (or ABA) services to children, most people look at me funny and have no idea what I’m talking about. I often have to explain what ABA is exactly and what I do throughout the day. There are a lot of ideas and perceptions about ABA, and many prepackaged plans provide families with an ABA program. It is critical to know that there is no single program or plan that is considered ABA.

kids-in-kindergartenIn layman’s terms, ABA is the application of behavioral principles to everyday situations that will, over time, increase or decrease certain types of targeted behaviors. ABA has been used to assist individuals to acquire many new skills of social significance (e.g. language skills, self-help skills, social skills, play skills). In addition, the principles of ABA can also assist in decreasing problematic behaviors such as aggression, self-stimulatory behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, and many other identified problematic behaviors. One of the first published articles describing ABA (Baer, Wolf, and Risley, 1968) describes ABA 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”.

ABA is a scientific approach that employs objective data collection on skills that are being targeted to be increased and on problematic behaviors that should be decreased. Based on objective data collection, decisions can be made on an individual basis related to a child’s program. With the use of ABA principles we want to make sure that progress is being made. If data collection / data analysis shows that there is a lack of progress under a particular intervention, a change needs to be made so the child will actually make progress.

So what can we use ABA for? The short answer is almost everything. If it is behavior that can be observed, ABA principles can be applied to effectively change a behavior (either increase or decrease). 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.

For any further information on Applied Behavior Analysis and how we use it, please visit the services link on our website.