Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) MethodsABA is considered by many experts to be the most effective evidence-based therapeutic approach developed to date for children with autism. The structured teaching of functional skills (often called behavioural intervention) presently has the largest body of published research supporting its effectiveness. These methods emphasize the building of:
- Attention to social stimuli
- Imitation skills
- Language use and comprehension
- Appropriate play
- Social interaction skills
It is believed that children on the spectrum are less able than other children to learn from their everyday environment. Newer ABA approaches work to overcome this by teaching with simplified instructional steps and by using consistent reinforcement that rewards desired results and does not rely on aversive techniques or punishments.
The ABA approach is now used by trained parents, educators, counselors, and by certified behavior analysts. Applied Behavioural Analysis and programs developed with ABA principles have become the cornerstone of autism educational treatment. Currently in Canada there are no national autism treatment standards or fully standardized programs. Provinces/territories have implemented their own specific intervention programs, usually integrating all or some aspects of ABA. Often these programs are given a title selected by the home province that is representative of their program, such as Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) or Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) or a similar program name.
The interventions will often include intensive application of other related interventions such as Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Shaping and Chaining, Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Verbal Behavior (VB), and PECs.
How it Works
- The person's individual communication, behavioural, learning and social strengths and challenges are identified and assessed in a variety of situations. The person's abilities are then used to acquire new skills, improve and retain others.
- Using a systematic process called Discrete Trial Training (DTT), along with prompting, modeling, and other techniques, each skill is broken down into manageable steps and each step is taught using positive individualized reinforcement (reward) and then chained with other steps until an entire skill is learned, (fluency building).
- After some time, opportunities are provided to apply learned skills to more complex situations and in new settings and environments. In this way, basic skills such as learning to point at a picture and say a word, or more complex skills such as interacting with others, can be mastered.
- ABA is effective in improving speech, play, social, academic and self-help abilities. These basics greatly impact a person's ability to learn, develop living skills and function more independently.
- ABA programs are most effective when started early (before 5 years of age), but they have also been shown to be very helpful to many older children.
- ABA-based treatments are intensive, with children working for 20 to 40 hours a week. Children usually work one-on-one with a trained professional.
- Effective ABA programs also incorporate the teaching of verbal skills into the curriculum. ABA is a specific form of applied behavioural science. Other treatments which include ABA principles are referred to as Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI), Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) or Applied Intensive Behavioural Intervention (AIBI) or simply, behavioural treatment.
- Proper training of therapists is essential. Regular assessments and team meetings are also essential. Sessions must be fun for the children with enough variety to hold their interest. Frequently, parents become trained in ABA so that they can manage the team, hiring others to assist with treatment delivery. Qualified behaviour consultants may be available, and there are workshops and professional training manuals available on how to provide ABA.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
Used with ABA programs, DDT breaks down tasks into manageable steps. The therapist gives clear instructions about a desired task/behavior (e.g., “Point to the dog”") and if the child responds correctly, the behavior is reinforced with a reward such as a small candy, and verbal praise and excitement. If the child does not respond to the instruction the therapist will give a gentle prompt such as taking the child’s finger and pointing in the direction of the dog. By repeatedly reinforcing the correct action it is believed that the child will eventually learn the correct response which can then be generalized to other situations.
Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
PRT is a naturalistic behavioural intervention developed by Robert L. Koegel and Laura Schreibman at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Pivotal Response Training is based on ABA and aims to develop key “pivotal” skills that are necessary for many other skills by increasing the child’s motivation and responsiveness. It is believed that this approach can help the child generalize behaviors from a therapy setting to everyday settings. The training includes components such as child choice in tasks and rewards, turn-taking, reinforcing attempts and interspersing maintenance tasks. PRT has been used to develop language skills, play skills and social behaviors in children with autism.
Applied Verbal Behaviour (AVB)
Approach Applied Verbal Behaviour (or Verbal Intervention) is a treatment approach commonly used within ABA-based programs although it is sometimes considered as a new or separate approach. AVB focuses on chained teaching and reinforcement of verbal behaviour and functional communication skills. There are some behavioural therapies which do not include the teaching of verbal skills.
ABA Learning Centre: Provides services to families of children and youth with autism spectrum disorders and other complex developmental disabilities. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the foundation of intervention. Treatment programs are designed to each child’s developmental needs to help the child reach his/her full potential.
ABACUS: Autism Ontario site to Assist Parents in Finding Autism Applied Behaviour Analysis Services. ABACUS, is a web-based registry of Ontario Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) providers.
Clarifying Comments on the UCLA Young Autism Project by Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles (August 2nd, 2000): This report provides tables of data comparing specific outcome measures (IQ at age 2-3 and age 7, and independence as assessed by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales) of studies from the UCLA-Young Autism Project (ABA), the UCLA-Neuropsychiatric Institute and TEACCH. The results are very consistent: the ABA based UCLA-YAP children with autism had significantly higher scores in all areas.
Families for Effective Autism Treatment of Alberta: FEAT/AB provides support, information, education and guidance for those involved with the Autism community, who believe in the efficacy of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) intervention and ABA-like interventions.
Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) U.S.: FEAT is a non-profit organization of parents and professionals, designed to help families with children who have received the diagnosis of Autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD NOS).
Happy Families: A Parents' Guide to the Non-Violent Resistance Approach by Carmelite Avraham-Krehwinkel and David Aldridge, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010.
Help Us Learn: A training program for preparing parents, educators, students, teachers, therapists, service providers, friends and family to use Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programs to work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, PDD, & other developmental delays.
Including Me: Building Skills for Special Students. ABA with PlaySteps® Books and Toys.
Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Care Settings: Understanding and Applying Low Arousal Approaches, Andrew McDonnell, Studio III.
Polyxo.com: Teaching Children with Autism, a resource by Jason M. Wallin.
Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT):
Polyxo.com: Teaching Children with Autism, a resource by Jason M. Wallin.