What is ABA?

As a parent, by the time you hear of ABA, you’re probably fed up of abbreviations. ABA stands for applied behaviour analysis.

I’ll try and translate some of the things you may read, some of the textbook definitions, and help paint a picture of how it may look. Dr Patrick Friman (author of the book Good Night Sweet Dreams I Love You: Now Get into Bed and Go to Sleep – How Tired Parents Can Solve Their Children’s Bedtime Problem) talks about how, as a field, we aren’t that great at marketing what we do, and I think he’s right.

ABA blocksIn a nutshell, ABA is a science dedicated to helping teach learners the skills they need to live a more independent life. These skills will cover domains such as functional communication (vocal, sign, PECS, (which I’m not a huge fan of for the most part, but that’s another post), or augmented communication devices), social skills, conversation skills,
play skills, group skills, self help skills, imitation, labelling, and many more. An ABA programme is typically made up of skills from several of the areas listed above, and tailored to the skill deficits of the learner. It will teach skills that ‘typically developing’ children often pick up without intensive teaching.  

These skills should be taught in fun and creative ways to help the learners access as much of their environment as possible. Sessions should involve identifying and following the learner’s motivation and reinforcing desirable behaviours. Some people talk about ’40 hours a week’, which was discussed in the Lovass 1987 paper, but I have overseen programmes that are 10 hours per week, and seen good progress; it depends on the learner.

Learners should learn because they want to, not because they have to

A main goal of ABA is to teach socially significant behaviours. It is a science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behaviour. This means that targets of the programme should identify behaviours of importance to the learner and their family to increase (within reason). A programme should also, where appropriate, decrease undesirable behaviours by analysing why the problem behaviour is happening (the function).

Data

ABA programmes are data led and aim to demonstrate reliable relationships between their interventions and the behavioural improvements; which has led to a ‘mature body of scientific knowledge, established standards for evidence-based practice, distinct methods of service, recognised experience and educational requirements for practice, and identified sources of requisite education in universities.’ (bacb.com). This means that the ABA tutor that’s working 1-1 with the learner will be taking a range of data, such as ABC data (data on problem behaviour), and probe data (data on targets being taught), and at the end of the session they’ll spend some time plotting the data.

What about the logistics? Each ABA programme should have a BCaBA (board certified assistant behaviour analyst), or BCBA (board certified behaviour analyst) consultant overseeing it. Some are more involved than others, some have supervisors (who are usually studying towards board certification). The consultants will generally be responsible for designing the individualised programme, analysing data, training tutors and parents, updating goals, and maintaining good levels of communication between the team. You can search for consultants in your area here. The ABA tutors would act as the 1-1, and implement the programme that’s been designed. Some consultants will provide tutors, or take responsibility of recruitment, and some won’t. There are different places you can look to recruit tutors, such as the ABA UK Yahoo Group, VB Community, ABA Tutorfinder, and different ABA groups on Facebook. Dshutterstock_226205743.jpgepending on the competency of the tutors, and needs of the learner will dictate how often, and how long for, the consultant will visit. ABA sessions may occur at home, in the nursery (if the provision is OK with it), or at school (again if the provision allow it). Personally, I think if you can be around other children, then you should be. I’m not a big fan of teaching in heavily neutral, quiet, non-stimulating environments, as that isn’t real life. Once you’ve recruited some tutors (you should probably look to get at least 2 to aid generalisation of skills), and a consultant, an assessment will be carried out. This will guide the design of the programme. After this the consultant will normally hold an initial training day (may be 2 or 3 days depending on the experience of the tutors). From this point, the consultant will make monthly visits*.

How long will I need an ABA programme? It really depends on the learner and the team around him. The goal of ABA will be to equip the individual with the skills needed to be an independent learner as soon as is appropriate. This can be frustrating to hear as it’s not time specific, but it’s very difficult to predict the future that far ahead.

From asking parents I work with how they found out about ABA, most report it was self searched, not easy to come across, and usually one of the last ports of call. Why aren’t other professionals (paediatricians etc) forth coming with this? How many schools know about this super effective way of teaching? Maybe they do, but I just don’t know about it? As I mentioned in my first blog post, ABA feels like the best kept secret.

ABA is huge in the USA, with 44 states having insurance cover ABA. Why so far behind here then? Is it simply the cost under the guise of ‘not enough research’? That would certainly seem odd seeing as ABA is a field founded on research

I’m going to follow up with a post about the analysis of verbal behaviour, and ‘what is VB?’ as this is likely to be a term you hear, and an analysis I make use of.

There is of course, so much to mention in this section, and I hope I’ve covered enough to give you a little more info about ABA. If anybody would like more information on this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All I want to do is spread the ABA love.

*This is what I observe to be the average structure, but it may vary.

(Info used from Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2014)

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