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What is ABA?


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) employs methods based on scientific principles of behavior to build socially useful repertoires and reduce problematic ones (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1989).

The following is excerpted from the Catherine Maurice Book – “Behavioral Intervention for young children with Autism 1996.”

ABA treatment for autism focuses on teaching small, measurable units of behavior systematically. Every skill the child with autism does not demonstrate – from relatively simple responses, to complex acts like spontaneous communication and social interaction- is broken down into small steps. Each step is taught by presenting a specific cue or instruction. Sometimes a prompt is added (such as gentle physical guidance) to get the child started, (A word of caution: Prompts of all kinds should be faded quickly to avoid making the child dependent on them). Appropriate responses are followed by consequences that have been found to function effectively as reinforcers – that is, when those consequences have consistently followed the child’s response, it has been shown that the response was likely to occur again. A high-priority goal is to make learning fun for the child. Another is to teach the child how to discriminate among many different stimuli: his name from other spoken words; colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and the like from one another; appropriate from inappropriate behavior. Problematic responses (such as tantrums, self-injury, withdrawal) are explicitly not reinforced, which often requires systematic analyses to determine exactly what events function as reinforcers for those responses. Preferably, the child is guided to engage in appropriate responses that are incompatible with the problem responses...

Simply stated, children with autism are slowly and purposefully taught how to learn. The most basic skills that most of us learn naturally are broken down into pieces small enough for the child to understand and they are repeated over and over until they become part of the child’s repertoire. This repertoire is built upon, until the child begins to understand how to learn on his/her own. In some cases near normal functioning can result, but in virtually all kids, learning will take place, and regardless of how fast the child learns, life is made fuller, easier, and more satisfying for the child and their family.