Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the application of methods and strategies, derived from the science of behavior analysis, to solving socially significant problems. Behavior analysis is a natural science approach to psychology that emphasizes the relationship between observable behaviors and the environment in which they occur.
ABA-based therapies have become some of the most scientifically investigated and evidence-based practices for children with autism, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and those presenting difficult to manage behaviors. With over 50 years of research, ABA is considered a “best” practice for developing adaptive and social skills, improving language and communication repertoires, and training life skills. ABA is also utilized to address difficult and non-adaptive skills such as aggression, opposition, self-stimulation, and self-injurious behaviors. ABA-based therapies for addressing deficits associated with autism have been endorsed by the US Surgeon General, the American Psychology Association, the National Committee on Autism, and the American Pediatric Association.
ABA approaches are characterized by the following dimensions:
- Applied: Therapies focus on functional deficits and work toward outcomes that are socially significant and valued by the consumer.
- Behavioral: ABA focuses on behaviors that can be measured and observed.
- Analytic: Data-based decision-making and response to outcomes are a hallmark of ABA therapies. Consultation and review of progress are an important part of ensuring interventions are effective.
- Conceptually Systematic: All ABA procedures are based on principles of learning that can be demonstrated and observed.
- Technological: ABA procedures are described in detail and are replicable. This means that once designed, ABA procedures and strategies can be taught to and run by parents, educators, and other professionals working with the child.
- Effective: Therapies based on ABA methods are adaptive, and will be modified until they are observed to help the consumer. ABA practitioners seek to provide the most effective and least restrictive procedures at all times. Emphasis is placed on adapting procedures to fit the individual’s needs and contexts while maintaining the greatest possible impact.
- Generalizable: The goal of ABA therapies is for the consumer to be successful in the natural environment once formal treatment has ended. ABA approaches include strategies for fading procedures in a systematic manner in order to reduce dependence on therapies. Strategies, such as using multiple therapists and programing for variation, are used to help the consumer become flexible and adaptive to new environments.