What exactly is ABA, anyway? As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who works primarily in a public school system, I get this question all the time from parents, teachers, and administrators. ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis and it is the most well-researched and evidenced-based treatment for autism. ABA has been steadily gaining popularity in the main-stream media over the last 10 years and more people have at least heard of it, thanks to the increase in autism awareness. But, it still is not well understood by the general public. I often get asked, “Do you do ABA?” or “Do schools do ABA?”
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a research based science that can be applied in many settings and situations. It isn’t a package or curriculum but more a framework for understanding human behavior and the factors that shape or influence all behavior. Essentially behavioral principles are “good teaching” and include assessment, goal setting, data collection, progress monitoring, teaching procedures, reinforcement, and correction procedures. There is a strong emphasis on using data to drive instruction and make decisions about interventions. Many of our existing educational initiatives are based on ABA principles (e.g. Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, Functional Behavior Assessment, Behavior Plans, precision teaching, and many classroom management strategies). ABA is not something just used in clinics or to treat autism. It is not “done” only at a table using discrete trials. ABA is not just used to decrease problem behaviors but also focuses on teaching replacement behaviors. Maximizing the principles of ABA can improve existing programs for students in both skill acquisition and also behavior management.
Often times people use the terms ABA and ABA therapy interchangeably. ABA therapy involves assessment and development of an individual program to increase language and communication skills, improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics and to decrease problem behaviors. These programs are typically developed and overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and implemented by a behavior technician. Board Certified Behavior Analysts have at least master’s level course-work in Applied Behavior Analysis, have completed supervised fieldwork experience, and have passed a board exam. Principles of behavior analysis can be used by anyone in a variety of settings.
Collaboration between settings such as home, school, and therapeutic settings results in generalization of newly learned behaviors and offers the most valuable and long-lasting outcomes.