What Is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Though its name can seem long and intimidating, at its core ABA is about understanding why people behave the way they do and how they can change their behaviors if desired. As a field, ABA is based on extensive reserach and data that stretches back to its beginnings in the 1960s. As with any scientific field, it has grown and refined itself as analysts have gathered more data on all aspects of studied behavior. An extensive body of research shows that it is the best and most successful method of behavioral intervention particularly for individuals with autism.
A key part of ABA is functional analysis. Until the twentieth century parents and teachers often resorted to punishment as the only way to correct problem behaviors. A core ethical principal for Behavior Analysts is to exhaust all reinforcement-based strategies, to focus on what motivates the behavior in the first place. Although it takes patience, this approach is better for the learner and produces improved results because it discovers why they act a certain way and gives them the tools necessary to help change their behaviors.
ABA has sometimes come under criticism, with some skeptics saying it focuses too much on outward behavior, teaches skills but not their purposes, or is conducted in environments uncomfortable to the learner. Some of this was true, but progressive ABA, especially for children, is conducted in natural and fun environments, and focuses on understanding what is behind a target behavior, while teaching the meaning of replacement behaviors and how to use them.
Things have changed a lot since the early days of ABA. The increase in available science, paired with the data and dedication of behavior analysts, has developed new techniques for teaching confidence and skills while respecting each learner’s natural personality.