Jump to content

National Autism Network

Join Today for FREE!

Look here for additional ABA resources. Go to resources

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science based on basic principles of behavior. The methodologies used in ABA have been established from decades of research, starting in the early 1940’s with the work of B.F. Skinner. It is an approach that seeks to understand behavior by analyzing environmental factors and involves the systematic manipulation of antecedents and consequences to modify both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. The techniques based on ABA principles have been proven to be effective in increasing language, teaching self-help skills, decreasing maladaptive behaviors, and teaching social skills with a variety of populations.

Is There Research to Support ABA for Individuals with Diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum?
Evidenced based practice is defined as “Practices that are informed by research, in which the characteristics and consequences of environmental variables are empirically established and the relationship directly informs what a practitioner can do to produce a desired outcome.” (Dunst, Trivette, & Cutspec, 2002, p3). Applied Behavior Analysis is considered evidenced based practice and is based on decades of empirical research. This research has demonstrated that ABA is effective in changing outcomes over a range of different individuals, in a range of places, and over a range of behavior. Research also shows that ABA consistently results in measurable educational, social, or behavioral benefit. Research has clearly documented the effectiveness of applied behavior analysis (ABA) methods in the education and treatment of people with autism (e.g., Matson et al., 1996; Smith, 1996; New York Department of Health, 1999; U.S. Surgeon General, 1999). Recently, Johnny Matson and his colleagues counted more than 550 studies published in scientific journals showing the effectiveness of behavior analytic procedures with persons with autism (Matson, J. L. et al, 1996). “In fact, there is an abundance of scientific evidence that Applied Behavior Analysis methods can produce comprehensive and lasting improvements in many important skill areas for most people with autism, regardless of their age. No other treatment for autism offers comparable evidence of effectiveness” (Maurice, Green, and Luce, 1996)

What do Behavior Analysts do?
Behavior Analysts ask questions like “why does behavior change over time?” and “what environmental variables will make it more or less likely that a child will behave a certain way?”. We seek these answers by looking at biological and environmental factors, although we are primarily interested in the role of environment on behavior. Once we identify these factors, or stimuli, we make changes to the environment which in turn will change a person’s behavior. The primary characteristics of ABA include an emphasis on observable and measurable behavior, function of the behavior, data collection and analysis, and making changes to the immediate environment to change behavior.

A Behavior Analyst will initially work with the family and client to identify the areas of deficit and choose which are of greatest social significance. These behaviors will be addressed first, as a primary focus of ABA is on changing behaviors which are most likely to increase independence and improve quality of life. While ABA intervention can help individuals with autism learn a wide variety of skills, most learners require properly planned interventions which are very specific to the individual, meaning most programs vary depending on the individual’s age, strengths, and weaknesses.

What is ABA not?
With the number of children born with Autism on the rise there is an abundance of information circulating the internet as well as information shared between professionals and parents. There are a number of misconceptions regarding ABA and the programs based on this science. The following is a list that was accumulated to address those characteristics that ABA is NOT:

  • Not exclusive to the treatment of Autism/Intellectual Disabilities
  • Not one standard set of procedures
  • Not only for maladaptive behaviors
  • Not only useful in clinic settings
  • Not based on aversive punishment
  • Not a new fad
  • Not only effective at 40 hours per week
  • Not a program that will turn your child into a robot
  • Not only effective for young children

You can also find our article- 'Top 10 Myths About Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)' here.

What Can One Expect from a Behavior Analyst?
A quality ABA programs is designed to fit the particular needs, strengths and weaknesses of the client. Therefore, no two ABA programs are alike. ABA programs are supervised by Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and Board Certified Behavior Analysts. Programs can be implemented by Analysts, parents, teachers or trained staff with ongoing training occurring based on the individual client needs.
A Behavior Analyst will begin a program by identifying interfering behavior or behavioral skill deficits. They will then identify goals and objectives while also establishing an appropriate method of measuring the target behaviors. Following the collection of data, the Analyst should evaluate the current level of performance (baseline) and then design and implement the interventions that will both reduce interfering behaviors while also teaching new skills (replacement behaviors). Ongoing oversight, evaluation, and programming revisions should be made to ensure that the program is effectively addressing all areas of need.

Who is Qualified as an ABA Provider?
An ABA provider should by Board Certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Although a certification is necessary, it may not be sufficient. An Analyst should also have experience incorporating a wide range of techniques into programs as well as have a history working with individuals varying in age, behavior problems, language ability, and functioning level. As well as having experience in developing, modifying, and tracking plan effectiveness, the Analyst should also have extensive experience in parent/care-taker training. Lastly, the ability to collaborate and disseminate ABA to other professionals is imperative when working on interdisciplinary teams.

According to the BACB certification requirements, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst will have a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, Psychology or a related field as well as have completed a specific BACB approved graduate level coursework sequence (minimum 225 classroom hours). In addition to coursework, the Analyst will have completed at least 1500 hours of supervised practicum work in the field. Lastly, the Analyst is required to pass the BACB exam and maintain certification with BACB via Continuing Education Requirements. Certification requirements are similar for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts which are persons certified at the Bachelor’s level with 135 hours of course work and 1000 hours of supervised practicum field work.

Each state has explicit laws regarding individuals who are legally able to provide ABA services. Check within your state for specific regulations on service providers.

How Can You Find an ABA Provider or Get More Information?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board provides a certificant registry at www.bacb.com. This website will allow you to search for Board Certified Behavior Analysts in your area and provides a way you can contact them. The following websites are resources for finding more information regarding ABA and ABA providers.


Article provided by:

Carolina Center for ABA and Autism Treatment

Callie Plattner, MS, BCBA, LPA