If you work with students with autism, chances are you have either heard of, use, or integrate aspects of Applied Behavior Analysis into your teaching. But let’s get down to the basics. What is ABA and why does it work? Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of human behavior. ABA:

  • improves socially significant behaviors –  important behaviors! behaviors that impact the entire life of an individual
  • improves behaviors to a meaningful degree – who cares about little changes? Let’s see some big changes that actually make a difference. 
  • proves that change in behavior results from an intervention – this is where data comes in! You need to know what caused (or didn’t cause) the behavior change.
Still confused? Sounds like jargon but let’s break it down. 
ABA looks at the function of behaviors: Function = why you do something/what you get out of it/reinforcer
Let’s take an iPhone.
 The function of me dialing my phone is talk to someone.

 The function of me going on facebook is to stalk people.

The function of me pressing ‘decline’ is to avoid talking to someone annoying.
The function of me running over my iphone with my car is to crack my screen into a million pieces.
 So basically, everything everyone does results in some type of reinforcement or some reason why you do it. A key component of ABA is figuring out what these reinforcers are and manipulating them to cause change.
  • Determine what motivates the individual. What is the child getting out of doing this? Attention from others? Access to toys? Avoid something they don’t want to do?

What does the little boy get out of crying in the candy aisle?
  •  Manipulating the environment or setting. Maybe you don’t go down the candy aisle to avoid this issue. If a student becomes upset with sudden transitions, remove sudden transitions or plan for them. If a child always forgets his homework, add a visual prompt into his schedule.
  • Change the reinforcers that are keeping bad behavior going. Don’t give the crying kid candy, the sassy teenager attention, or the whining child an iPad – it’s a sure fire to ensure that individual will act that way again when they want something. Would you keep clicking the facebook button on your iPhone if it never brought you to facebook? No – eventually you would stop. 
  • Develop more appropriate alternative behaviors. The kid will still want candy. Some children (especially those with autism) need to be taught how to ask for something appropriately. Is your student hitting other students to get out of work? Teaching him how to ask for a break could eliminate that behavior. Is the only way your student with autism gets attention is when he bites himself? Teach him how to request attention. 
The key to ABA is consistent data collection. Through consistent data collection you will know if your interventions have actually worked and how much they worked. It won’t be one of those ‘I think it seems better things’ it will actually be better.
Those are the basics of the basics. Next week I am going to detail out specific behavior management strategies for behaviors that are reinforced by attention, escape, and sensory. I will also provide some useful tips on how to determine what the reinforcer is.
Hope this made sense! I’m a total ABA geek- I love it! Do use ABA practices in your classroom?
Sasha Long
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