Behavior Analysis is the scientific study of both human and non-human behavior and learning. It consists of three major branches: Behaviorism, the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, and Applied Behavior Analysis. Behaviorism is the philosophy that all behavior is performed or acquired in relation to the environment. The Experimental Analysis of Behavior uses assumptions of behaviorism to study relationships between behavior and the environment under laboratory conditions. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the study and application of principles of behavior discovered through the Experimental Analysis of Behavior to socially significant behaviors in the natural environment.
The MADSEC Autism Task Force (2000) provides the following description of Applied Behavior Analysis:
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the science of human behavior. Over the past 50 years, several thousand published research studies have documented the effectiveness of ABA across a wide range of:
Children and adults with mental health conditions, developmental disabilities, and learning disorders.
Parents, teachers and staff.
Schools, homes, institutions, group homes, hospitals, and business offices.
Language; social, academic, leisure, and functional life skills; aggression, self-injury, oppositional and stereotyped behaviors.
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In 1968, Baer, Wolf, and Risley defined ABA in terms of seven dimensions. They first determined that ABA is Applied, meaning that it deals with behaviors that are of value to families, communities, and society at large in relation to the subject of study.
Next, ABA is Behavioral, meaning that it studies actions or behaviors that are observable and measurable. Third, they note that ABA is Analytic, meaning that it requires an objective demonstration that the behavior change observed was caused by the procedure. ABA thus uses a variety of experimental controls to design studies in a way that eliminates confounding factors and demonstrates that the behavior changes along with the procedure.
Rather than statistical analysis, ABA uses experimental controls, such as demonstrating that the behavior decreases when a procedure is introduced and returns to higher rates with that procedure are withdrawn. They go on to describe ABA as Technological. This means that all procedures in ABA are described completely, such that they can be carried out by anyone with the appropriate training and resources.
After that, they identify ABA as a Conceptual System. This means that, in addition to completely describing the procedures used, it identifies the concepts or principles from the Experimental Analysis of Behavior upon which the procedures are based. This helps to make ABA part of a conceptual system of Behavior Analysis, such that it may be developed and grown in a meaningful way. Baer et al. then state that ABA is Effective, meaning that the procedures used produce large effects of practical value in ways that are both time and cost-efficient.
Finally, they describe ABA as having Generality, meaning that the effects of the procedures are long-lasting and appear across a variety of environments.
Companies that provide treatment based on Applied Behavior Analysis use procedures shown to be effective in the ABA research literature. These programs are applied and behavioral in that they address measurable behaviors that are of value to each client and the communities in which they participate.
Staff implementing ABA programs take data throughout the intervention to either demonstrate the effectiveness of the procedures or allow for analysis of the procedures such that they can be modified as needed. All interventions used in an ABA program will be technological in that they are completely described, and also conceptually systematic. Finally, care is taken to ensure that all procedures are effective and that they produce results with generality.
Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97
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