What is ABA anyway?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a science that aims to improve socially significant behaviour. ABA is used to teach new skills. It can also be used to reduce behaviours that might be interfering with an individual’s ability to learn or participate in their community.

ABA is based on the principles of Learning Theory. One of the key components of Learning Theory that Behaviour Analysts study is called operant conditioning. This looks at how behaviour changes when we add or take something away from the environment which results in an increase or decrease in the likelihood of a behaviour occurring again in the future.

Consider these examples:

A mother gives her daughter praise when she has completed her homework.

In this example, praise is something that is added when the behaviour – completing homework is demonstrated. Assuming praise is motivating for this child, she is more likely to complete her homework in the future in order to continue obtaining praise from her mom. Something was added (praise) to increase the behaviour (completing homeworking). This is positive reinforcement.

Casey presses the snooze button in order to turn off his loud morning alarm.

In this example, pressing the snooze button takes away the aversive sound. Assuming Casey does not like this loud sound we can assume he will continue to press the snooze button in the future to turn it off. Something was taken away (aversive sound) which will increase the behavior (hitting the snooze button) in the future. This is negative reinforcement.

A child touches a hot stove and feels pain from the burn.

Assuming the child does not like the painful feeling we can assume in the future the child will not touch the hot stove. Something is added (pain from touching hot stove) that will decrease the behaviour in the future (touching the hot stove). This is positive punishment.

Sally fights with her brother and as a result her father takes away her favourite toy.

Assuming Sally is upset over losing her favourite toy we can assume in the future she will not fight with her brother as she does not want to lose this toy again. Something was taken away (sally’s toy) which decreased the behaviour (fighting with her brother). This is negative punishment.

ABA has over 30 years of research demonstrating its efficacy in supporting individuals with autism however it has also demonstrated success within other areas such as:

  • Rehabilitation of brain injury
  • Health and fitness
  • Treatment of phobias
  • Treatment of substance abuse
  • Zoo management and care of animals
  • Gerontology
  • Industrial safety

Stay tuned for future blogs describing some of the principles of ABA and how to use these to help teach new skills!