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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a structured teaching programme built on a discipline devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behaviour .With emphasis on early and intensive intervention, ABA has been demonstrated to greatly improve the prospects of children with special needs. ABA is the design, implementation, and evaluation of environmental modifications to produce socially significant improvement in human behavior. ABA includes the use of direct observation, measurement, and functional analysis of the relations between environment and behavior.
The components of any behavior are as follows:
- Antecedent : A verbal or physical stimulus such as a command or request. This may come from the environment or from another person, or be internal to the subject
- Behavior: The subject's response
- Consequence: Outcome, conditional to the behavior. In controlled situations the consequence depends on the subject's behavior and goal of the program and can include reinforcement of desired behavior, no response or punishment
The key aspects of ABA therapy are:
- Observation of current behavior for topography (what the movement looks like), frequency, antecedents and consequences.
- Breaking down desired skills into steps.
- Teaching the steps through repeated presentation of discrete trials.
- Data on performance is tracked to show changes over time.
Techniques used in Applied Behavior Analysis/ABA
The skill to be learned is broken down into the smallest units for easy learning. For example, a child learning to brush teeth independently may start with learning to unscrew the toothpaste cap. Once the child has learned this, the next step may be squeezing the tube, and so on.
The ABA therapist provides assistance to encourage the desired response from the child. Prompts are faded systematically and as quickly as possible from a more intrusive prompt to the least intrusive prompt, with completely independent responding as the goal. Prompts include:
- Verbal prompts - e.g., "Take the toothpaste cap off" (Should be avoided when possible as verbal prompts are the hardest to fade)
- Gestural prompts - e.g., pointing at the toothpaste
- Physical prompts - (often called spatial fading) involves fading from full physical (i.e., hand over hand) to hand on wrist, hand on elbow, hand on shoulder, shadowing, to fading your proximity and
- Modeling - e.g., taking the cap off to show the child how it is done.
The overall goal is for a child to eventually not need prompts. This is why the least intrusive prompts are used, so the child does not become overly dependent on them when learning a new behavior or skill. Prompts are gradually faded out as then new behavior is learned. Learning to unscrew the toothpaste lid may start with physically guiding the child's hands, to pointing at the toothpaste, then just a verbal request.
Once a skill is learned in a controlled environment (usually table-time), the skill is taught in more general settings. Perhaps the skill will be taught in the natural environment. If the student has successfully mastered learning colors at the table, the teacher may take the student around the house or his school and then re-teach the skill in these more natural environments.
Shaping involves gradually modifying the existing behavior of a child into the desired behavior. If a child engages with a dog by hitting it, the child could have their behavior shaped by reinforcing interactions in which the child touches the dog more gently. Over many interactions, successful shaping would replace the hitting behavior with patting or other gentle behavior.
Reinforcement provides a response to a child's behavior that will most likely increase that behavior. It is "differential" because the level of reinforcement varies depending on the child's response. Difficult tasks may be reinforced heavily whereas easy tasks may be reinforced less heavily. We will systematically change our reinforcement so that the child eventually will respond appropriately under natural schedules of reinforcement (occasional) with natural types of reinforcers (social).
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