Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a technique used to change a person’s behaviour, by identifying desirable changes in behaviour and using methods such as positive or negative reinforcement, punishment or extinction to either increase or decrease the frequency of a particular behaviour.
ABA is a technique that is very popular when working with children with autism. There has been much research on its use and it has been found to be an effective treatment (Matson, Benavidez, Compton, Paclawskyj & Baglio, 1986) which leads to substantial improvements in aspects of language and social behaviour (Ringdahl, Kopelman & Falcomata, 2009). When I leave university I want to work with children with autism, and therefore I am likely to find myself using ABA techniques in my future career.
Individuals with autism have difficulties with social interaction and communication. However ABA can be used in the treatment of autism to address some of these behavioural deficits by encouraging particular social behaviours such as making eye contact, or interacting with others. The main method used to achieve this is through positive reinforcement techniques (Matson & Smith, 2008), i.e. rewarding a particular behaviour when it occurs, leading to an increase in the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated.
In order to do this, you first need to identify a behaviour you want to increase. Let’s take for example, eye contact. This is a desirable behaviour for a child with autism because to help the child engage with others and therefore may also help them to develop socially and pay more attention, increasing learning (Lovaas, 1981). The child will be encouraged to make eye contact, and when the behaviour occurs they will be rewarded for it. Rewards may vary from child to child depending on what will motivate them individually, but may be verbal praise, offering the child their favourite toy or giving them a sweet. If the behaviour is consistently rewarded whenever it occurs, and the reward immediately follows the behaviour so as to make sure the right behaviour is reinforced, using this technique should lead to an increase in the occurrence of the desired behaviour.
Lovaas, O. I. (1981).Teaching Developmentally Disabled Children: The ME Book. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Matson, J. L. Benavidez, D. A., Compton, L. S., Paclawskyj, T., & Baglio, C. (1996). Behavioral treatment of autistic persons: A review of research from 1980 to present. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 17, 433-465.
Matson, J. L., & Smith, K. R. M. (2008). Current status of intensive behavioral interventions for young children with autism and PDD-NOS. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2, 60-74.
Ringdahl, J. E., Kopelman, T., & Falcomata, T. S. (2009). Applied behavior analysis and its application to autism and autism related disorders. In J. L. Matson (Ed.), Applied behavior analysis for children with autism spectrum disorders, pp. 15-33, New York: Springer.