Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

ABA on children with learning disabilities

One day I would like to work with children with learning disabilities, who will sometimes have behavioural problems. The use of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) will be able to help them in many aspects of their lives.

The goal of ABA is to change the frequency of a target behaviour. This is based on Thorndike’s Law of Effect (1927), which states that the likelihood of a behaviour occurring is dependent on the previous consequences of the behaviour. The change in behaviour should eventually persist both over time and in different environments. 

ABA begins with a behavioural assessment, where the target behaviour is identified. In a classroom, this could be a child who refuses to speak. Then, relationships between antecedents and consequences of behaviour need to be identified. The child could be asked to write down why they feel that they cannot speak, or other people could be asked if, when they spoke previously, they can remember anything specifically that preceded or followed the behaviour. If the child does speak occasionally, then they should be observed for a certain period, and each time that they speak it should be recorded. A frequency graph would then show how many times the behaviour occurs. An intervention should begin to try to change the target behaviour. The child could be praised when they spoke, and possibly asked questions, which shows that you are interested in what they have to say. Graphs of the frequency that the child has spoken before and after the intervention could then be compared, to see if the intervention was effective.

Wolf and Risley were the first to describe a multiple baseline design for ABA. This is where an intervention that has changed behaviour in one setting is then used again in another environment. For example, after successfully encouraging a child to talk in a school environment, the child could receive the same intervention at home. This would make sure that it was the intervention that caused the behaviour change, and not an unrelated factor. 

Hall, Hawkins and Axelrod (1975) created measures to show ABA working in a classroom environment. For example, a daily measure of the child’s social and academic behaviours would show if an intervention was working. They also showed that praise should be given to children using only specific words that they learn to associate with having performed well.

Amy Melody


Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavioural analysis,  Journal of applied behavior analysis, 1(1), 91-97.

Hall, R. V., Hawkins, R. P., & Axelrod, S. (1975). Measuring and recording student behavior: A behavior analysis approach. Observation of pupils and teachers in mainstream and special education setings: Alternative strategies. Minneapolis: Leadership Training Institute/Special Education.

Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology. 39, 212-222.

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