Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a systematic way of observing an individual’s behaviour, identifying desirable changes in it and then using appropriate methods to infer a positive change in the original behaviour. The field of ABA has shown a more significant growth in the area of behavioural intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder, as shown by the growing number of care providers and certified professionals in this field (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). My future career plans involve working with autistic children in an educational setting; for instance in a special needs school or in private care, of which ABA is quickly becoming the most appropriate method of teaching.
This approach is primarily based on theories of operant conditioning, and can be easily applied to scenarios of therapist and child interactions. For example, the therapist may try to improve a child’s communication and social skills by demonstrating more effective ways of interacting with others, and then rewarding the child upon independent demonstration of this. The therapist can then analyse how well the approach has worked, and if necessary, make any changes to support the positive behaviour change and influence it in the right direction.
There is substantial evidence to support that ABA is beneficial to the intellectual, verbal and social development and functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (Foxx, 2008; Remington et al., 2007) and positive results have been reported for daily living skills, academic performance and communication skills (Eikeseth, Smith, Jahr, & Eldevik, 2007; Remington et al., 2007).
A cross-cultural meta analysis conducted by Virues-Ortega (2010) supported this by concluding 18 studies to produce a positive effect for 323 children (mean age range = 22.6m – 66.3m) receiving intervention from 48 – 407 weeks and 12 – 45 weekly hours respectively. The pooled effect size of this meta analysis was 1.19 (95% Cl 0.91 to 1.47, p < 0.001) – the table below shows the breakdown for effect size for communication, daily living skills, socialization and adaptive behaviour composite scores of ABA intervention.
ABA has a significant upon the functioning of social interactions in autistic children, and this can simply be described as the influence of positive and negative reinforcement in the operant conditioning technique of behaviour influence. It is particularly beneficial from the individuality point of view, where ABA application is catered to each child’s specific needs.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Definition and characteristics of applied behaviour analysis. Applied Behaviour Analysis (pp. 2 - 23)., 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2002). Intensive behavioural treatment at school for 4- to 7-year-old children with autism: A 1-year comparison controlled study. Behaviour Modification, 26, 49-68.
Foxx, R. M. (2008). Applied behaviour analysis treatment of autism: the state of the art. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17, 281-834.
Remington, B., Hasting, R. P., Kovshoff, H., degli Espinosa, F., Jahr, E., Brown, T., et al. (2007). Early intensive behavioural intervention: Outcomes for children with autism and their parents after two years. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112, 418-438.
Virues-Ortega, J. (2010), Applied behaviour analytic intervention for autism in early childhood: Meta-analysis, meta-regression and dose-response meta-analysis of multiple outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 387-399.