Applied Behavior Analysis
The ABA Methodology
The applied behavior analysis methodology is comprised of research-based, demonstrably effective procedures that are tailored to meet the unique and individualized needs of each child. In the classroom, targeted skills to be learned are broken down into small elements and systematically taught using positive reinforcement. In the beginning stages of instruction, priority is given to the acquisition of new, constructive behaviors and the elimination of inappropriate self stimulatory behaviors like rocking, hand flapping, perseverative manipulation of objects or self-injurious behaviors. Each goal is taught in carefully planned steps that allow the child to be successful. Approximations to the final performance are systematically built as the child’s growing inventory of skills increase. In all cases, the objective is an increase in each child’s functional repertoire. Fundamental behaviors such as eye-contact, simple motor imitation and direction following, are taught before complexity is added. As the child and his or her needs progress, changes in goals and adjustments in teaching strategy are driven by data collected continuously as the child is learning. This allows the teaching to adjust to the child’s progress. Teaching is initially one to one, and is intensive. Each child works on a schedule of goals throughout the day, with teachers changing periodically with changes in goals. There is no “down time,” and what would otherwise be seen as recreational is incorporated into the teaching. Teaching is “outcome-driven,” such that responsibility for learning lies with the teacher. A child’s failure to progress is an indication that a procedural change is required. As the child’s skills improve, the one to one student/teacher ratio may be increased, with the rate of change governed by the resulting data. More is taught than academics, and teaching also addresses such areas as communication, eating, self-help, and social skills, among others. The intent is to accelerate children past the massive deficits and excesses that characterize autism, toward accumulation of an inventory of functional skills and classroom-acceptable behaviors sufficient to allow him or her to profit from the educational and social environment in a conventional school.
The child’s successes fuel the process, and a science-based methodology does not produce cold and aloof interactions. The prevailing atmosphere is warm and engaging. Children who may have previously experienced failure in other learning environments; are being taught to make choices, play, engage other people, communicate, and gain access to the same reinforcers that maintain all of us in life. Data collection, rigorous adherence to only research-proven teaching techniques and attention to detail do not remove the humanity from the process.