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Applied Behavior Analysis is a philosophy of treatment based on data collection and the use of statistical tools to inform the treatment team about the course of treatment on an ongoing basis, thereby allowing frequent corrections of the treatment plan, in order to deliver optimal treatment services. Often confused with the Discrete Trial program. Lessons to be taught are broken down to their simplest elements. Children are presented with a stimulus through repeated trials. Positive reinforcement is used to reward correct responses and behaviors, and incorrect responses are ignored.

Over the past 30 years, several thousand published research studies have documented the effectiveness of ABA across a wide range of:

  • populations (children and adults with mental illness, developmental disabilities and learning disorders)
  • interventionists (parents, teachers and staff)
  • settings (schools, homes, institutions, group homes, hospitals and business offices), and
  • behaviors (language; social, academic, leisure and functional life skills; aggression, self injury, oppositional and stereotyped behaviors

Applied behavior analysis is the process of systematically , social skills, communication, and adaptive living skills. Adaptive living skills include gross and fine motor skills, eating and food preparation, toileting, dressing, personal self-care, domestic skills, time and punctuality, money and value, home and community orientation, and work skills. ABA methods are used to support persons with autism in at least six ways:

  • to increase behaviors (eg reinforcement procedures increase on-task behavior, or social interactions);
  • to teach new skills (eg, systematic instruction and reinforcement procedures teach functional life skills, communication skills, or social skills);
  • to maintain behaviors (eg, teaching self control and self-monitoring procedures to maintain and generalize job-related social skills);
  • to generalize or to transfer behavior from one situation or response to another (eg, from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom);
  • to restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviors occur (eg, modifying the learning environment); and
  • to reduce interfering behaviors (eg, self injury or stereotypy).

ABA is an objective discipline. ABA focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.

Reliable measurement requires that behaviors are defined objectively. Vague terms such as anger, depression, aggression or tantrums are redefined in observable and quantifiable terms, so their frequency, duration or other measurable properties can be directly recorded (Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). For example, a goal to reduce a child's aggressive behavior might define "aggression" as: "attempts, episodes or occurrences (each separated by 10 seconds) of biting, scratching, pinching or pulling hair." "Initiating social interaction with peers" might be defined as: "looking at classmate and verbalizing an appropriate greeting." ABA interventions require a demonstration of the events that are responsible for the occurrence, or non-occurrence, of behavior. ABA uses methods of analysis that yield convincing, reproducible, and conceptually sensible demonstrations of how to accomplish specific behavior changes (Baer & Risley, 1987). Moreover, these behaviors are evaluated within relevant settings such as schools, homes and the community. The use of single case experimental design to evaluate the effectiveness of individualized interventions is an essential component of programs based upon ABA methodologies. This is a process that includes the following components:

  • selection of interfering behavior or behavioral skill deficit
  • identification of goals and objectives establishment of a method of measuring target behaviors
  • evaluation of the current levels of performance (baseline)
  • design and implementation of the interventions that teach new skills and/or reduce interfering behaviors
  • continuous measurement of target behaviors to determine the effectiveness of the intervention, and
  • ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the intervention, with modifications made as necessary to maintain and/or increase both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the intervention. (MADSEC, 2000, p. 21-23)

Discrete Trial Training
Discrete trial training (DTT) is a particular ABA teaching strategy which enables the learner to acquire complex skills and behaviors by first mastering the subcomponents of the targeted skill. For example, if one wishes to teach a child to request a desired interaction, as in "I want to play," one might first teach subcomponents of this skill, such as the individual sounds comprising each word of the request, or labeling enjoyable leisure activities as "play." By utilizing teaching techniques based on the principles of behavior analysis, the learner is gradually able to complete all subcomponent skills independently. Once the individual components are acquired, they are linked together to enable mastery of the targeted complex and functional skill. This methodology is highly effective in teaching basic communication, play, motor, and daily living skills.

Initially, ABA programs for children with Autism utilized only (DTT), and the curriculum focused on teaching basic skills as noted above. However, ABA programs, such as the programs implemented by TeamHope continue to evolve, placing greater emphasis on the generalization and spontaneity of skills learned. As patients progress and develop more complex social skills, the strict DTT approach gives way to treatments including other components. With an emphasis on making the skills functional and integrated into the whole child.

Specifically, there are a number of weaknesses with DTT including the fact the DTT is primarily teacher initiated, that typically the reinforcers used to increase appropriate behavior are unrelated to the target response, and that rote responding can often occur. Moreover, deficits in areas such as "emotional understanding," "perspective taking" and other Executive Functions such as problem solving skills must also be addressed and the DTT approach is not the most efficient means to do so. To overcome these limitations TeamHope provides a variety of alternative therapeutic treatment approaches that best fit the child's individual needs.

Although the DTT methodology is an integral part of ABA-based programs, other teaching strategies based on developmental philosophies and therapeutic competencies are used to address these more complex skills. TeamHope specifically addresses the above mentioned weaknesses of DTT by providing for skills acquisition through developmentally influenced and relationship based approaches which focus on play, relationships, and naturalistic communication. At TeamHope the appropriate therapeutic approach is based on combining a variety of approaches across various philosophies to form a treatment plan that considers the whole child and their unique developmental differences.