Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Common misconceptions about Applied Behavior Analysis

I would like to draw attention to some very common misconceptions about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). For example, that ABA is only relevant to the treatment of autism, or that it is synonymous with Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Discrete Trial Training is a teaching procedure that is based on the fundamental principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, but it is only one of the many aspects of ABA.

ABA is a systematic approach to understand and change behaviors and thus, much more than any one particular teaching procedure or intervention. It is based on many years of research into behavior, its causes, and strategies for changing behavior and building functional behavioral repertoires. ABA can be applied in any situation where a behavior change is desired. Other teaching methods included in an Applied Behavior Analytic approach include Incidental Teaching, Pivotal Response Training, Verbal Behavior Training (VB), Behavior Management, and others.

DTT (sometimes referred to as the Lovaas method) is an intensive treatment designed to assist individuals who have developmental disabilities such as autism.  It involves systematically and intensively teaching a variety of skills those individuals with disabilities may not pick up naturally. Because these individuals do not learn the way we teach, we should teach the way they learn.

Programs designed for individuals on the autism spectrum initially teach pre-learning skills (sitting, attending, looking at the therapist, imitation, etc.), social skills, self-help skills, communication skills, safety skills and basic concepts (colors, letters, numbers, etc.).  After these basic skills are mastered, higher-level skills are taught. DTT is conducted using intensive drills of selected materials.  Complex behaviors are broken down into small, reachable components, and taught until mastery before moving to a higher level. A specific behavior is prompted or guided, and the client receives a reward (reinforcement) for proper responses in order to increase motivation. 

Adversaries sometimes suggest that DTT promotes robotic responses in children, but that argument only demonstrates lack of knowledge on ABA. Programs start in very contrived, intensive and repetitive fashion. As progress is achieved, the intervention moves to incidental teaching conducted in natural environments and including all caregivers, thus achieving generalization of gains across settings and maintenance across time. Research has demonstrated a 50% recovery rate for autistic children who participated in discrete trial training 40 hours per week, including parent education, and began treatment during the preschool years. But like any therapeutic program, DTT, as well as ABA, needs to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual client because no two cases are alike. A good behavior analyst will know how to adapt a program to fit the child’s needs because, as all of us working in the field of autism know, “when you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism”.

I fell in love with ABA when I learned all that. The more I learn, the more passionate I am. ABA gives me the answers I need to do my job effectively.  Everybody who jumps in the ABA waters seriously gets hooked. Don’t you wonder why? 

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

No comments:

Post a Comment