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The ABC's of Applied Behavior Analysis

By Jenna Kozub
August 10, 2021
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Before reading The ABC's of Applied Behavior Analysis, it is important that you are aware of two common questions in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis: What does the data show? And,  What has happened before that may be influencing the now?  It is also important to note that the term “instructor” can refer to any of the following: parent, clinician, teacher, Registered Behavior Technician, Instructional Aide, Behavior Analyst, etc.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific method that focuses on changing and/or improving socially significant behaviors. It is crucial that the instructor looks at the individual's Baseline, or current abilities before providing, or changing an intervention. Through the three-term Contingency (A-B-C), instructors can learn what is happening before the behavior (antecedent), what the behavior of concern is (target behavior), and what is following the behavior (consequence).  Learning this information will help to identify if the behavior will likely happen again, or not.

There are seven Dimensions of behavior in Applied Behavior Analysis. These dimensions include generality, effective, technological, applied, conceptually systematic, analytical, and behavioral. These seven dimensions help guide the goals and interventions in an individual treatment plan.

ABA is known for its Errorless teaching method. This method was derived and used to ensure that the individuals we are serving are achieving success in as many opportunities as possible, to increase their motivation of completing a task.

Every action we complete is done with a purpose. In ABA, it is critical to know the Function of a target behavior. The four functions of behavior include: sensory, escape, attention, and tangibles. It is possible that some behaviors have more than one function.

Often you will hear instructors ask one another, “What does the A-B-C data show?” It is through the data collection that Graphs are developed and analyzed. Data analysis of graphs can aid in learning if the targeted outcome is nearing success, or if interventions need to be altered.

Because ABA is an evidence-based approach, it is important that instructors Hypothesize and analyze through A-B-C contingency data, baseline information, and graphs.

There are many different types of schedules of reinforcement. There are two Interval schedules of reinforcement and two Ratio schedules of reinforcement, both looking at fixed or variable. An interval schedule is looking at the amount of time, while a ratio schedule is looking at the number of responses the person does, prior to receiving access to reinforcement.   Just because one schedule of reinforcement was selected, does not mean that will be the schedule of reinforcement this person will be on forever. Keeping an individual on the same schedule of reinforcement, or changing a schedule of reinforcement too quickly, may hinder an individual’s success. Use the data to help determine if a change in the schedule of reinforcement is required. 

Teaching using the errorless teaching procedure is to support the success of the client. It is important that instructors attempt to use the Least to most intrusive prompts when supporting the individuals. This can be through physical gestures, verbal prompting, or pictorial cueing.  

The goal of ABA is to make decisions based on direct observations and data analysis. This helps exclude many Mentalistic theories that behaviors may occur due to inner causes, thoughts, or at random. Instructors are cautioned to Never make conclusions without referring to the data.

It is an instructor’s priority to ensure that the fundamental communication skills are taught. In ABA, Operants, make up the foundation of language and communication development. These verbal operants include: Mand(request), Tact (label), Echoic (repeat), Intraverbal (fill – in phrases), Listener Responses (finding and/or selecting), Motor Imitation (copying), and Visual Perception Match To Sample (following a visual series) are foundations of communication. 

In Applied Behavior Analysis, it is important to identify a person's Primary and secondary reinforcers. These reinforcers are going to be the most potent, so they are likely to ensure the future change in frequency of the target behavior. It is important to recognize that one reinforcer may not be successful every time. Our interests/needs are constantly changing based on the environment, what we are doing, and what is currently available.

Quality definitions of the behavior(s)you are observing are crucial to ensure accurate data collection. When multiple people can observe and agree when the behavior of interest does or does not occur, your interobserver agreement can be a useful tool to identify the reliability of data. It is important to redefine what the behavior(s) of interest looks like, as this will impact the data and graphs of the intervention.

When facilitating an environment with ABA programs and systems in place, it is crucial that the Rapport between the instructor and individual is positive and strong. This rapport is important when the instructor is seeking Stimulus control, or when a response of interest is occurring more frequently in the presence of the instructor, and not when absent.

There are a variety of Teaching methods that instructors can use to support an individual’s interventions. This may include task analysis, functional communication, video modeling, modeling, and discrete trial training. Each of these teaching methods is used with the errorless teaching procedure, in conjunction with least – to most prompting strategies, to ensure the success of the individual.

It is common to hear “reinforcement” and “punishment” in Applied Behavior Analysis. To better understand these terms, it is important to know that there are different types of reinforcement and punishment. Such as Unconditioned Reinforcement, and Unconditioned Punishment, Conditioned Reinforcement, and Conditioned Punishment. What does all of this mean? Simply, if it is “unconditioned” these are things that we are born with (e.g., feeling starved vs. full, regulated body temperatures vs. extremely hot or cold, hydrated vs. extreme thirst, etc.). If something is “conditioned” this means that the individual has learned what this will get them, or what they want to avoid.  Reinforcement is effective when the behavior occurs again in the future. Punishment is effective when behavior is not likely going to occur again in the future.  

When identifying an effective stimulus, it is important to consider the Value – altering effects and the behavior-altering effects. If you are interested in increasing or decreasing the effectiveness of a reinforcer, you would consider the value-altering effects.  If you are interested in altering the frequency/ intensity/ or timing of the behavior, you would consider the behavior-altering effects.

While the questions of “When do I reinforce?”, “‘X’ is not going away, why not?”, or “You sure this is the best method?” are often heard, remember, if there is Zero data, then there can be no official conclusion if an intervention was or was not working.

Keywords: ABA, Data, Analysis, Stimulus

References:

Safety–Care core curriculum: https://qbs.com/safety-care/

https://www.behaviorbabe.com/acronymsandterms.htm

http://theautismhelper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/ABA-101-Handouts-The-Autism-Helper.pdf

https://medium.com/@carlylecenter/7-dimensions-of-applied-behavior-analysis-5eb85128cf0a

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