So far in starting this blog, my posts have been focused on how to use behavioral principles to make your day to day life easier. However, today I have to make an exception and write about something that has been on my mind. Lately, I have heard a lot of misconceptions about what ABA is that I would like to try to clear up, so here it goes:
1. ABA creates robotic children: A practitioner who is actually using ABA should be training loosely. This means teaching and accepting multiple answers. For example, if you are teaching a 3 year old child to respond to the question, “What’s your name?” and only teach and reinforce the response, “My name is Joey Smith,” of course the child is going to sound robotic! That is going to sound completely unnatural when Joey’s peer asks him his name on the playground and will cause him to stand out. Practitioners that practice ABA correctly will teach a variety of responses. For example, Joey might be taught to say, “Joey,” and “I’m Joey,” and “My name’s Joey.”
2. ABA takes away from other teaching and instructional methods: ABA is a strategy that can and should be used alongside any teaching or parenting method. The basic principles of reinforcement, prompting, extinction, etc. that I have discussed in previous posts do not have to take away from anything. They should be used to enhance other tools and make them more effective and beneficial. If somebody wants to challenge this sentiment, please do so – I would love to see this from another perspective.
3. ABA is only used to treat autism spectrum disorders: First of all, the focus of ABA is on behavior. To say that it is an autism treatment is misleading. It does not treat autism as a whole, but is a method for decreasing undesirable behaviors and increasing desirable behaviors. ABA is a way to explain day to day occurrences in any individual and modify behavior. It can explain simple behaviors such as why my cats hide at the sight of the vacuum cleaner to complex behaviors such as why I procrastinated in writing this post today.
4. “Doing ABA” means doing Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT): Somehow, these terms have become synonymous. DTT is just one of many methods used in ABA. In fact, in the 700+ page book that Board Certified Behavior Analysts study from for the board exam, only one paragraph is dedicated to the use of discrete trials. A practitioner using ABA correctly should choose DTT only if it fits the individual child’s needs.
5. ABA is only used for behavioral problems: People often choose not to use an ABA service provider because their child has “no behavior.” Everything we do in our day to day lives is behavior. ABA is just as commonly used to increase desirable behaviors as it is to deal with challenging behaviors. For example, ABA principles can be used to teach employable skills by applying shaping and chaining procedures. Or, task analysis, a common method in ABA can be used to teach a child how to tie his shoe or do a math problem. Modeling and imitation principles can be used to teach a young adult how to answer questions in an interview. The possibilities are endless.
I have attempted to describe common misconceptions of what ABA is not. So, what is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis is a multi-method strategy used to do the following:
1. Observe behaviors
2. Target behaviors for increase or decrease
3. Implement research-based interventions
4. Collect data on interventions
5. Modify interventions on an on-going basis
The overall goal of ABA is to increase desirable behaviors while decreasing undesirable behavior.
I urge you to be cautious when you hear someone say “I do ABA,” or “I have done ABA in the past.” ABA is not something you just “do.” Have you ever heard anyone say, “I do science?” ABA is a discipline which consists of many strategies that can be applied to a variety of situations. Incorrect applications of ABA are causing the above misconceptions. These misconceptions, in turn, are turning people away from interventions that have been shown effective by research.
As always, please feel free to ask questions, post arguments, or otherwise comment on the post!
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