Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a treatment for behavioral issues, especially in the case of children with autism and developmental disabilities. It relies on many behavioral psychology concepts, including positive rewards and consequences. By increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative behaviors, therapists help clients adjust to social settings and foster healthy lifestyles.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis describes a type of therapeutic treatment that creates adaptive behaviors and decreases harmful behaviors for the betterment of the client’s quality of life. The Applied Behavior Analysis framework is built on understanding behavior and changing behavior.

Applied Behavior Analysis applies many behavioral psychological concepts. Therapists will reward positive behaviors, such as asking for a snack when hungry. This is called positive reinforcement and is part of the concept coined by Ivan Pavolv in his conditioning theories. Clients will not receive rewards when their behavior is inappropriate, such as when they throw a tantrum. Therapists also teach clients about behavioral consequences – that is, what happens when one behavior happens instead of another.

The therapist’s goal is to increase the occurrence of adaptable behaviors, which helps the client in social situations, relationships, and with their safety.

What happens in an Applied Behavior Analysis session?

Applied Behavior Analysis treatment often begins with the therapist learning about the client’s baseline behaviors. Therapists might spend the first several sessions observing the client. They map out certain behaviors, including in which contexts or environments the behaviors tend to happen.

Once therapists have a sense of the client’s individual behaviors, they’ll identify which behaviors they would like to change. They’ll encourage clients to change their behaviors by offering them rewards, such as candy or toys. Therapists will also teach clients about the consequences of their behaviors, when appropriate. This guides clients towards behaviors that are adaptable.

Each Applied Behavior Analysis session will look different, but in general, therapists will try to create situations for their clients to perform previously-practiced adaptable behaviors. It’s important that only trained, certified therapists conduct Applied Behavioral Analysis. Without training, this type of treatment can be harmful or confusing for the client.

What can Applied Behavior Analysis help with?

Applied Behavior Analysis is generally used to support clients who have autism or developmental disabilities. Many of the clients who go through Applied Behavior Analysis have difficulties verbalizing their emotions, thoughts, or feelings – which is why their behaviors often display how they’re feeling and can result in crying or tantrums. When communication is limited, clients work best with therapists who understand behavior and can help them improve their conduct.