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What Is Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of human behavior. The best definition available is still the one written about in 1968 by Baer, Wolf, & Risley:

“Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior“

There are hundreds of research articles demonstrating the efficacy of applied behavior analysis as an intervention for individuals with autism. These studies range from group design outcome studies to single subject studies supporting the use of one specific intervention or technique.

Specifically, Applied Behavior Analysis involves the principles of learning theory. That is, the contingent use of reinforcement and other important principles to increase behaviors, generalize learned behaviors or reduce undesirable behaviors is fundamental to ABA.

The second key feature in Baer, Wolf and Risley’s definition involves to notion of demonstrating efficacy. It is essential that individuals using ABA evaluate the interventions to determine their efficacy and make modifications as needed to insure consistent and ongoing progress.

The most important component of ABA involves the notion of “socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It is imperative that programs and interventions focus on outcomes for the learners that will have socially significant consequences and that this change is to a meaningful degree.

There are many different teaching strategies that are used under the umbrella of Applied Behavior Analysis. These include shaping and chaining behaviors. In addition, it includes specific teaching strategies such as discrete trial instruction, pivotal response training, incidental teaching, fluency based instruction and many more. Each of these instructional techniques has a rich empirical support base.

Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analyis.
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 1, 91-97.

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