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What is ABA?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the science of behavior and learning that improves socially significant behavior. It focuses on the interaction between the learner and environment. Behavior happens in response to the environment, so if we want others and ourselves to learn new behavior, we change aspects of the environment to set us up for success! ABA is not only a therapy for children with autism. It is also not dog training. It is not an intervention that, when used in schools, only reduces a student's problem behavior. ABA is not any one, narrow application. It is a natural science based on behavioral principles that apply to highly diverse populations. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) shares brief fact sheets and videos on ABA and its many subspecialties that help improve lives.

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Behavior analysis, therapy, and autism. Behavior therapy for children with autism and other developmental delays is the most well-known, successful application of ABA. A common application of a science is not the science itself. ABA is well-known for the treatment of autism, owing in part to all states now mandating that insurance companies cover the costs of ABA-based treatment for autism. What makes ABA effective? Are the principles of behavior and learning applied to other people and animals? That leads us to the next point about what ABA is not.

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Behavior analysis and dogs. ABA is not dog training. Professional dog trainers and canine behavior consultants train dogs and also train their owners to manage their dogs' environment and behavior. Dog training and canine behavior consultation are two additional successful applications of the science of behavior. A common application of a science is not the science itself. A professional dog trainer is called a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). A professional canine consultant who rehabilitates dogs is a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA). The certification exams for these professions consist of approximately 40% content in learning theory, which is another name for behavior analysis. Some Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are also CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA professionals, helping our furry friends and training us to train them.

Behavior analysis in education. We can use ABA in schools to prevent and reduce problem behavior, and we can also use ABA to teach students new skills, strengthen performance and fluency for mastered skills, and maintain current skills. ABA is a positive force for teaching, and we can use it in groups as well as one-on-one tutoring! Teaching and learning are not limited to the four walls of a classroom. We can use ABA to teach and learn almost any skill in many different environments.

Behavior analysis has many applications. ABA is based on behavioral principles or laws that apply to everyone. It consists of seven characteristics that were described by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968), which define the discipline. Three key principles of ABA are that behavior is mostly a product of its environment; behavior is increased or decreased by its consequences; and behavior is strengthened, or increased, by positive reinforcement. Behavior does not happen in isolation; it happens in response to the environment. If we want behavior to change, it is in our power to change aspects of the environment, leading to changes in behavior. Common goals of ABA are to increase new skills that are important to the individual's life and to decrease problem behavior, most often by teaching replacement behavior. ABA can be applied to people of all ages, from infants to adults, and it can be applied to other animals.

Below, you will see the variety of areas in which behavior analysis and ABA improve behaviors of social importance.

Education
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"Behavior analysis has been used to improve teaching and increase learning across content areas, grade levels, and student populations for over 60 years. It provides a scientific approach to designing, implementing, and evaluating instruction based on analyzing interactions between what the teacher does and student learning. Behavioral strategies and tactics have been used to teach academics, social, vocational, and daily living skills, and to improve entire systems of schooling. Key features include high rates of relevant learner responses with contingent feedback and ongoing instructional decision-making based on direct and frequent measures of student performance. Behavioral instructional design informs curriculum development from basic academics to concept formation and problem solving." - BACB Behavior Analysis in Education Fact Sheet 

Health, Nutrition, and Fitness
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"Behavior analysts apply behavior-analytic concepts and principles to improve personal health and fitness, primarily outside of the formal healthcare system, with a focus on health promotion through diet and exercise modification. Behavior analysts work directly with individuals, or in collaboration with healthcare professionals, registered dietitians, and personal trainers, to help individuals achieve meaningful behavior change, such as sustained adherence to dietary and physical activity regimens, to improve individualized health and wellness outcomes. Interventions in this area typically include task clarification, goal-setting, self-monitoring, accountability, feedback, self-talk regulation, stimulus control, behavioral skills training, and contingency management." - BACB Behavior Analysis in Health and Fitness Fact Sheet

Sports
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"Behavioral sport psychology focuses on the use of behavioral analysis concepts, principles, and techniques to enhance the performance and satisfaction of athletes, teams, and coaches. Common goals include teaching new skills; decreasing persistent errors; decreasing problem behaviors; maximizing competition performance; addressing motivation, thinking, emotions, confidence, and concentration related to athletic performance; teaching coaching techniques; and promoting adherence to a healthy diet and regular exercise regime. Common interventions in the area include goal-setting and self-monitoring, self-talk regulation, imagery rehearsal/visualization, video feedback, auditory feedback, behavioral skills training, contingency management, and the development of user-friendly manuals and computer tools for athletes. Behavioral sport psychology frequently involves evaluating interventions using single-subject research designs and placing high value on accountability for everyone involved in the program." - BACB Behavioral Sport Psychology Fact Sheet

Behavioral Health for Developmental Disabilities
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"Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is best known for its success in treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities). Treatment in this area is effective across an individual’s lifespan (i.e., childhood, adolescence, adulthood). In young children with developmental disabilities such as ASD, the goal of intensive, comprehensive intervention is to improve cognitive, language, social, and self-help skills. Decades of research have shown that intensive ABA treatment is the most successful approach for children with autism, and it is widely recognized by a number of sources including the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Institute of Mental Health. When applied to older individuals, ABA involves teaching behaviors essential to functioning effectively in the home, school, and community. ABA can also decrease severe problem behaviors that endanger health and safety, and limit educational, residential, or vocational options." - BACB Behavioral Treatment of Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities Fact Sheet

Clinical Behavior Analysis
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"Clinical behavior analysis is the application of the conceptual and methodological tools of behavior analysis to treat problems that have traditionally been characterized as mental disorders. Clinical behavior analysts work in universities, hospitals, outpatient clinics, as well as in primary care and residential settings. Common problems addressed through clinical behavior analysis include depression, anxiety, stress, relationship discord, substance misuse, chronic pain, disruptive behavior, impulsivity, inattention, tic disorders, and sleep disturbance, among others. Interventions involve understanding clients’ thoughts, feelings, and actions—all of which are viewed as behavior that must be understood in context—thereby necessitating descriptive functional analyses of their environmental antecedents (distal and proximate, verbal and nonverbal) and consequences (immediate and delayed, verbal and nonverbal). Common modalities and forms of clinical behavior analysis include acceptance and commitment therapy, behavioral activation, behavioral parent training, community reinforcement, comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics, contingency management interventions, dialectical behavior therapy, functional analytic psychotherapy, integrative behavioral couples therapy, and stimulus control therapy for insomnia." - BACB Clinical Behavior Analysis Fact Sheet

Brain Injury Rehabilitation
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"Brain injuries can result in lifelong physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes, which can slow progress toward rehabilitation goals and independent living. Behavior analysts add value to interdisciplinary teams for patients with a brain injury by developing both skill-acquisition and behavior-reduction programs throughout the continuum of care (i.e., acute, post-acute, long term). Common goals for skill-acquisition programs include improved social interactions and the ability to return to work. Common goals for behavior-reduction programs include decreased aggression and inappropriate vocalizations. Symptoms following brain injury are highly idiosyncratic, which makes behavior analysts’ use of single-subject designs particularly useful for evaluating rehabilitative outcomes (e.g., monitoring behavior following medication changes). Given rising healthcare costs and the reduced availability of rehabilitation services, behavior analysts’ focus on measurement, accountability, and evidencebased treatment makes them integral to a patient’s success." - BACB Behavior Analysis in Brain Injury Rehabilitation Fact Sheet

Gerontology and Geriatrics
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"Behavioral gerontology is the application of behavior analysis to age-related issues. By 2030, more than 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65, and 1 in 3 seniors will have obesity, depression, diabetes, and/or a neurocognitive disorder, among other conditions. Behavior analysts can work directly with seniors or with care staff to implement sustainable, non-pharmacological supports to enhance quality of life and care services, decrease challenging behaviors, maintain daily life skills, implement memory and language programs, preserve medication adherence, and prolong independence." - BACB Behavioral Gerontology Fact Sheet

Criminal Rehabilitation and Social Issues
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Forensic Behavior Analysis

"The FBI established a Behavioral Science Unit in 1972 to explore the psychological issues of violent crime and to help establish investigative methods to exploit behavioral clues revealed in the course of investigations. Few of the original members had any formal training in behavior analysis, but they did have a strong conviction that human behavior could be consistently and scientifically analyzed.

"Since then, criminal profilers have become famous through hit movies and TV shows . . . The reality of the job has much less to do with exciting car chases, shootouts, and sexy victims than with careful and consistent analysis of the same sort that behavioral analysts perform in less entertaining fields such as autism treatment and addiction therapy. The common thread is an adherence to the so-called ABCs of applied behavior analysis:

  • Antecedent – The prompt, or initial situation, leading to a behavior.

  • Behavior – The action or behavior in response to the antecedent.

  • Consequence – The reinforcement mechanism associated with the behavior.

 

"For most behavior analysts, the antecedents and behaviors are observable and the consequences adjustable. For criminal behavior analysts, only the behaviors are clear. The analyst formulates theories of antecedent and consequence to explain the evidential behaviors in an attempt to predict things that could help give some indication as to who the perpetrator is . . ." - Careers in Forensic Behavior Analysis from AppliedBehaviorAnalysisEdu.org

 

Criminal Justice and Corrections

"In a corrections setting, ABA and criminology theories work hand in hand to help former offenders unlearn maladaptive behaviors, often through a mix of encouragement and reinforcement. The goal in this application is to prevent released prisoners from being arrested over the next five years and help them find their place in society.

"With this factor in mind, the criminal justice system and rehabilitation industry employ ABA principles on multiple levels, including:

  • the “token” system of rewards in prisons;

  • drug and alcohol treatment;

  • rehabilitation programs to identify triggers of criminal behavior;

  • reducing juvenile offender recidivism rates; and

  • writing public policies that effectively reduce crime."

- "9 Career Paths That Benefit from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Knowledge" from Marian University

Organizational Behavior Management (OBM)
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"Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) focuses on assessing and changing the work environment to improve employee performance and workplace culture. OBM consultants and managers work in a variety of industries (e.g., health care, human services, education, government, nonprofits, manufacturing, financial services, retail) to achieve meaningful and sustainable behavior change and improved business outcomes.

"OBM practitioners typically facilitate change initiatives, improve and develop processes and systems, close gaps in employee performance, retain and develop staff, and support business growth. Organizational results often include reduced accidents and injuries, improved employee retention, improved customer satisfaction and retention, cultural integration after mergers and acquisitions, improved quality standards, and increased revenue and profits." - BACB Organizational Behavior Management Fact Sheet

Animal Training and Consultation
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"Behavioral analysis careers in animal training involve changing the environment and consequences to change an animal’s behavior. Just like in any other type of ABA therapy, applied behavior analysts working in animal training identify antecedents, behavior, and consequence to create a behavior modification program for companion animals, service animals . . . . Focusing on positive, humane, and science-based methods, ABA is now a widely accepted form of animal training." - Careers in Applied Behavior Analysis from AppliedBehaviorAnalysisEdu.org

Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) practitioners must pass an exam consisting of

36% Learning Theory. Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) practitioners must pass an exam consisting of 41% Applied Behavior Analysis. - Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Certification

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

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Environmental Sustainability

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"The devastating effects of climate change, as well as air and water pollution, underscore the urgent need for sustainable practices that meet the world’s growing energy demands while greatly reducing carbon emissions. These sustainable practices consist of behaviors that serve the needs of individuals, families, communities, corporations, governments, and humanity at large, while not further harming Earth’s ecosystems. Behavior analysts collaborate with experts and policy makers to improve sustainable practices in a variety of areas including environmental conservation and preservation; energy use and renewable energy; pollution, emission control, and transportation; food production, consumption, and waste; recycling and waste reduction; consumer education; and political action. Behavior analysts use a range of interventions, such as targeted feedback, environmental arrangements, group contingencies, and policy and systems change, to increase and improve sustainable practices." - BACB Behavior Analysis in Environmental Sustainability Fact Sheet

What is ABA?

 

ABA is the science of learning and behavior that has far-reaching applications to improve people's lives and environments. ABA is far more than any one narrow application, despite myths to the contrary. At Inspire Behavioral Learning, we focus on education, behavioral health for developmental disabilities, and aspects of fitness and environmental sustainability in nature camps. You can read on to discover more about what "behavior" and "learning" mean, in addition to the primary way that we all acquire new skills!

What is behavior?

Behavior is what people do. It is any action verb. It is also the activity of any living organism. Some parents and teachers speak of behavior as only good behavior, such as by telling a child, "Remember to behave." In contrast, some therapists and teachers use the word "behavior" only to refer to problem behavior. The therapist may say of your child, "He had no behaviors today," which is impossible, unless your child wasn't alive. Behavior encompasses all actions, whether good or bad. Speaking, walking, making a snack, going to school, and you reading this sentence are all behaviors. 

What is learning?

 

In ABA, learning is behavior change. Behavior happens in response to the environment, so if we want behavior to change, then we change the environment. If we want to teach new behavior, then we ourselves have to do something new! Something happens before behavior (an antecedent) and after behavior (a consequence). If we change what reliably happens before and/or after the behavior, then the behavior changes. As we create new events to evoke new behavior, we repeatedly observe and measure whether the behavior is changing in the direction we want, such as the behavior increasing over time. 

What is reinforcement?

Reinforcement means that when a behavior occurs, followed by a consequence, the behavior increases in the future. Positive reinforcement is additive: after the behavior occurs, a preferred stimulus is added (presented) into the learner's environment. The learner gets something. For example, if you have no water and you ask the server for water, this results in you getting water. It also results in you repeating the behavior again in the future when you're water-deprived and when you see the server. Negative reinforcement is subtractive: after the behavior occurs, a non-preferred stimulus is subtracted (removed, stopped, or reduced) from the learner's environment. The learner gets out of something. For example, if you need quiet time and you turn the music down, this results in the music playing at a lower volume. It also results in you repeating the behavior again in the future when you need quiet time and when you see the volume button. Both types of reinforcement result in an increase in the behavior. Both types of reinforcement can be used to teach new skills. In ABA, we use positive reinforcement the most often. It is the primary way that learners acquire new skills.

What future behavior change do you want to see?

 

What skills do you want yourself to increase? What behavior do you want your child to engage in independently? The educators and clinicians at Inspire Behavioral Learning, LLC use positive reinforcement to help you achieve the future you want to see.

Contact: Contact Inspire Behavioral Learning to see if our educational and behavioral health services are right for you!

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