Part 1: What is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)? How do People on the Autism Spectrum Learn? How is Information Taught Using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)?

By Autism Spectrum Directory, All Rights Reserved.

What is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)?

B.F. Skinner and other psychologists outlined basic principles of behavior which include reinforcement, prompting, fading, shaping, schedules of reinforcement, and other principles. These principles explain the pure science (but not the applied science) of behavior analysis and are used to describe how behavior is. These principles were then adapted into teaching methods and this is called Applied Behavior Analysis. The teaching methods of ABA can be applied differently based on the student’s needs and the intention of using the teaching method of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is to create a structured way to change the student’s behavior so that the person can learn communication, social, life, and academic skills and have an improved life.

How do People on the Autism Spectrum Learn with ABA?

Neurotypical people tend to learn by on their own abilities, through observation and then imitation and are less likely to need a concept or skill to be broken down into smaller steps. People on the autism spectrum have to learn how to observe. Someone has to take on the role of being their teacher and teach them the skills directly that need to be imitated and then reinforce the teaching with immediate and direct positive motivation. When the skill is learned then it can be generalized and understood how to be observed.

ABA is a different way to teach and it is effective with people on the autism spectrum because the teaching method is a structured, direct way with more process steps than what a neurotypical person (a person not on the autism spectrum) would need to learn.

How is Information Taught Using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)?

When learning information in a regular school, normally the teacher stands at the front of the class and explains the lesson to the class by speaking and/or writing the lesson on the board. Later on, the teacher will have a quiz or test to see if the students have learned what was taught to them.

In ABA, there is teaching and testing of the information that needs to be learned but there is a shorter timeframe for the process to occur because instead of teaching a broad complex concept with many details, the information is broken down into specific parts of information that are taught individually at first but then later on connected together. The information (like how to name an object, or how to ask for an object) is taught either verbally, by pictures or by sign language. The person teaching looks for a correct response to the instruction, if a correct response happens, the student is rewarded right away. If an incorrect response happens then the person teaching can either give the answer, known as a prompt and then they would repeat the instruction again and look for the student to give the answer on their own without having to be prompted with the answer. When the student responds correctly and without a prompt they receive a reward. Rewards can be verbal like “Good answer!” or they can be physical like a sticker or a high five. Each session is divided into sequences of instruction called discrete trials and there are intermittent breaks between these trials. The discrete trials do not have a specified length of time or time limit to allow for a natural conclusion when the person teaching thinks the student is losing focus. Throughout this process data is collected and information is recorded such as how many times did the person teaching have to give the instruction before the student gave the correct response, how long did it take the student to give the correct response, how many prompts did person teaching have to give the student and so on. This collected data is then analyzed and used to monitor and adjust what is being taught to the student so that the teaching method can be adjusted and can be done in a way that is effective for the needs of the student.

Teaching Sequence(Discrete Trial Training) Step 1 Step 2 (optional) Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 (optional)
Specific instruction, cue or verbal command for a skill or task that you want the person to respond to. Hint or prompt that is given to help the person respond correctly. This hint/prompt is left out if the initial response is rapid and correct. Opportunity for the Person to respond and the resulting behaviour or response from the person. The person shows that they have or have not understood the instruction, cue or verbal command.Give a reward or treat for the correct response. 

For incorrect response, repeat the instruction and give a hint or prompt if needed.

A pause of time between the repetitions of the sequence ‘trials’.
ABA Terms Antecedents Behavior Consequences
discriminative stimulus prompting stimulus response a reinforcer , reinforcing stimulus, receptive object labeling inter trial interval
Data Analysis Number and type of trials Number and ratio of prompts Number and ratio of correct responses What skill the person is able to do, number and types of rewards Length of time between repeating trials

Copyright Chart by Autism Spectrum Directory, All Rights Reserved. Please ask permission to reprint.

What are the Different Techniques or Methods in Teaching ABA?

The teacher in a regular classroom can teach the students information by speaking to them, by writing on the whiteboard, by getting them to build a project, by showing them a video, there are many different techniques or methods to present the information that needs to be learned. In using the applied behavioral analysis (ABA) teaching method, behavioural science has tested and proven the sequence of how information should be taught and this does not change, but there are different techniques or methods that can be used in each step of the ABA teaching sequence (or trial) to instruct, prompt, and reward a person. The two different methods are the Lovaas Method and the Verbal Behavior Method, also within these two methods adaptations can be made.

Method/Technique Instruction Prompting Rewards (reinforcer)
Lovaas MethodKey People: 

Dr. Ivaar Lovaas

Traditional ABA model, more teacher-led, early skills are taught at the table, rarely recommends using sign language, stresses compliance training, imitation skills and building receptive language for young, non-vocal early learners Should the child fail to respond to a prompt, a “prompter,” seated behind the student, uses either a partial-, a simple nudge or touch on the hand or arm or a full-, hand over hand assistance until the prompt has been completed, physical guide to correct the individual’s mistake or non-compliance. The Lovaas Method always relied principally on positive reinforcement of preferred behavior, but the original technique also included more extensive use of aversive reinforcement. These procedures have been widely abandoned for over a decade.
Verbal Behavior (VB)MethodKey People: 

Dr. Vincent Carbone, Dr. Mark Sundberg and Dr. James Partington

Contemporary ABA model, more child-led, can use sign language for most non-vocal early learners, early skills are taught away from the table in the natural environment as much as possible, looks first at what the person wants and then teaches the person how to request (in VB terms, how to mand). Initially that may involve only the person reaching for the item to indicate interest. The person quickly learns that if they use “verbal behavior” or reaching in this case, to indicate interest in something, they get the item. The categories of speech or verbal behavior are:- ‘Mands’ are requests (“I want a drink.”) 

– ‘Echoes’ are verbal imitations, (“Hi”)

– ‘Tacts’ are labels (“toy,” “dog”)

– ‘Intraverbals’   are conversational responses. (“What do you want?”)

Prompts that are later reduced. Each correct response is positively reinforced with verbal praise, an edible, time with a preferred toy, or any combination thereof.
Adapted MethodDifferences in how to take data, how to structure teaching environments, and how to adapt methods to suit the needs of the student Adapting the ratio of table-time teaching to teaching done in the natural environment (NET) and adapting the presentation of skills (mass trialling of one target skill versus several target skills within one program at a time versus mixing a number of different skills all at once) Adapting the type of prompting that’s done no-no-prompts vs. errorless learning, using different prompting hierarchies

Copyright Chart by Autism Spectrum Directory, All Rights Reserved. Please ask permission to reprint.

Copyright Article by Autism Spectrum Directory, All Rights Reserved.

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Reference Chart: Teaching Sequence (Discrete Trial) Using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Reference Chart: Different Techniques or Methods in Teaching ABA

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