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The fact that the discriminated operant occurs only in the presence of the discriminative stimulus is an illustration of stimulus control. These conditions have been referred to variously as "Setting Event", "Establishing Operations", and "Motivating Operations" by various researchers in their publications. Skinner's classification system of behavior analysis has been applied to treatment of a host of communication disorders. When measuring behavior, there are both dimensions of behavior and quantifiable measures of behavior.

In applied behavior analysis, the quantifiable measures are a derivative of the dimensions. These dimensions are repeatability, temporal extent, and temporal locus. This dimension indicates that each instance of behavior occupies some amount of time—i. In applied behavior analysis, all experiments should include the following: [56]. Prior to the seminal article on functional analytic methodology for aberrant behaviors, behaviorists used the behavioral technology available to them at the time.

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Instead of treating the function of the disruptive behavior, behavioral psychologists would instead pre-assume consequences to alter disruptive behaviors. For example, in the past to decrease self-injurious behavior in an individual, behaviorists may have delivered an aversive stimulus contingent on the response, or assume a reinforcer without identifying the reinforcer that would be most motivating to the client Iwata, This type of intervention was successful to the individual, but it was not uncommon to see other variations of aberrant behavior begin to appear.

When applied behavior analysts let clients choose from a wide array of reinforcers often determined through data collection and reinforcement assessments in the mids, reinforcement was shown to be more effective than punishment contingencies. In general, applied behavior analysis as a field favors reinforcement based interventions over aversive contingencies, but at the time the behavioral technology was not advanced enough and the individuals needing intervention had a right to an effective treatment Van Houten et al. Nevertheless, not all behavioral therapies involved the use of aversives prior to the mids.

Some behaviorists for instance, B. Skinner always preferred reinforcement and extinction contingencies over punishment even during that time. In , Edward Carr published a paper on potential hypotheses for the occurrence and maintenance of self-injurious behaviors. This paper laid out the initial groundwork for a functional analysis of aberrant behaviors. In the paper, Carr described five potential causes for self-injurious behaviors that included 1 positive social reinforcement contingent on the response, 2 negative reinforcement in the form of removal of an aversive stimulus contingent on the response, 3 the response produced stimuli possessed reinforcing qualities automatic reinforcement , 4 the behavior was a byproduct of an underlying psychological condition, and 5 psychodynamic hypothesis in which the behavior was an attempt to reduce guilt.

Throughout the paper, Carr cited recent research to support the first three hypotheses, and disprove the latter two hypotheses, but no formal experiment was conducted to determine the controlling variables of the problem behavior. In , Iwata and colleagues conducted the first experimental analysis of the maintaining variables for self-injurious behavior. In the paper, the researchers alternated between specific conditions to examine whether or not the behavior occurred under specific environmental conditions.

Through direct manipulation of the environment, the researchers could accurately identify the controlling variables of the aberrant behavior, and provide interventions that targeted the functional relationship between the behavior and the environment. Since this seminal article was published, a wide range of research has been published in the area of functional analyses of aberrant behaviors. The methodology has since become the gold standard in assessment and treatment of aberrant behaviors.

Functional assessment of behavior provides hypotheses about the relationships between specific environmental events and behaviors. Decades of research have established that both desirable and undesirable behaviors are learned and maintained through interactions with the social and physical environment. Functional behavior assessments are used to identify controlling variables for challenging behaviors as the basis for intervention efforts designed to decrease the occurrence of these behaviors.

Put another way, individuals engage in behavior to get something or to get out of something. When trying to identify the function of a behavior, it is often helpful to think, "What purpose is this behavior serving the individual? Access to attention positive reinforcement: social : The individual engages in the behavior to obtain attention from another person. For example, a child throws a toy because it characteristically results in a parent's attention.

If this behavior results in a parent looking at child and giving them lots of attention—even if they're saying "NO"—he will be more likely to engage in the same behavior in the future to get a parent's attention. Common forms of attention include, but are not limited to, hugs, kisses, reprimands, frowns, smiles, etc. For example, a child hits their parent because they want the toy they are holding. If this behavior results in a parent giving the child the toy, they will be more likely to engage in the same behavior in the future to get a parent's attention.

Common forms of tangible items include, but are not limited to, food, toys, movies, video games, etc. Automatic positive reinforcement : The individual engages in the behavior because the response-produced stimulation possesses reinforcing characteristics. In other words, engaging in the behavior produces reinforcing stimulation unique to the specific context. For example, a child hits their eyes because it produces the specific stimulation of various colors and effects. Another example includes a child spinning a bowl on a table to produce the specific auditory stimulation unique to that object.

Common forms of automatic stimulation include, but are not limited to, auditory stimulation, visual stimulation, endorphin release, etc. Put another way, social situations that are aversive to the child are removed contingent on the behavior occurring. For example, a child hits the teacher to avoid talking in front of the class. Common forms of aversive social situations include, but are not limited to, smiles, hugs, frowns, corrections, group settings, etc.

For example, when a child is told to take a bath, they begin to cry, so their mother tells them that they no longer have to take a bath. Another example includes a teacher telling a student to complete a set of worksheets, to which the student flips the desk and is sent to the principal's office.

Being sent to the principal's office reinforced the behavior of flipping the desk because it allowed the child to escape the aversive activity of completing the worksheets. Automatic negative reinforcement : The individual engages in the behavior because it produces a decrease in aversive stimulation. Put another way, something aversive is occurring in some location on the organism's body, and engaging in the behavior decreases the level of discomfort.

For example, a child bangs their head against the wall to decrease the pain experienced from a toothache. Another example includes a child scratching their arm to decrease the level of itchiness experienced from a bug bite. Common forms of aversive stimulation abated by engaging in specific behaviors include sinus pain, itching, hunger, etc.

As previously stated function refers to the effect the behavior produces on the environment. The actual form of the behavior is referred to the topography. Different behaviors may serve the same function, thus describing one limitation of treating behaviors based on form alone. For example, a child may scream, hit, and cry to obtain attention from their parent. What the behavior looks like often reveals little useful information about the conditions that account for it.

However, identifying the conditions that account for a behavior, suggests what conditions need to be altered to change the behavior. Therefore, assessment of function of a behavior can yield useful information with respect to intervention strategies that are likely to be effective. This method uses structured interviews, checklists, rating scales, or questionnaires to obtain information from persons who are familiar with the person exhibiting the behavior to identify possible conditions or events in the natural environment that correlate with the problem behavior.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

They are referred to as "indirect" because they do not involve direct observation of the behavior, but rather they solicit information based on others' recollections of the behavior. This form of assessment typically yields the least reliable information about the function of behavior, but can provide insight as to possible functions of the behavior to be tested in the future, the form of the behaviors e. This type of assessment should be performed as the initial step of any functional behavior assessment to gather relevant information to complete more direct assessments.

Unlike the indirect methods of FBAs, descriptive functional behavior assessment employs direct observation of behavior. These observations occur in the environment in which the behavior naturally occurs e. The most common form of descriptive assessment involves recording the antecedents and consequences that naturally occur when the individual emits the behavior. This is referred to as ABC data collection, in which A represents the common antecedent, B represents the behavior of interest, and C represents the immediate consequences that occur following the behavior.

ABC data collection is used to identify the naturally occurring consequences delivered in the environment in which the behavior occurs. ABC data collection can be conducted by a wide array of individuals who have received appropriate training on how to record the data. Another form of descriptive FBA is called a scatterplot. In this assessment, staff record the time and setting in which the behavior of interest occurs over a series of days.

The data are plotted on a visual scale to indicate whether there are any patterns in the behavior for example, if the behavior occurs more frequently during math instruction than it does during lunchtime. Although this assessment does not indicate the consequences maintaining the behavior, it can be used to identify some of the antecedent conditions that typically precede the behavior of interest.

A functional analysis is the most direct form of functional behavior assessment, in which specific antecedents and consequences are systematically manipulated to test their separate effects on the behavior of interest. Each manipulation of the antecedent and consequence in a particular situation is referred to a condition. In a functional analysis, conditions are typically alternated between quite rapidly independent of responding to test the different functions of behavior. When data paths are elevated above the control condition described below it can be said that there is a functional relation between that condition and the behavior of interest.

Complexity, time restraints, and setting restraints, are a few limitations to this particular method.


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When deciding to use this method, there is a chance of high-risk behavior and the possibility of low-rate behaviors. Below, common examples of experimental conditions are described. A standard functional analysis normally has four conditions three test conditions and one control. In this condition, the experimenter gives the individual moderately preferred items and instructs them to go play. After that initial instruction, the experimenter pretends to act busy and ignores all bids for attention from the individual.

If the individual engages in the behavior of interest, the experimenter provides the individual with attention commonly in the form of a reprimand. Behaviors that occur more frequently in this condition can be said to be attention maintained. In this condition, the experimenter instructs the individual that it is time to work. After the initial instruction, the experimenter delivers a series of demands that the individual is typically required to complete e. If the individual engages in the behavior of interest, the demand is removed and the child is allowed to take a break.

Behaviors that occur more frequently in this condition can be said to be escape maintained. In this condition, the child is left alone with a variety of items to engage with. If the child engages in the behavior of interest, no programmed consequences are delivered. Behaviors that occur more frequently in this condition can be said to be automatically maintained. In this condition, the child is allowed to engage with a variety of items during the session.

No demands are placed on the child throughout the duration of the session. The experimenter provides attention to the individual throughout the session on any behavior that is not the target behavior. If the target behavior occurs, the experimenter removes attention until the behavior has subsided. This session is meant to act as a control condition, meaning that the environment is enriched for the purpose of the behavior not occurring.

Said another way, by meeting environmental needs for all possible functions, the individual is not likely to engage in the behavior of interest. This condition is used as a comparison to the other conditions. Any condition that is elevated to a large degree form the control condition, shows a higher degree experimental control indicating the functional relationship between the specific environmental conditions and the behavior of interest.

Functional behavior assessments are rarely limited to only one of the methods described above. The most common, and most preferred, method for identifying the function of behavior can be seen as a four-part processes. Task analysis is a process in which a task is analyzed into its component parts so that those parts can be taught through the use of chaining: forward chaining , backward chaining and total task presentation. Task analysis has been used in organizational behavior management, a behavior analytic approach to changing the behaviors of members of an organization e.

The skill to be learned is broken down into small units for easy learning. For example, a person learning to brush teeth independently may start with learning to unscrew the toothpaste cap. Once they have learned this, the next step may be squeezing the tube, etc. For problem behavior, chains can also be analyzed and the chain can be disrupted to prevent the problem behavior. A prompt is a cue that is used to encourage a desired response from an individual.

Types of prompts Prompters might use any or all of the following to suggest the desired response:. This is not an exhaustive list of prompts; the nature, number, and order of prompts are chosen to be the most effective for a particular individual.

When It's Used

The overall goal is for an individual to eventually not need prompts. As an individual gains mastery of a skill at a particular prompt level, the prompt is faded to a less intrusive prompt. This ensures that the individual does not become overly dependent on a particular prompt when learning a new behavior or skill. Thinning is often confused with fading. Fading refers to a prompt being removed, where thinning refers to an increase in the time or number of responses required between reinforcements.

Generalization is the expansion of a student's performance ability beyond the initial conditions set for acquisition of a skill. For example, once a skill is learned in one setting, with a particular instructor, and with specific materials, the skill is taught in more general settings with more variation from the initial acquisition phase. For example, if a student has successfully mastered learning colors at the table, the teacher may take the student around the house or school and generalize the skill in these more natural environments with other materials. Behavior analysts have spent considerable amount of time studying factors that lead to generalization.

Shaping involves gradually modifying the existing behavior into the desired behavior. If the student engages with a dog by hitting it, then they could have their behavior shaped by reinforcing interactions in which they touch the dog more gently. Over many interactions, successful shaping would replace the hitting behavior with patting or other gentler behavior. Shaping is based on a behavior analyst's thorough knowledge of operant conditioning principles and extinction.

Recent efforts to teach shaping have used simulated computer tasks. One teaching technique found to be effective with some students, particularly children, is the use of video modeling the use of taped sequences as exemplars of behavior. It can be used by therapists to assist in the acquisition of both verbal and motor responses, in some cases for long chains of behavior. Critical to behavior analytic interventions is the concept of a systematic behavioral case formulation with a functional behavioral assessment or analysis at the core.

This formulation should include a thorough functional assessment, a skills assessment, a sequential analysis behavior chain analysis , an ecological assessment, a look at existing evidenced-based behavioral models for the problem behavior such as Fordyce's model of chronic pain [90] and then a treatment plan based on how environmental factors influence behavior. Some argue that behavior analytic case formulation can be improved with an assessment of rules and rule-governed behavior.

ABA-based techniques are often used to change behaviors associated with autism , so much that ABA itself is often mistakenly considered to be synonymous with therapy for autism. The most influential and widely cited review of the literature regarding efficacy of treatments for autism is the National Research Council's book Educating Children with Autism which concluded that ABA was the best research supported and most effective treatment for the main characteristics of autism.

Other criticisms raised include the small sample sizes used in the published research to date. Medications have not been proven to correct the core deficits of ASDs and are not the primary treatment. Recent reviews of the efficacy of ABA-based techniques in autism include:. A systematic review and meta-analysis by Spreckley and Boyd of four small-n — studies involving a total of 76 children came to different conclusions than the aforementioned reviews. Further research is clearly required, specifically to include larger and thus more representative samples.

Controversy regarding ABA persists in the autism community. Various major figures within the autistic community have written biographies detailing harm caused by the provision of ABA. They also criticized the idea of punishing children for undesired behaviors such as stimming and vocal outbursts. These significant issues included hypothesis-testing bias , non-validated diagnoses of ASD and measures of 'post-traumatic stress symptoms', and indirect survey-based measures with leading questions , correlation-based conclusions, incomplete treatment descriptions , and unverified self-report with tendencies for response bias and unreliable 'say-do' correspondence.

These authors expressed caution to families and consumers who could be misled into falsely believing that an intervention with what they cited as having "vast amounts of empirical support" was harmful rather than effective, based on what they evaluated as a "biased analysis which led to striking claims with little to no evidence" to support the claims. Parallels have been drawn between the use of ABA and gay conversion therapy. Applied behavior analysts publish in many journals.

Some examples of "core" behavior analytic journals are:. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Applied psychology. Further information: Radical behaviorism , Experimental analysis of behavior , Behavior modification , Operant conditioning , B. Baer , Montrose Wolf , Sidney W. Main article: Behavior. Main article: Operant conditioning. Main article: Classical conditioning.

Main article: Reinforcement. Main article: Punishment psychology. Main article: Extinction psychology. Main article: Verbal Behavior. They have helped many kinds of learners gain different skills — from healthier lifestyles to learning a new language. Applied Behavior Analysis involves many techniques for understanding and changing behavior. ABA is a flexible treatment:. When a behavior is followed by something that is valued a reward , a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.

First, the therapist identifies a goal behavior. Each time the person uses the behavior or skill successfully, they get a reward. The reward is meaningful to the individual — examples include praise, a toy or book, watching a video, access to playground or other location, and more. Positive rewards encourage the person to continue using the skill. Over time this leads to meaningful behavior change. Understanding antecedents what happens before a behavior occurs and consequences what happens after the behavior is another important part of any ABA program.

An antecedent : this is what occurs right before the target behavior. It can be verbal, such as a command or request. It can also be physical, such a toy or object, or a light, sound, or something else in the environment. An antecedent may come from the environment, from another person, or be internal such as a thought or feeling.

It can be an action, a verbal response, or something else. With continued practice, the student will be able to replace the inappropriate behavior with one that is more helpful. This is an easier way for the student to get what she needs! Good ABA programs for autism are not "one size fits all. Rather, each program is written to meet the needs of the individual learner.

The goal of any ABA program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the short term as well as in the future. A qualified and trained behavior analyst BCBA designs and directly oversees the program. They customize the ABA program to each learner's skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation.

They will use this to write specific treatment goals. Family goals and preferences may be included, too. Goals can include many different skill areas, such as:. The instruction plan breaks down each of these skills into small, concrete steps. The therapist teaches each step one by one, from simple e.


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The BCBA and therapists measure progress by collecting data in each therapy session. They can then plan ahead and adjust teaching plans and goals as needed. Some are directed by the instructor and others are directed by the person with autism. For instance, someone learning to greet others by saying "hello" may get the chance to practice this skill in the classroom with their teacher planned and on the playground at recess naturally occurring.

The learner receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors. The emphasis is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning. ABA is effective for people of all ages. It can be used from early childhood through adulthood! To become a BCBA, the following is needed:. These therapists are trained and supervised by the BCBA. They work directly with children and adults with autism to practice skills and work toward the individual goals written by the BCBA.

You may hear them referred to by a few different names: behavioral therapists, line therapists, behavior tech, etc. To learn more, see the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website. ABA therapy includes many different techniques. All of these techniques focus on antecedents what happens before a behavior occurs and on consequences what happens after the behavior. More than 20 studies have established that intensive and long-term therapy using ABA principles improves outcomes for many but not all children with autism.

These studies show gains in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills and social functioning. Studies with adults , though fewer in number, show similar benefits. Many types of private health insurance are required to cover ABA services. This depends on what kind of insurance you have, and what state you live in. All Medicaid plans must cover treatments that are medically necessary for children under the age of If a doctor prescribes ABA and says it is medically necessary for your child, Medicaid must cover the cost. Please see our insurance resources for more information about insurance and coverage for autism services.

The first step is for therapists to establish a good relationship with your child. If your child trusts his therapists and enjoys spending time with them, therapy will be more successful — and fun! The following questions can help you evaluate whether a provider will be a good fit for your family.