An Example of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is a good chance that you will be considering – or evaluating – Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. This is the second of three question and answer sessions with Lauren - who was featured here last December - who offers us the combined perspective of  a mother of a child with ASD and a professional who works with children with ASD. Click here to read Lauren’s explanation of what ABA is and how it works. 

Can you give a brief example of some of the behaviors that you can change using ABA?

Here is an example that doesn’t use discrete trial teachings, instead it utilizes a social story, visual countdown, schedule, positive reinforcement, and functional communication training.  Jane,  4 years old, loves to play with her sister Alexa, 6 years old, but Alexa has homework to do at her desk. Jane starts crying because she wants to play with her sister. Alexa tells her to stop crying but Jane doesn’t, instead she cries louder.  Alexa stops doing her homework and plays with Jane. This is a behavior.  Behaviors can be changed!

To figure out the behavior as in the example above, one needs to:

1. Describe what the behavior looks like – in ABA this is done using the concepts of antecedent, behavior, and consequence. The antecedent is – Alexa sits down to do homework at the desk, Jane says play with me, Alexa says she has homework to do. The  behavior is – crying. The consequence is – Alexa stops her homework and goes to play with Jane.

2. Determine what is the function of the behavior (crying). In this case, it is to get attention.

3. Explore what did Alexa do before and after and what should she have done differently? Alexa did not give Jane enough notice that homework comes first, then playtime.  Jane didn’t want to wait.

An ABA therapist would use the definition of the behavior – crying – and track how many times that behavior is being seen and all the different contexts in which it can be observed.

An example using ABA to provide an appropriate replacement for Jane’s “crying” due to wanting attention would be to write a quick social story, using the Berenstain Bears as a prototype.  In the story, there will be an explanation that sometimes old sister Alexa has homework to do.  While Alexa does her homework, list some activities that Jane can do to keep herself entertained.  These activities need to be motivating and something she can do alone.  Also, in the story, it’s important to mention how to replace the crying. For example, if during playtime, she has a hard time waiting she can use her words and say,”waiting is hard” or “how much longer”?   Also, Jane can have a visual schedule written  - 1. homework  2.  play with Alexa – with a visual countdown that Jane can cross out as the time goes by.  The schedule provides Jane a sense of control and understanding that there is an end to the waiting. Throughout the countdown, a smaller positive reinforcer such as a sticker can be given to Jane to maintain her appropriate behavior. In addition, verbal reinforcers like “I like how you are waiting for me, 4 more minutes, then I will play with youcan be used as well.

By  providing more appropriate proactive strategies for Jane, with practice and patience, the behavior will change!

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