Mental health interventions have evolved enormously over the past few decades out of the ‘dark ages.’
The transformation from isolating victims, to shock therapy, and finally, to the contemporary psychotropic drugs and treatment, the change has been radical and rapid. And what makes present treatment strategies more efficient is the humane approach and the quest for exploring the underlying causes of human behavior.
Analyzing why we think, feel, and act the way we do is the foundation of psychotherapy. B.K. Skinner and other humanistic psychologists studied this behavioral approach in-depth and proved how the principles of learning theories could be successfully implemented in treating mental disorders.
In the early 1960s, psychologists found out how applied behavioral analysis helped in reducing the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. The revelation probed them to delve deeper into exploring the method, and after years of research and experimentation, ABA or Applied Behavioral Analysis emerged as we know it today.
In this article, we will take a quick look into the roots of ABA, how it works, and discuss some useful tools and software for incorporating it in practice.
This article contains:
What is ABA?
There are three vital components of any behavioral analysis:
- Radical Behaviorism, which incorporates the philosophy of behavior.
- Experimental Analysis, which involves testing the principles of behavior theories and understanding the cause-and-effect relationship.
- Applied Behavioral Analysis, or the scientific way of applying learning principles to modify human actions.
Applied Behavior Analysis has replaced the term behavior modification, as it relies on bringing the desired change only after exploring all the other dynamics associated with it.
Recent studies have proved that ABA is by far the most effective technique for reducing problem behavior (Goldstein, 2002; Odom et al., 2003; McConnell, 2002; Horner et al., 2002). Using ABA practices during the early years of life has been significantly correlated with an overall healthy and positive lifestyle throughout (Smith, 1999).
ABA is also an exceptionally appropriate measure for helping autistic individuals. ASAT (The Association for Science in Autism) stated that ABA is more evidence-based than most other interventions for autism spectrum disorders.
Using ABA for autistic children and their families is a recommended way of providing support and ensuring improvement in areas of impaired functioning.
ABA is evidence-based and a highly reliable psychotherapeutic intervention. It has passed several scientific examinations and has proven to be an advantage in mental health and related fields.
Applied Behavior Analysis comes in different forms but stems from a single structure – the ABC structure, which stands for:
- A (Antecedent) – Understanding the precursors of the problems or the causes.
- B (Behavior) – Studying the manifested expressions with careful examination of every action.
- C (Consequence) – Exploring the potential after-effects of the actions, both for the client and his family.
ABA aims to improve existing behavior rather than to change or eliminate it. Therapists using ABA emphasizes on enhancing the necessary life skills at first, such as – communication, reading, social skills, academics, self-care, motor ability, and domestic functionalities.
It follows a systematic and practical approach to treatment with the ultimate goal of helping the client become self-reliant and a fully functioning human being.
As an autism intervention, ABA focuses on maximizing the role of schools, special schools, families, and care centers. It embraces the nurture aspect of cognitive and social development and implements suitable methods for the same.
The goal of ABA is to help autistic children improve in the following fields:
- Language and Nonverbal Communication
- Fine motor skills
- Personal hygiene and self-care
- Social skills and bonding
- Job competency
- Overall adjustability
What is ABA Therapy?
ABA helps in acquiring and maintaining positive thoughts and actions. Besides reducing symptoms and improving skills, it also provides secure emotional support to clients and their families.
Applied Behavior Therapy is an amalgamation of Cognitive Therapy, Supportive Therapy, and emotional regulation. It not only helps autistic individuals learn to perform daily life functions; it also allows them to transfer the acquired information and learning to others successfully.
For example, in peer mental health programs that use ABA therapy, facilitators often invite previous clients who are successfully living their lives now to enlighten clients and provide meaningful insight. Their experience of applying the ABA techniques in real-life motivates other clients and families to rely on the program and its effectiveness.
Concerns of ABA Therapists
A key concern of ABA therapy is a positive lifestyle and engagement. Some significant concerns of ABA therapists are:
- To determine the thoughts and actions that require modification.
- To explore practical ways of addressing the issues and measuring changes.
- Evaluating the client’s current level of functioning.
- Setting goals and creating an effective plan to implement ABA strategies.
- Facilitating and supporting clients to acquire new skills and improve the old ones.
- To keep a close check on progress and evaluating the improvements regularly.
- Scheduling follow-ups to analyze if further interventions are required.
Goals of ABA Therapy
ABA therapy goes the extra mile to understand human behavior. It does not directly bombard clients and families with what to do and what not to do, instead suggests some healthy tweaks in daily lifestyle to bring out the best in us.
ABA therapists are practical in their approach and set goals according to the individual’s abilities and current level of functioning. It is a flexible practice that continually upgrades itself to suit clients’ needs, and is by far, the most preferred mode of counseling in schools, homes, and community centers.
Applications of ABA in Therapy
ABA is a common intervention for special educators, psychotherapists, occupational therapists, and counselors. What makes its purpose and usefulness unquestionable is the technological incorporation it has lately undergone.
ABA practices help in addressing a variety of concerns, which is why it is a treatment of choice in various fields such as:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders.
- Behavior Therapy.
- Rehabilitation, including critical conditions such as the brain and spinal cord injury.
- Criminal psychology.
- Surgery and other medical procedures.
- Neuro-linguistic programs and therapy.
- Substance abuse disorders.
- Critical psychotic illnesses, such as paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
- Postpartum depression management.
- Parenting and relationship counseling.
As an autism intervention, ABA has excelled over many other channels of therapy. In one of their reports, the American Academy of Pediatrics mentioned that children who receive ABA during their early stages of treatment have more improvement in their social skills than others (2007).
ABA is now a well-established and globally accepted therapy for helping children and adults with autism; however, the best results come with applying the interventions early (Spreckley and Boyd, 2007).
5 Techniques Used in ABA Therapy
ABA therapists are professionals with an advanced level of training and a different heart. They are empathetic, humanistic, and open to perceiving problems from others’ perspectives. Most ABA therapists believe their work to be rewarding as they go much deeper than symptom reduction or behavioral change.
ABA guides a person on how to internalize the desired skills and function optimally long after the therapy terminates. Following the principles of Skinner’s Operant Conditioning and other learning theories, here are some of the most popular ABA techniques used in different therapy settings:
1. Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement, as we know, is the process of including a favorable stimulus to the client’s environment for increasing the chances of positive actions.
For example, praising an autistic child every time he uses the three magic words (sorry, please, and thank you) is an excellent example of positive reinforcement. It increases the chances of the kid repeating the desired behavior to achieve the incentive of his choice.
Positive reinforcement in ABA helps clients learn the concept of reward and understand how it works.
2. Negative Reinforcement
Negative reinforcement in ABA includes strategies such as time-out, or not allowing the client to do something he usually likes to do. It is the way by which therapists take away something favorable from the person’s environment when he fails to act desirably. It motivates the person to learn faster and show the desired results to get back the reward.
Fading as an ABA technique is generally utilized for individuals with impulse control or acute mood disorders. It is also an intervention of choice for some types of autism where the therapist probes the client to unlearn an adverse behavior and substitute it with the desired action.
For example, kids who struggle with self-care may be repeatedly prompted to brush their teeth, tie their shoes, or eat by themselves until they fully internalize the response and can act on it without instructions.
Generalization helps children learn faster. Therapists use rules that hold more or less in all situations, for example:
- Using table manners and the three magic words.
- Not abusing or cursing others.
- Reading and writing with the right spellings.
- Eating with a spoon instead of hands.
- Washing and cleaning after yourself.
Children learn to use these rules and apply them to other walks of life, as well. For instance, when a child understands the semantics of spelling and vocabulary, he can successfully manifest the same in skills like singing, recitation, or other forms of creative activities. Generalization works exceptionally well for autistic children as it minimizes the effort of learning, but maximizes its effects.
5. Analysis of actions
Task analysis is a crucial component of any ABA intervention. It involves evaluating the efficacy of therapy and assessments, asking feedback from clients and families, and reviewing the progress at each step of the treatment process.
5 ABA Therapy Applications
1. First Then Visual Schedule
The First Then Visual Schedule is specially designed to offer behavioral support for children with weak communication and social skills.
It is an easy and affordable application supported in most popular smartphones, tablets, and computers. The app covers several activities and other familiar settings that are ideal for schools and other care centers for helping children understand and express themselves.
Try the First Then Visual Schedule.
iPrompts is a useful application for caregivers and professionals working with autism and learning disabilities. It has task schedules and timers in the form of graphic images for more engagement and better understanding.
The application helps children in performing time-bound activities with more efficacy and reduces the burden of verbal explanation for facilitators.
Try the iPrompts app.
3. Behavior Tracker Pro
Marz Consulting, a leading technology firm based in the US, developed the Behavior Tracking Pro to help mental health professionals record specific mannerisms and preserve them for future reference.
Behavior Tracker is an iOS software. It allows users to select the specific actions that need to be modified and record them for further review. It is a popular application used by teachers and special educators who wish to retain information for monitoring progress and showing to family members.
You can learn more about Behavior Tracker Pro.
4. Autism Track
Autism Track is an ideal tool for ABA therapists working with childhood autism. It is specially designed to help special educators and mental health professionals to map the positive and negative behavior patterns and track down all the changes seen during the interventions.
Autism Track has features that help in improving eye-contact, aggression, speech, and motor functions. The interface of the application is user-friendly and serves as a useful tool for recording medication, evaluating progress, and predicting prognosis.
Try the Autism Track app.
5. ABC Data Pro
ABC Data Pro is a product of CBTA Online and is a preferred application for many teachers and psychologists working with autism. It is an all-in-one software having provisions for goal-setting, task organization, behavior management, and evaluation of progress.
It helps family members and caregivers to graph improvement and work together with the therapist to implement interventions for targeted dysfunctions in daily life activities.
You can learn more about the ABC Data Pro app.
The core purpose of most ABA applications is mostly the same. What makes them mutually exclusive are their interface, visual and graphical illustrations, operating systems, and functions addressing specific issues.
4 ABA Tools and Software
1. Central Reach
Central Reach is one of the most popular software used by over 65,000 users all over the world for ABA therapy and interventions. It uses cutting-edge technology and has a brilliant combination of the best practices for autism management and related behavior modification.
The main functions of Central Reach include:
- Managing schedules.
- Creating reports and functions.
- Progress record and management.
- Filter functions.
Users of Central Reach say they prefer it over others as it significantly reduces their workload. The software has provisions for accurate graph plotting and mapping results that help professionals to create reports much faster and with more comfort. It saves time and has a simple user interface, which adds to its convenience and efficacy.
AdvancedMD is an all-inclusive software combining aspects of:
- Task scheduling.
- Making and following up appointments.
- Estimating insurance benefits.
- Maintaining e-Health Records.
- Managing a large number of client files and personal records.
- Doing financial analytics.
- Notifying clients and other caseworkers in the team about possible changes in the treatment plan or medication.
AdvancedMD is ideal for private practices where professionals have to handle a wide range of tasks single-handedly. Satisfied users of the program feel that AdvancedMD is a secure fit for almost all electronic gadgets and make complex tasks easy and quick. Managers and higher officials who use the software say that the blessing of AdvancedMD is its scheduling feature, which works in a more comfortable and easy-going manner.
Users agree that once they get a hold of it, AdvancedMD becomes spontaneous ‘second nature.’ Therapists can send consent forms directly to clients through this software and notify them about payment, homework, or other crucial components of therapy.
Theralytics is an exclusive software explicitly designed for ABA therapists and users. Like many other ABA software, Theralytics helps in managing records, scheduling tasks, documenting progress, and evaluating results. However, it is more preferred by ABA therapists due to its user-friendly presentation and affordable costs.
Theralytics users have agreed that the software has significantly reduced documentation time, which makes it easier for them to devote more time and attention to clients.
It works excellent for professionals who have to bill a large number of clients every day. The application has unique functionalities for adding new clients, backing up past conversations, and preparing follow-up sessions after the therapy terminates.
Users refer to Theralytics as:
- Easy to understand
- Value for money
- Reliable for monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of ABA interventions.
4. Pronto EMR
Pronto is a leading software business in the US who introduced this program as its medical and healthcare counterpart. Pronto is supported by almost all operating systems and is used in most medical practices.
It includes online training modules and webinars that can help users fully utilize and incorporate them into the business. Pronto EMR is widespread in private practices, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities. It is fundamentally an electronic recording software, including features like charting, tracking records, telemedication, and online prescriptions.
It is more prevalent in mental health settings as the Pronto software helps manage behavioral records. Therapists use Pronto to retain information about clients or use them on-spot during therapy.
It has specialized drug monitoring programs that allow therapists to find out if the medication is impacting on the overall health and lifestyle of the client.
Pronto EMR also has some features that help in getting demographic details of a group of clients facing similar problems and assign interventions to them accordingly. The key benefits of this program, as users believe, are:
- The convenience of searching for clients by their first or last names.
- Creating and managing client records with easy access.
- Reviewing appointment history and manage appointment schedules.
- Viewing medication history and make e-prescriptions with minimum time and effort.
- Exploring the demographic alerts about clients and helping the treatment and billing process.
- Creating and customizing client interview and record forms.
A Take-Home Message
ABA therapy is highly solution-focused and centers around the scientific process of acquisition of skills.
It helps us understand:
- How behaviors form.
- How they get affected by our inner and outer environments.
- How we can improve our actions.
- How we can learn from our efforts.
Whether treating autistic individuals or using interventions for behavioral therapies, ABA lets us implement positive patterns of behavior into everyday life.
The goal of ABA studies and treatment is to increase the possibility of positive actions repeating themselves and reducing the likelihood of harmful activities happening again.
For autism management, ABA applications and software helps in improving communication skills, improving attention and focus, building memory, and reducing problem behaviors.
ABA techniques have evolved and are the products of years of research. They have visibly helped kids overcome difficulties in significant areas of life.
Professionals need to determine which ABA technique or software is the most appropriate for a particular group of clients. Once the methods and applications have been decided, ABA therapy can be genuinely engaging and immensely effective for clients of all ages and capabilities.
- Alberto and Troutman (2006) : Applied behavior analysis for teachers.
- Lovitt (1993) : A brief history of applied behavior analysis at the University of Washington.
- Mace (1994) : The significance and future of functional analysis methodologies.
- Marr (2009) : The natural selection: behavior analysis as a natural science.
- Reichow (2012) : Overview of meta-analyses on early intensive behavioral intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders.
- Spreckley and Boyd (2009) : Efficacy of applied behavioral intervention in preschool children with autism for improving cognitive, language, and adaptive behavior: a systematic review and meta-analysis.