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What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Brandon May
Brandon May

Applied behavior analysis is a study of behavior in a scientific setting which focuses on applying principles of learned behaviors to complement a wide range of health and behavior modification programs. Certain health programs which use applied behavior analysis include autism and children with learning or social disabilities. This scientific study and application of human behavior uses life-like principles of motivation and reinforcement to aid the learning and education forces in a child's developing mind. The theory behind ABA, or applied behavior analysis, presents that a child may learn and grow into a person who understands and works with the rules of everyday life by applying modifications to a foundation of current learned behavior.

The techniques used in applied behavior analysis present certain reinforcements to a child when educating him on how to act in a socially driven environment. These reinforcements often come in the forms of rewards which motivates the child to behave and perform a certain way to aid in learning new behaviors. These behaviors are then repeated in a controlled learning environment with the application of rewards to set in a new pathway in the brain which associates proper behavior with subsequently positive reinforcements and rewards. It is theorized that this application promotes a new set of attitudes which provides the child with learned socially acceptable behaviors that will automatically function in the real world.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

There is some evidence to suggest that intensive therapy which utilizes behavioral concepts associated with applied behavior analysis will make an autism diagnosis become invalid in certain individuals. Even though this form of behavior therapy should not define a particular treatment plan for those with autism, it is seen as a helpful complementary approach to a healthy treatment plan. A licensed therapist may practice this approach for behavior modification, or it may be practiced by parents and other individuals at home. There are simple techniques which may be carried out in order to practice this form of applied psychology that can be very effective at changing behaviors or creating new, healthy ones.

One of the simplest techniques for practicing ABA is to ask a child to perform a particular behavior or action, like picking up a common object and handing it to the adult or therapist. When the child replies by performing this action in a proper manner, then the child receives the reward, or the reinforcement. This reward is usually kept small but significant, such as stickers, small toys or positive words which reinforce the child's self-esteem and good will. If the child does not respond and does not take the appropriate action set forth by the adult or therapist, the question is then repeated until the child learns the new behavior.

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