Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science of human behavior. The best definition available is still the one written about in 1968 by Baer, Wolf, & Risley:
“Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.“
Specifically, Applied Behavior Analysis involves the principles of learning theory. That is, the contingent use of reinforcement and other important principles to increase behaviors, generalize learned behaviors or reduce undesirable behaviors is fundamental to ABA.
A key feature in Baer, Wolf and Risley’s definition involves the notion of demonstrating efficacy. It is essential that individuals using ABA evaluate the interventions to determine their efficacy and make modifications as needed to insure consistent and ongoing progress.
The most important component of ABA involves the notion of “improving socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It is imperative that programs and interventions focus on outcomes for the learners that will have socially significant consequences and that this change is to a meaningful degree.
There are many different teaching strategies that are used under the umbrella of Applied Behavior Analysis. These include shaping and chaining behaviors. In addition, it includes specific teaching strategies such as discrete trial instruction, natural environment teaching, pivotal response training, incidental teaching, fluency based instruction and many more. Each of these instructional techniques has a rich empirical support base.
ABA services can help teach individuals a wide variety of skills across many different domains, including but not limited to: social, communication, receptive and expressive language, cognitive, academic/pre-academic, adaptive, activities of daily living, emotional regulation, fine motor, and gross motor. ABA is also highly effective in treating any challenging behaviors the individual may engage in, and helping the individual learn safer and more appropriate replacement behaviors.
There are hundreds of research articles demonstrating the efficacy of applied behavior analysis as an intervention for individuals with autism. These studies range from group design outcome studies to single subject studies supporting the use of one specific intervention or technique.
Many studies show that ABA is effective in increasing behaviors and teaching new skills (National Autism Center [NAC], 2015; Wong et al., 2014, 2015). In addition, many studies demonstrate that ABA is effective in reducing problem behavior (NAC, 2015). The United States Surgeon General (1999) concluded, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.”