Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) within the Autistic Support Program
The Autistic Support program at Council Rock currently employs two full-time and one part-time Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). These individuals are assigned to provide classroom-wide behavior consultation and support to all classrooms within the AS program. The BCBA assigned to a classroom meets with classroom staff, therapists, parents and administrators on a regular or as needed basis to provide behavior assessment and consultation related to students learning and behavior needs. The frequency and duration of consultation and support depends on the individual needs of the students within each classroom.
What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the science of prediction and change of socially significant behaviors. Often, ABA is equated with certain specific practices within the field of ABA (e.g., Discrete Trial Teaching/DTT) and it is often assumed that ABA is only useful as an intervention for children with autism, when in fact it can be used to create positive behavior change in all individuals, systems or organizations. The field ABA is defined in the article, “Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis” (Bear, Wolf and Risely, 1968; Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97) which lists necessary components (or dimensions) of the science. In order for an intervention to be considered applied behavior analytic, the following criteria must be met:
§ The intervention must address behaviors that are of social importance to the individual.
§ It must focus on skills that are observable and measurable.
§ It must be possible to demonstrate (through analysis of data) that the intervention has had a beneficial effect.
§ The intervention must involve procedures that are defined or described in a way that allows for consistent implementation by all involved.
§ It must be grounded in a conceptual system of fundamental behavioral principles (e.g., reinforcement) derived from decades of scientific study.
§ The intervention must lead to meaningful change for the individual.
§ The intervention must be designed to create behavior change that generalizes to new environments and situations.
Who provides Behavior Intervention?
Anyone can implement principles of ABA. The systematic application and measurement of behavior interventions can and is conducted by many people including educators and caretakers. In some cases, a person with specific and advanced training in ABA provides consultation to education teams. This person is usually a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or School Psychologist.
What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)?
A BCBA is a person with a minimum of a master’s degree in behavior analysis or other natural science, education, human services, engineering, medicine or a field related to behavior analysis and approved by the BACB and has completed necessary course work in applied behavior analysis, has been supervised for a minimum of 1500 hours by a BCBA, and has passed a competency test. A BCBA teaches others to carry out evidenced-based behavior analytic interventions to increase appropriate behavior and decrease unwanted behavior of another person. When assisting others to teach students skills, the BCBA may help people consider systems to motivate the student (i.e., reinforcement systems), ways to prompt and cue the student, design lesson formats, determine error correction strategies, and promote the generalization of skills and helps to design methods to record student progress.
In the case of student’s unwanted behavior (behavior that interferes with the students learning or the learning of others), the BCBA conducts descriptive and/or systematic behavioral assessments, including functional behavior assessment, and provides behavior analytic interpretations of the results. Using results of assessment, a BCBA works with teachers and caretakers to help students learn skills to reduce unwanted behavior by helping to arrange environmental conditions that support that learning.
Unwanted Behavior and Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)
Sometimes, a student may engage in a behavior or behaviors that interfere with the learning of the student or others. In the case where a student has an IEP, the IEP team needs to make sure that they understand why the behavior occurs (the function of the behavior) prior to implementing behavior strategies to address the behavior. The procedure to gather this information is called functional behavior assessment (FBA).
The purpose of a functional behavior assessment is to identify conditions that lead to or support unwanted behavior in order to determine the purpose or “why” unwanted behavior occurs. Unwanted behavior (with the exception of certain medical conditions) may occur for any one of the following general reasons.
- Behavior occurs to access positive reinforcement such as items, locations, people, and sensory input.
- Behavior occurs to access negative reinforcement in the form of escape or avoidance from aversive conditions (e.g., behavior that gets a student out of work, away from over-stimulating settings, out of confusing or boring tasks)
- Behavior occurs as a reaction to various stimuli (or has been conditioned with emotional behavior and co-varies with such behavior), considered elicited such as reactions to failure, frustration, confusion, pain, etc.
- Behavior occurs as a combination of any of the above reasons.
For example does yelling during a physical therapy session result in the student avoiding time in the gym because they are asked to leave once the yelling beings? Does yelling result in attention from a specific individual who is in the gym at the same time? Does yelling result in more time in the gym because the session goes more slowly? The same behavior (in this case yelling) may serve very different functions depending upon the circumstances.
In order to determine the function(s) of unwanted behavior, conditions that set the occasion for and support unwanted behavior (i.e., antecedents and consequences) are analyzed in an effort to understand why the behavior occurs. This may be accomplished by gathering information from several sources such as direct student observation, caretaker, teacher, (and when possible student) interview, the collection of behavior data and possibly the creation and manipulation of analogue conditions. Sometimes the function of unwanted behavior can be accomplished through simple student observation and caretaker interview. Other times, more formal methods of behavior study are required to determine behavior function.
The outcome of the assessment should assist in determining the need for behavior interventions. When need is determined, the results of the assessment should assist the IEP team in developing or modifying behavior interventions that are based on hypothesized function(s). Effective intervention should, where possible, include the teaching of behaviors that serve the same function as the unwanted behavior in order to replace the unwanted behavior with a more adaptive response. For example, if the assessment determined that yelling during physical therapy served the function of escape (the result of yelling was less time in the gym) a functional alternative may be to teach the individual to ask for a break. However, in the case of behaviors that are elicited (e.g., behavior occurs as a reaction to a situation, such as crying when losing a game), there is not functionally equivalent behavior to teach. In this case, the behavior intervention focuses in teaching coping skills and possibly desensitization to the condition that result in the reactive behavior.
Prior to conducting a formal functional behavior assessment, the student’s parent/guardian is issued a permission to evaluate consent form, signs it, and returns it school. Once the school receives consent, the FBA needs to be completed within 60 calendar days (excluding the summer break). Once the FBA is completed, the IEP team meets to consider the results of the assessment and determines what level of behavior intervention may be needed. Sometimes the assessment demonstrates no intervention is necessary. When intervention is necessary, unwanted behavior may be addressed with any combination of the following: a written positive support behavior plan, within an IEP goal/objective or through specially designed instruction (SDI).