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Is Applied Behavior Analysis Effective?

Image of child playing for our FAQ Is Applied Behavior Analysis Effective?

Adult participants and parents of participating youth often wonder if applied behavior analysis (ABA) is actually an effective way to manage a particular behavior or disorder. There are many uncertainties in modern psychology, but the practice of ABA has demonstrated a strong track record of success for people who are suffering from a wide range of different conditions. The success of therapy for an individual greatly depends on specific factors, including the ability of the practitioner and willing participation of the subject. Behavior analysis relies on a core set of basic techniques that have been proven effective through decades of use.

Core Principles and Techniques

Conventional ABA sessions are conducted according to the basic principles of behavioral psychology and the scientific method. Practitioners use positive reinforcement, thought association and other techniques that have been in use for decades or longer. They also adhere to the scientific method by quantifying all results and adapting strategies to produce the desired outcome. Most therapies associated with this type of behavior analysis center around short and simple activities that increase in complexity as the participant makes progress.

Managing Individual Factors

Flexibility is a defining characteristic of ABA and is one of the reasons it is an effective method. Programs and sessions can be customized according to the individual’s specific needs or exhibited behaviors. Psychologists can also adjust their techniques readily to accommodate unexpected or insufficient progress, giving each patient a truly tailored experience. Behavior analysts also need to work with family members, especially in the case of children. The long-term success of ABA can depend on the ability of caretakers to follow through with training and treatment at home.

Conditions Addressed with ABA

While ABA is often associated with the management of autism symptoms, it actually has much broader applications for a variety of behavioral issues. It can be adjusted to manage socially disruptive or stigmatic habits that could interfere with the child’s development. Concerned parents and individuals suffering from unwanted thoughts or behaviors should consult a certified psychologist before seeking ABA or any other kind of treatment.

Scientific Validity

There are many different published studies regarding ABA and its efficacy available through the US National Library of Medicine. While some of these studies cite survey data from bigger groups or time periods, many take the form of individual case studies following the progress of specific individuals. Since ABA is a highly customized form of therapy, it can be difficult to develop general standards for growth and success across larger sample sizes.

As with all types of psychological and medical techniques, ABA is certain to evolve and change as new research and technology become available. Currently, its popularity in the psychology community is partially based on a lack of valid and proven alternatives. There is no guarantee that individuals who participate in this kind of therapy will experience positive results or a set amount of progress, although there are numerous reports that applied behavior analysis is effective at fostering positive behavioral change in a matter of months.

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