What is Applied Behavior Analysis in Simple Terms?

Although it’s been around for a long time, many people are still unfamiliar with applied behavior analysis and how it works. Although it’s most often used in reference to autism spectrum disorder, applied behavior analysis is actually used in many other situations. Applied behavior analysis is a type of therapy used to decrease inappropriate behavior and increase appropriate behavior. Here is an overview of applied behavior analysis in simple terms.

Related resource: 10 Best ABA Master’s Degree Programs

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Used as a scientific approach to understanding different behavior, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors. In simple terms, ABA changes the environment in order to change the behavior. It’s not just used to correct bad behavior. While we often think of the word “behavior” as meaning bad behavior, that’s not always the case. In reference to ABA therapy, behavior is what we do and how we act. ABA therapy is used to improve behaviors like social skills, reading, academics, and communication as well as learned skills like grooming, hygiene, fine motor dexterity, job proficiency and even simple things like a child keeping his room clean.

How it Works

Unlike traditional therapies that try to determine how and why a person behaves the way they do, ABA therapy focuses on replacing one type of behavior with a more appropriate behavior. It utilizes positive reinforcement. One example would be a child who dislikes cleaning his room but dislikes washing dishes even more. A parent might give the child the choice of not washing dishes if he cleans his room. When the child is finished cleaning his room, he gets praise for a job well done. This falls back to the “change the environment to change the behavior”. Another way ABA is used to continually ask the patient to do a certain task repeatedly until the patient does what is asked. When the client complies, the client is praised.

When is ABA Therapy Used?

ABA therapy is often distinguished as behavior therapy for autism patients, but it can’t be stressed enough that ABA therapy is used for child and adults needing behavior modification for many conditions or situations. To be most effective, ABA therapy should be used for at least 20 hours a week. Children in need of ABA therapy should begin receiving the therapy prior to the age of 4. ABA therapy is even used for elderly patients who have lost certain abilities due to aging or memory loss, etc. It’s not used to get the patient’s abilities back but to help them better cope with the loss. It’s also used with couples having relationship difficulties or even with employees in the workplace.

How to Become an ABA Therapist

ABA therapists are licensed psychologists who have completed a training program and obtained certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Based on what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, licensed psychologists must complete at least a bachelor’s degree. Psychology Today states that to obtain the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, the ABA therapist must complete at least a master’s degree and a specific number of hours of clinical education and experience.

Applied behavior analysis is more and more recognized as an effective method of therapy with not just autistic patients but with anyone needing changes in their behavior. Because of its effectiveness, ABA therapy is now a popular method of therapy used in medical facilities, community centers, schools and even in the home.