Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an intervention approach

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) was originated by the late Ivar Lovass, PhD, in the 1960’s while a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. It is derived from the fields of behavioral psychology and applied operant learning theory. Designed as an intensive early intervention approach, Lovass is credited as a pioneer in recognizing the importance of early intervention in promoting the cognitive growth of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Treatment is geared for children ages two to seven, adult-directed and often utilizes DTT (discreet-trial-training), a skill-based system of repetition and reinforcements to achieve goals. Typical goals focus on reducing stereotypical “autistic-like” behaviors, improving eye contact, while encouraging appropriate behaviors and ultimately pre-academic skill building.

Treatment is typically performed in the home and provided by a behavior psychologist, trained “behavior technician,” early intervention provider or educator. Treatment providers should be well trained and work only under the supervision of an advanced behavior analyst. Frequency and intensity is required, with children often receiving 25 to 40 hours per week of direct one-on-one ABA services. Progress on specific goals is measured via on-going data collection. Parents and family members are typically not involved in the treatment, but may be asked to reinforce targeted behaviors in the home.

Research has been ongoing since the 1960’s, resulting in a large body of “evidence-based research” that supporters report strongly supports the ABA model’s efficacy in promoting the cognitive growth of children with an ASD.

Some controversy remains regarding the quality of research methodology utilized in the original Lovass study and subsequent attempts to measure outcomes. Today, programs that claim to be a Lovass ABA program are rare. Over time new professional leaders have emerged and behavioral interventions have changed modestly in terms of design, application and measurement. Nonetheless, “behavior” intervention models universally maintain a foundation built on behavioral analysis.

Watch an introduction video presented by the Behavior Analysis Center of Asheville (BACA), a not-for-profit organization.

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