As a junior in college, I "stumbled" upon behavior analysis and never looked back. At the time I was working for The Summer Treatment Program for Children with ADHD with Children's Mercy Hospital (Kansas City, Missouri), learning everything I could from the clinical psychologists who ran the summer camp. Those eight weeks were the some of the best weeks of my life. I returned for two or three more summers (I can't keep track anymore!) because I fell in love with the work I was doing. Child behavior. Parent training. All of it made sense to me. I was told that I had a gift.
Fast forward to a few more years and I began my Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis and Developmental Disabilities at Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama). I FINALLY landed to where I was suppose to be, and I'm sure glad that I did land there. I have always loved school, but I especially loved everything I was learning about the principles of behavior, classroom management, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), parent training, teacher and staff training, reinforcement, punishment, and the list could go on.
So what is Applied Behavior Analysis?
"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." (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968)
Okay, there's a lot of big words there. Let me break it down a bit. Essentially, Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of using different interventions - - which could be easy, like providing rewards, or more complex, like providing a very specific punishment procedure - - to help make changes in a behavior that are significant and important. For your purposes, Applied Behavior Analysis, also referred to as ABA, is used by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), like me.
If you're curious like I am, you're probably wondering how it exactly works. Here's the skinny. Let's say a parent hires a BCBA to come into the home to help a 6 year-old kiddo who has lots of tantrums. The BCBA will observe the child, parent, and family in the home doing their regular routine, going about their normal business. The BCBA will note what exactly is going on in the environment: what the tantrums look like, what is going on before a tantrum happens, what follows the tantrum, what the structure and routine of the home is like, what the person-to-person interactions are like, etc. The BCBA observes everything and collects data on what's going on.
With all of that information + additional information obtained from interviews, assessments, and the like, the BCBA will recommend specific interventions for parents to implement to help the child decrease the number of tantrums. What's great is that the BCBA will check to be sure that the recommended intervention is actually helping decrease those tantrums.
I only skimmed the surface and there is SOO MUCH MORE information I could give you about how a behavior analyst operates, but hopefully you have the idea. Just remember that a behavior analyst does many things to help improve a socially significant behavior: observations + data collection + assessments + training + evaluations + continued support.
Let's get back to the point of this blog post. How can Applied Behavior Analysis help you?!
Applied Behavior Analysis addresses socially significant behaviors, that is, behaviors that are important and meaningful to your everyday life. That 6 year-old in the scenario above who engages in tantrums... that's a socially significant behavior. Wouldn't it make your day less stressful, your family's morning routine much easier, or your grocery shopping easier if your kiddo had less tantrums?!
Applied Behavior Analysis can be used to increase those good, desirable behaviors that we want to see in our kiddos. Does your kiddo chew with his mouth open at the table? Applied Behavior Analysis can help with that! Does your kiddo not follow directions when you ask them THE FIRST TIME? Applied Behavior Analysis can help with that! Does your child need to be potty trained? Applied Behavior Analysis can help with that, too!
Applied Behavior Analysis can be used to decrease some of those unwanted, undesirable behaviors. There are easy interventions that can be used to decrease your child leaving her bedtime at night, for example. I know that would be a LIFE CHANGER for a lot of parents.
Applied Behavior Analysis can be used to teach a person new skills. Maybe your kiddo does not know how to appropriately play with toys or share toys with siblings. I have used ABA to teach children these exact skills!
Applied Behavior Analysis can be useful across a variety of settings: homes, classrooms, schools, and daycares. These are just a few examples of where ABA can make meaningful positive changes.
I can give you so many other ways of how behavior analysis can help you. This list really could be endless. Because Applied Behavior Analysis uses the principles of behavior, behavior analysts are able to make positive and meaningful changes across a variety of settings and a variety of individuals, including in the homes of parents and children!
How can behavior analysis help you in your daily life?