Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied behavioral analysis is a wonderful method for controlling and changing challenging behaviors. From the first time I heard about it I was hooked. We have been using it for over five years now with varying levels of success. Ana’s school uses ABA 101 (as I call it) but are not seeing as much success. With Ana’s Medicaid waiver she receives an ABA therapist to help us with managing her behaviors. Unfortunately, for ABA to work, there must be an intensive beginning to the therapy which Medicaid won’t pay for. The person manipulating the ABA plan must really understand the child to make it work.

So, what is ABA? I’m providing a very simple explanation but will share some good links at the end.

The first thing one must do is identify a problem behavior. I’ll use kicking a child as an example. Next, you observe the child doing the behavior to determine the function of said behavior. The most common ones are attention, escape, avoidance, communication. Let’s say for this example one observes that a child kicks other children as a way to escape crowded situations. They escape because an adult removes them from the situation after kicking.

That leads us to the ABCs of ABA. A is for Antecedent (what leads up to the behavior). B is for Behavior (the problem behavior being changed). C is for Consequence (what is the consequence of the behavior).  In this example situation the antecedent is being in a crowded situation; the behavior is kicking another child; and the consequence is being removed from the situation.

Now, we’re ready to execute change. The goal is to manipulate either the antecedent or the consequence to change the behavior. In this case, we can manipulate the antecedent to prevent the behavior since we know its function is escape. By avoiding crowded situations the child will not need to escape, thus they will not kick other children. In a real life setting this would look like allowing a child to sit in a special chair a few feet away from other children during rug time in the classroom. Or allowing them to sit on a bleacher by themselves during school assemblies.

ABA can be used for virtually any behavior. One of the problems we have experienced is that Ana’s behaviors often have multiple functions (depending of the situation) meaning multiple plans are needed. Also, once we manipulate the antecedent or consequence, Ana sees it as a personal challenge to out-smart the manipulation. We haven’t given up and still use ABA (school uses it a lot) but are constantly looking for new ways to implement it.

My observation after using it for years is that it is like training a monkey. Sure, Ana can learn to perform , but ABA doesn’t address the real problems causing the behaviors. That is why we are hoping that attachment therapy will FINALLY help stop the behaviors from within.

Helpful links:


One thought on “Applied Behavioral Analysis

  1. It’s too bad you didn’t have a Behavior Analyst skilled in this. The function of the behaviors is the “why” and I am not sure why the Behavior Analyst you used could not do this. Also, if they were unsure of how to fully assist your family, why he/she did not seek out the few specialists out there that are skilled in addressing a host of psychological issues using Applied Behavior Analysis in order to serve your family’s needs more appropriately is a little upsetting to say the least. We pride ourselves on assisting each other in order to better provide for our clients. I sincerely hope your new therapies provide the answers you seek. RAD is very hard on a family.

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