What is ABA?
ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, is an evidence based practice and scientific approach to understanding behaviors. ABA focuses on socially significant behavior in order to provide meaningful improvement in individuals’ lives. To understand behavior one must understand the environment (what comes before and after a behavior) and how it affects the future occurrence of the behavior. The implementation of ABA aims to increase functional behavior for long-lasting change across all environments. Principles are also applied to reduce behaviors that are harmful or interfere with learning by teaching replacement behaviors that are functionally equivalent. Utilizing ABA at the early intervention stage, allows the learner to build a strong foundation for understanding how to learn, while teaching parents how to shape behaviors from an early age.
How is ABA implemented at MAP?
MAP uses behavior analytic principles to teach skills and behaviors necessary to function in home, school, and community situations. Teaching is conducted both in a structured setting and within the natural environment.
Discrete Trial Teaching. DTT breaks concepts into their smallest possible parts and teaches each part separately before putting all the mastered parts back together to demonstrate the concept. DTT begins teaching in an environment with reduced stimuli, very simple instructions and high repetition. This better enables the child with autism to understand the surrounding typical environment and process simple visual and auditory instructions. High repetition and breaking skills down ensures the highest success rate for a child with autism in the teaching situation.
Reinforcement. Reinforcement is a consequence (a stimulus that follows behavior) which increases the likelihood a behavior will occur again in the future. MAP utilizes both positive (adding something after the behavior) and negative (removing something after the behavior) reinforcement for the acquisition of skills and to increase and shape desired, socially acceptable behavior. Pairing is used to associate highly preferred stimuli with the learning environment to develop rapport between the child and the teaching team for optimal learning. Over time, reinforcement fades from tangible items to more natural reinforcement such as social interaction and verbal praise, similar to what will be delivered in a classroom environment.
Functional Communication. MAP staff will assess which form of functional communication is most appropriate for the child. The purpose of functional communication is for any child, of any ability, to be able to communicate their needs and gain access to stimuli within their environment, even if this does not involve vocal language. The child’s communication repertoire will be targeted by finding motivating stimuli and prompting the child to emit a functional communication response to access the desired stimuli.
Behavior Reduction. Maladaptive behaviors are reduced by utilizing differential reinforcement procedures and teaching replacement skills. Functional behavior assessments are conducted to not only identify what the behavior looks like but also evaluate maintaining variables. With this information, an individualized intervention plan can be designed and implemented across environments.
Generalization. Once concepts are mastered in a structured setting, these concepts are targeted for generalization in the natural environment. In generalization the focus is to change the delivery of instructions, the materials used, and the responses required to mimic ways that these skills may be needed in the natural environment. Generalization of skills is very important as this allows us to ensure that learned skills will be functional to the child in all environments.
Prompting. Prompts are any assistance given to achieve a desired response. There are a variety of types of prompts (gesture, model, verbal, physical) with varying degrees of intrusiveness. It is common for more intrusive, higher level prompts to be used when first teaching new skills with the goal of fading the prompts as the child becomes more independent with the skills through errorless learning. Once a skill has been acquired, least to most intrusive prompting is followed to allow the child the opportunity to perform the response with the least assistance necessary before increasing to reach a successful prompt. Reinforcement is always provided immediately after a prompt to increase the desired response.
What does the ABA package look like?
- Clinic based early intervention services at the MAP facility provided year-round
- 35.5 hours per week; Monday – Thursday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM and Friday, 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM. In the summer months, MAP closes at 12:00 PM on Fridays.
- Individualized treatment plan, drafted and designed by a BCBA, that addresses the core deficits of autism through skill acquisition and behavior reduction procedures. Plans are written to target developmentally appropriate skills, according to the child’s present level and include skills across the following areas: independence and daily living, language and communication, play and social interaction, motor development, and foundational cognitive skills.
- 1:1 teaching in both the structured environment and inclusive preschool classroom. Each child enrolled spends a minimum of 3.5 hours per week according to their individual treatment plan and ability. The amount of time spent in the classroom is determined by their communication, classroom readiness (e.g. sitting in a chair and following simple instructions), and play/social skills level. MAP believes that every moment is a teachable moment and captures opportunities throughout the day in any location to target adaptive skills.
- Small group learning (1:3 ratio) for those children who meet specified criteria as listed in their individualized treatment plan for a reduction in 1:1 hours.
- Clinical oversight and supervision by a BCBA for all direct care staff providing 1:1 and group hours to children enrolled.
- Caregiver training provided by a BCBA to identify and address adaptive behavior deficits, generalize learned skills and to maintain consistency with behavior reduction procedures as specified by the individualized treatment plan.
- Ongoing data collection systems to measure effectiveness and to modify implementation of treatment goals.
- Ongoing and periodic assessment to measure overall developmental progress and address barriers to learning.
- Collaboration with related service professionals to maximize learning efforts.
Who provides ABA at MAP?
The Meredith Autism Program consists of professional clinical staff and undergraduate students. The professional clinical staff consists of a hierarchy: Program Director, Associate Director, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), and part-time Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT). Some of these RBTs are working in an apprenticeship fashion towards national certification. The majority of teaching hours for children enrolled are provided by undergraduate Meredith College students earning course credit. These students have the opportunity to continue advancing their knowledge through a three course practicum sequence. Caregiver training, supervision, and all clinical oversight for each child is provided by a BCBA on staff. The program and work of the professional clinical team is overseen by a licensed psychologist.
The Meredith Autism Program is an early intervention program serving children who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.