Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a science that involves using the principles of learning to increase appropriate behaviours and decrease inappropriate ones through the use of evidenced-based procedures. A Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA®) is someone who has been formally accredited in the practice of ABA.
What is behaviour?
Behaviour is everything we do in our environment that is observable; good or bad. As behaviour is observable, we can measure it in different ways by collecting various forms of data.
What is motivation?
All behaviour occurs in a context. Motivation is one part of this context. People can either have a motivation to get something, or a motivation to get rid of something. However, it’s important to remember peoples’ motivations are constantly changing.
The ABC of behaviour
The Antecedent is what was happening directly before the behaviour occurred. This can help us understand certain ‘triggers’. The Behaviour is what we observe. The Consequence relates to what happened directly after the behaviour, and are considered the most important aspect in shaping or changing a behaviour.
What are consequences?
Consequences are what occur directly following a behaviour, and will affect the likelihood of whether or not that behaviour will happen again in the future. If a consequence increases the future probability of behaviour occurring again, this is called reinforcement; because the consequence reinforces or strengthens the behaviour. A consequence may be something that is presented (positive reinforcement) or removed (negative reinforcement).
What is a learning history?
Each instance of reinforcement shapes a person’s learning history. If an inappropriate behaviour continues to be reinforced it will be strengthened and teaches the individual that emitting that behaviour results in them getting their desired outcome.
What can we change?
Behaviour Analysts look for relationships between behaviour and environment in order to explain the current challenging behaviour and to help parents understand this relationship in order teach more appropriate behaviour. They can help the individual to acquire new, more appropriate behaviour skills that serve the same function as the previous challenging behaviour.
Challenging Behaviour as a form of Communication
Looking at behaviour this way we can see that it means something to the person. The aim is to teach them a more appropriate way to communicate their message, and therefore in its place stop reinforcing the old inappropriate behaviour. Rather than suppressing challenging behaviour, we seek ways to teach alternative behaviours that have the same result or consequences.
The social environment may also need to be restructured to avoid situations that evoke challenging behaviour. This may mean enriching the environment to create more opportunities for social interaction, making learning easier and more motivating, and to ensure the individual has an appropriate means of communicating their needs.
What about our own behaviour?
It is important to recognise that the same principles govern our own behaviour. Our behaviour as parents has been shaped by events of the past. We may want to escape or avoid our children’s challenging behaviour by doing whatever we can to make it stop, and therefore in the process, we may have inadvertently reinforced (i.e. strengthened) the very behaviours we wanted to avoid.