Applied Behavior Analysis 

“Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science in which procedures derived from the principles of behavior are systematically applied to improve socially significant behavior…” (Baer, Wolf, and Risley, 1968).  The defining assumption of ABA is that behavior is learned and controlled by contingencies within the environment.  ABA practitioners maintain close and continual contact with relevant outcome data in order to make empirical-based decisions across individual programs.  There are numerous teaching procedures and practices that have evolved from the science of ABA that have been shown to be effective with children with developmental disabilities, predominantly autism spectrum disorders.  These different applications, including but not limited to natural environment strategies, discrete trial training, errorless learning, and verbal behavior analysis, are considered when developing individualized educational programs for children.   

Natural Environment Strategies 

Natural Environment Strategies include several specific methodologies derived from Applied Behavior Analysis including “Incidental Teaching” and “Pivotal Response Training,” which target global deficits such as motivation, initiation, engagement, and attention to multiple and relevant cues, as well as individual skill sets.  Natural Environment Strategies are child-directed and target language skills within naturally contrived opportunities throughout the day.  These methodologies have been shown to be very effective for many children with autism spectrum disorders and as a model for parent training.    

Discrete Trial Training  

Derived from Applied Behavior Analysis, Discrete Trial Training is a method of instruction in which skills are broken down into teachable steps, then presented and reinforced in a repetitive fashion until the student demonstrates mastery of the skill (ex., teacher presents a question or instruction, student responds, teacher presents appropriate consequence).  3-Step Guided Instruction is a form of Discrete Trial Training that uses systematic least-to-most prompting that ensures follow-through and access to reinforcement based on level of independence.

Errorless Learning  

Errorless Learning is an instructional procedure derived from the field of Applied Behavior Analysis that is similar to Discrete Trial Training, but uses prompts in a most-to-least fashion in order to elicit only correct responses.  Prompted trials are followed by less prompted or “transfer” trials until the student demonstrates mastery of the skill.  Specific reinforcement and momentum strategies are used to combat prompt-dependency and keep the child motivated through teaching sessions.  Errorless learning is considered when least-to-most teaching 
procedures are determined to be ineffective for individual students.    

Positive Behavioral Support 

Positive Behavioral Supports are used within a program to promote behavioral change.  These supports are driven by a thorough understanding of the problem behavior and its function.  Reduction of problem behaviors is a result of ongoing team analysis and problem solving to develop preventative strategies, teach alternative skills, design crisis management procedures, and modify contingencies in the child’s environment.  The positive behavioral supports approach holds a broadened view of intervention success by evaluating whether improvements in the use of alternative behaviors have been maintained across time and generalized across settings, whether improvements have occurred in the child’s quality of life, and whether the intervention has positively impacted on the child’s health and well-being.     

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