- Autism & Developmental Services
Written By: Karina Sharma, RBT, BCBA
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is considered the gold standard of autism treatment. Utilizing a structured system of rewards and consequences, behavioral therapists can teach desired behaviors to learners and reduce problematic behaviors. A quality ABA program will encompass these seven dimensions of ABA. The seven dimensions of ABA were created by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) to serve as a guide for behavior analysts.
They emphasized that for ABA programs to be complete and successful they need to be applied, behavioral, analytic, technological, conceptually systematic, effective, and adept to generality. Whether you are a parent, providers, teacher, or just curious to know more, knowing and understanding these seven dimensions is imperative to understanding the field of ABA. Who knows, you might even end up falling in love like so many of us.
The applied in behavioral analysis signals ABA’s commitment to effecting improvements in behaviors that enhance and improve people’s lives (Cooper et al., 2019, p. 16). When BCBA’s are choosing goals and interventions to target, they must select behaviors that are respectively socially significant to the learner.
Each learner is different, thus the goals selected must be individualized in nature and applicable to that specific learner. Socially significant goals can be goals that target adaptive, academic, social, communication or recreational skills. Whatever goal is chosen to target, it must improve the daily life of the learner and the life of those around the learner (parents, siblings, teachers, friends). For example, a learner might become upset or frustrated when they lose a game, causing problem behaviors of screaming and throwing.
The BCBA may choose to add a coping skill intervention that teaches the learner how to appropriately display frustration when they lose a game. This goal targeted would improve the everyday life of the learner and open more social doors for them in the future.
The behavior of interest selected to target in an ABA intervention must be observable and measurable. As ABA is rooted in science, it is extremely important to target external behaviors that are observable and measurable to a third party.
External behaviors can include behaviors such as talking, crying, hitting, running, and jumping. These are all behaviors that can be quantified and translated into analytical data. This data is later used to display progress of the learner, develop intervention plans and serve as a unit of measurement on whether a learner has met their goal or not.
All interventions selected by the BCBA are developed from evidence-based research. What exactly does this mean? It means that the BCBA who is putting together the intervention plan is doing so based on scientific research, data, and objective information.
None of the goals or interventions targeted are done so at random and selected based on subjectivity. By relying on scientific data, practitioners can make the most informed decisions for learns about what intervention to implement and what interventions need to be transferred to generalization and maintenance.
The Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis (JABA) is an academic journal that publishes research all in relation to applied behavior analysis. It is one of the primary sources of information for practitioners in the field.
All procedures used in intervention plans are described in a technological fashion. They are written out clearly and concisely and are intended to be understood by any interventionist carrying out the intervention plan. If a procedure is described in a way that is difficult to understand or can be interpreted in many different ways, it is not technological.
Technological procedures must be objective in nature and should be carried out the same way by multiple practitioners. This is done so the learner will be getting the exact same intervention plan across different practitioners. We do not want our learners to get confused or become frustrated, so we try our best to avoid subjective directions and procedures.
Similar to analytic, conceptually systematic means that all practitioners are implementing research-based techniques and teaching methods in their work. Once again, The Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis (JABA) will be one of the primary sources of information to find evidence-based teaching methods and techniques that will be utilized in the practice. Commonly used teaching techniques employed across sessions and interventions include positive reinforcement, prompting, modeling, and extinction.
What is an effective intervention? An effective intervention improves the learner’s behavior and reduces their challenging behavior in a practical and functional manner. If a learner is not meeting their targeted goals, the learner is never to be blamed.
It means that the intervention being implemented is not effective and should be reevaluated in order to make it effective. If an intervention is regarded as ineffective, the treatment plan should be discontinued, and a new intervention should be tried. The BCBA is able to identify an intervention as effective or ineffective by looking at the data!
A behavior has generality if that behavior is able to be sustained over time, appears in different environments and settings, and extends to a range of associated behaviors. We never want our targeted behaviors to be short-term. We want them to continue long after the intervention is over.
We also want our targeted behaviors to be seen outside the initial setting it was being taught. For example, if a learner is able to reduce challenging behavior in a clinical setting, the behavior should be able to generalize to a home setting and school setting. The behavior change should also be able to generalize to different behaviors that were not initially targeted.
ABA is a science but most importantly it’s about improving the life of the learner and making programming about what they need to be successful in their natural environment and future environments. By ensuring all 7-dimension criteria is met, there is no reason why progress and success cant be achieved!
Cooper, J.O, Heron T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
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