- Autism & Developmental Services
Witten By: Mariela Tapia-Hernandez M.Ed., RBT
Reviewed by: Melanie Bren, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. Behavior analysis helps us understand how behavior works and how it can be affected by the environment.
ABA therapy involves various techniques for understanding and teaching behavior. ABA therapy helps improve the skills for many children with an autism spectrum disorder. ABA therapy is individualized to the needs and abilities of each learner. ABA therapy can be conducted in various settings such as school, home, and in the community by a qualified behavior technician with the supervision of a board-certified behavior analyst. ABA therapy is used to help increase language and communication skills, social and daily living skills.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural environment teaching (NET)
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is an ABA technique used to teach skills. It consists of an ABA therapist working 1:1 with your child at a table, similar to a school setting structure. DTT can take place in different settings, schools, homes, or clinic centers. DTT is used to teach skills by using a systematic 3 step sequence that includes prompts or reinforcements. A therapist will slowly pair the table by having the child’s favorite items and preferred snacks if appropriate. Gradually, the therapist can increase the child’s tolerance for sitting at a table.
Children receive multiple opportunities to learn new skills during discrete trial training. A child gets positive reinforcement after correct attempts. Reinforcement is individualized to what the child prefers. They include social praise, edibles, preferred toys, and access to activities). Clinicians will continue to practice skills in a natural environment to promote generalization. The objective is for the child to be able to demonstrate learned skills in the real world.
Natural environment teaching (NET) is an instructional method used in ABA therapy that occurs in a natural environment that the learner prefers. NET is centered around play and daily activities. It is a common teaching approach to help children increase their communication, social, and other skills. ABA therapists will follow a child’s motivation and use their highest interests to create multiple learning opportunities.
For example, suppose a child enjoys playing with cars. In that case, an ABA therapist will incorporate the preferred toys’, such as teaching the child to label the colors of cars, motor imitation such as pushing the car on a track, etc. NET is less structured, making it easy to do during playtime or fun activities. Children do not even realize that teaching is occurring. NET is a method used to generalize skills across different settings and people. NET should always be enjoyable since it is child-led.
Errorless learning is an evidence-based technique used to teach new skills and behaviors. Errorless learning is commonly used when teaching children with autism due to its positive approach to learning. This method helps reduce frustration and inappropriate behavior chains that can quickly develop when the learner makes any incorrect responses. When using errorless learning, the instructor gives instructions and immediately provides a prompt to the learner. We want the learner to avoid opportunities for any mistakes.
The benefits of errorless learning are that it generates more opportunities for the learner to contact reinforcement and decreases strain and escape behavior such as resisting instruction, tantrums, and elopement. To encourage the learner to respond, instructors systematically fade out prompts. Data collection allows BCBA’s determine when to decrease prompts. This is seen as most-to-least prompting, meaning the instructor goes from hand over hand to only using verbal until the learner becomes independent with the skill.
Task analysis is used to teach complex skills by breaking down a task into smaller, more manageable steps. It can be helpful when teaching daily living skills that require a sequence of steps like toothbrushing, making the bed, and getting dressed. Each step is individualized to the learners’ ability, and task analyses are monitored closely by collecting data to ensure progress. When the learner is not making any progress, the BCBA can pinpoint the challenges, adjust the program or find a different approach. There are different approaches to teach task analysis depending on the learner’s ability and needs.
Forward Chaining is when the first step in the chain is taught. Once the learner can complete the first step, a preferred reinforcer is given to the learner, and then they are guided throughout the rest of the steps. After the learner can complete the first step independently, the next step in the sequence is added one at a time until the learner can complete the whole task.
Backward Chaining is when a task is taught in reverse by introducing the last step first. In this method, the learner is given help to complete all the steps until the final step. The learner is reinforced for completing the last step independently, and once they can master the last step, the previous step is added. This is repeated until the learner can complete the full chain.
Total task chaining is when the entire sequence is taught at once, and the learner is guided only through challenging steps, and prompts are faded out. Preferred reinforcers is given at the end of the complete sequence of steps.
Positive reinforcement is one of the essential techniques in the field of ABA as it helps shape behavior. Reinforcement includes consequences that strengthen behavior; it increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future. Reinforcement is delivered immediately after the desired behavior occurs. We are teaching learners that we want to continue seeing that good behavior.
Reinforcers are based on the learner’s preferences, they can be preferred toys, tasty edibles, and even praise such as a high-five or tickles. Reinforcers can change over time, so it is essential to check which reinforcers the child is motivated for. It is helpful to keep in mind that the child should not have free access to the reinforcers because this will cause satiation- the learner will no longer want to accept.
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