ABA fact and fiction

  • Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to support applied behavior analysis, misinformation continues to be prevalent.  Here we explore the facts of ABA treatment, as well as the many misperceptions:

    Anyone can do ABA.

    Fiction. Throughout this section, you will read references to “a responsible ABA program”. This precisely because not anyone can “do” ABA. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has set several criteria for the skills, training, and experience necessary for overseeing applied behavior analysis programs at three levels:  the

    Registered Behavior Technician, the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst and the Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  REACH provides training at each level so that each employee has the necessary background in the science of behavior as well as the ethics of proper use of that science.

    ABA is only for young children with autism.

    Fiction. ABA is an outgrowth of the science of learning.  An individual can use these principles to improve socially significant behavior, whether you hope to increase communication and safety, learn to read, or lose weight. The principles derived from this science can help us all to lead happier, healthier lives.

    ABA is like dog training and treats children like animals.

    Fiction. Though certainly every organism learns best from success, ABA is far from dehumanizing. A responsible ABA program will individualize programming so that it is according to the child’s abilities and interests.

    ABA promotes robotic responses rather than independence.

    Fiction. ABA is simply the more structured application of what we might refer to as “building good habits”. These habits are simplified and broken down in order to teach them more effectively. Skills are developed so that independence is always the goal and programming is designed to gradually fade the extra supports necessary to foster this independence.

    ABA is a cure for autism.

    Fiction. ABA is nothing more (or less) than an evidence-based methodology for addressing behavioral excesses (behaviors that occur too much) and behavioral deficits (behaviors that occur too little). In some cases, this can mean that the behavioral excesses and deficits associated with autism are minimized or even eliminated. However, in all cases, progress can be made.

    ABA always uses bribes to teach children.

    Fiction. Every one of us learns best from success. Although we have no difficulty accepting this for many of us, the structure of using reinforcers within an applied behavior analysis program may appear artificial at first. However, the initial supports can be faded, leaving “good habits” in their place. Rather than serving as bribes, these are merely a bridge to behavior development.

    ABA does not address social skills.

    Fiction. Social skills are learned through success, just as any other skills are. Using applied behavior analysis, these skills also can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps and taught using compassionate and positive support.

    ABA uses punishment.

    Fiction. Although this is a common misconception about applied behavior analysis, it is actually through research in behavior analysis that we have learned that punishment is not necessary. Programming is focused on what children should do, rather than what they should not do. Therefore, every child has an opportunity to learn from success rather than failure. As B.F. Skinner once said, “A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”