Sometimes parents tell me they want to start doing ABA with their child. I always tell them the same thing, “You already are. Not just with your child, but with your significant other, your boss, your best friend, your barista, your mailman, and pretty much everyone else that crosses your path.”
The Treatment of Choice
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) has become a buzzword since ABA-therapy, ABA-based interventions, and other ABA-based services have been designated as the treatment of choice. Thanks to a mountain of evidence-based research, ABA is the treatment of choice for children with autism.
In many places, ABA-based therapy is covered by public-funding or other health insurances for children with autism. In certain parts of Canada it has been deemed a medically necessary intervention for children with autism. ABA is the holy grail of designations rarely doled out to non-pharmacological, psychotherapeutic-type interventions.
What IS ABA?
In spite of this, misconceptions about what ABA is and what it isn’t abound. The biggest misconception I have found is that ABA is something that happens when your child is seated at a table with a trained behaviour specialist. Many do not realize it’s something that’s happening at other times like at the grocery store, at the park, at the coffee shop, or on the playground.
Here’s the definition my students get in ABA 101: ABA is the science that seeks to understand, analyze, and modify human behaviour.
Alright, so you’re not running data analysis on your barista’s behaviour.
How about the “modifying” part? Is your behaviour modifying hers? And vice-versa?
The answer is almost certainly – yes.
Suppose you snap at the barista in your favourite coffee shop for taking forever to get your order in. I am sure that’s completely out of character for you, but, just go with me for a second.
Your sharp words may have the desired effect on her. She puts in your order a bit faster. If she remembers your face, maybe she’ll move a bit quicker on your order next time too.
Continue to humour me a moment longer here. Your little temper tantrum may have unintended consequences too.
Suppose she spits in your drink this time AND the next time if she remembers the cut of your jib.
You didn’t do any scientific analysis but you DID succeed in modifying someone’s behaviour. It may have been in the way you hoped, such as getting your drink faster. Or it may have been in a way that’s not so desirable such as getting a drink with a loogie in it. Heck, you could have modified the behavior to such a degree that you got both, a drink with a loogie in it, but nice and quickly. Congratulations! You’re a behaviour interventionist.
Because we don’t live in a vacuum, our behaviour affects others, and vice-versa. Afterall, you wouldn’t have snapped at your barista in the first place if she hadn’t been texting on her phone and ignoring your attempts to place your order.
It’s true in the coffee shop, it’s true in the classroom, and it’s true in virtually every interaction you have with your child. The key is that ABA gives us a methodology for being mindful and systematic in our approach and in our impact.
Measure the Impact of Our Behaviour
The beauty of ABA is it’s not just a therapy, but a way to measure the impact of our behaviour on others. This is true whether we’re trying to impact someone’s behaviour by teaching them a new skill, by encouraging them to communicate, or by helping them to stop biting the kids in their class.
It’s also true that all of our behaviours, whether it’s a carefully planned instructional period, an impromptu lesson borne upon a spontaneous teachable moment, or an insult hurled in a moment of anger, each have an effect on others.
Interested in ABA? Good, because you’re already wielding it’s incredible power. Now it’s time to harness it.
Explore my other articles that discuss ABA in a little more depth.