2.5 Application: applied behavioural analysis
Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is a method of teaching that involves breaking tasks into small, discrete ‘teachable’ steps. At each step appropriate behaviours are reinforced. ABA selects developmentally appropriate behaviours as teaching targets. These can range from maintaining eye contact to complex responses such as social interaction. The child is given enough support to ensure success, which is then positively reinforced by consequences that are reinforcing for that child. Gradually the amount of support and reinforcement is reduced.
Early intervention programmes for children with learning difficulties have the potential to produce positive changes in development and consequently reduce the need for later interventions. Therefore in many ABA programmes parents are trained to become the primary therapists and their children receive one-to-one tuition in their own homes. There is evidence that intervening in a child's development in this way can help children with autism to be more successful in mainstream schools (Keenan et al., 2000). However, such schemes have proved difficult to foster widely because of the association with behaviourist approaches and the negative connotations associated with such ideas (Keenan, 2004). It is important to make a distinction between behaviourism as it was originally conceived, and its contemporary manifestation in behavioural analysis, which does not ignore cognitive processes during learning.
Activity 2 Reading A
At this point you should read Reading A, ‘Applied behavioural analysis and autism’ by Keenan (2004). He is an advocate of ABA as a means of helping the development of children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Reading A (PDF, 4 pages, 0.2MB)