What is ABA / VB?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (also known as ABA) is the field of psychology which studies and modifies human behaviour. A feature often attributed to ABA is defining environmental events that influence or change behaviour and that behaviour only occurs under conditions with antecedents or precursors, and consequences.

The underlying principles of ABA include both reinforcement and punishment. In theory, desirable behaviours are reinforced and undesirable behaviours are punished (‘punished’ being a very loose term as it is not common practice to use aversives).

When teaching a young child with autism using ABA, the teacher presents demands in a 1:1 setting (usually the child’s home or school) and reinforces (using praise or toys, etc) correct responding. Skills are broken down into small achievable steps for the child and it is ensured that errorless learning occurs (not allowing the learner to make errors).

In addition to the intensive work, teachers also use the Natural Environment to teach new skills. This is usually around the child’s motivation. For example, if the child was interested in an airplane the teacher may point to the airplane and say ‘airplane’. If a child reached for a crisp a teacher may encourage them to say or sign ‘crisp’ before receiving it. Natural environment teaching such as this makes up at least 40% of the programmes we put into place at The Behaviour Change Clinic.

Many parents often ask if we run ABA or VB (Verbal Behaviour) programmes. It is a popular misconception that ABA and VB are two separate things. In 1957 B.F. Skinner published his book “Verbal Behavior” which suggested that words have more than one function. He said that until a person can both expressively and receptively identify a word, describe that word, say or sign that word, and request using that word they don’t actually know the true meaning of it. The programmes we put in place at The Behaviour Change Clinic are based on the science of ABA and the theory of VB.