One of the greatest things about applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is that we can use ABA throughout development. We can apply ABA principles to any developmental stage to help people with developmental disabilities reach their fullest potential.
I started out in early intervention teaching two and three years olds. And then some of my students grew up and I started teaching eight-year-olds and 10-year-olds. Now I actually consult to a group home where we are still using ABA. We teach skills like advanced communication, life skills, washing hands, and doing laundry, and we’re also doing some vocational skills as well.
What is the Purpose of ABA Therapy?
One of my pet peeves is the term “ABA therapy.” Because everything is ABA. Behavioral principles and the environment interact during therapy but also in the rest of our client’s lives. ABA is the science of behavior. It’s really just how the environment, the individual, their motivation, and contingencies all interact. What it really can do for any age is change the trajectory of learning. We want to give kids as many skills as possible so that we can make them more successful, and more independent, and give them the skills that they may be missing or not learning on their own.
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How Does ABA Therapy Work?
Instead of classifying students by age, we classify them as beginner learners, intermediate learners, or advanced learners. An early learner, whether that is at the age of two or the age of 20, is someone who doesn’t have communication skills, they can’t request their needs. So we really, really focus on requesting and see how they can request.
As you get to an intermediate learner, we try to teach more advanced language skills. Things like increasing mean length of utterance, following more and more directions, asking for more things to get their needs met, as well as probably introducing some of those skills for independent living. And then as you get to a more advanced learner, we work a lot more on the little nuances like those social nuances. So it’s not good enough just to take turns with somebody, and to play a little bit, but actually to have a conversation with somebody.
These profiles really aren’t written in stone. You can have an intermediate learner who’s really working on self-care skills, because they may not be completely independent with that. And then they can continue on to more of a life skills program. ABA is super effective with talking about life skills, chaining and independence, and all that.
But then you can also have learners who don’t necessarily need a life skills program. They can be in a more academic program. And they might work on some things that are more like ACT, social skills, or ways to understand their environment to promote more independence and behavior management. Any one of those things can be taught using ABA. It’s just about looking at the environment, thinking about principles like motivation, shaping, and chaining, and figuring out what the student needs to be successful.
Using ABA Throughout Development
Whether that environment is a classroom, a group home, or an individual’s home, we’re going to look at what we can help them learn that’s going to make them the most successful in this environment. ABA really is just good teaching and spans across a whole bunch of different skills. So as children get older and become teenagers or young adults, our focus will shift again to how to make this child as independent as possible in a vocational setting. Breaking tasks down into smaller components, and then teaching those components. In summary, we talked about how you can use ABA throughout development to help a child or adult reach their fullest potential. Join our free membership and you’ll be able to access our beginner, intermediate, and advanced checklist assessments.