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News from the Hoffmann Foundation Autism charity London - Hoffmann Foundation

Behavioural Department

Written on 18th August 2015 by Hoffmann Staff

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis?

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) isthe process of systematically applying interventions to improve socially significant behaviours to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behaviour. It is derived from John B Watson and B.F. Skinner’s work on behaviourism. The main goal of ABA is to improve the quality of life of individuals with a diagnosis of autism and/or intellectual disabilities and bring about meaningful and positive change in their behaviour. This is done by functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behaviour and the environment as well as identifying antecedents and consequences.

Behaviour analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders in the 1960s. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism – from toddlers through adulthood.

These techniques can be used to decrease challenging or inappropriate behaviour whilst replacing them with more appropriate and socially valid behaviour. Another important aspect of ABA is to teach individuals with autism and/or intellectual disabilities daily living skills to enable them to increase their independence. 


How Does ABA Benefit Those with Autism? 

Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. Studies have shown that some individuals with autism who participated in intensive ABA programs showed significant improvements in IQ, language skills, and academic performance. More importantly, every individual can benefit from ABA interventions by learning new skills and reducing problem behaviours.


What Does Research Tell Us About ABA and Autism?

A number of completed studies have demonstrated that ABA techniques can produce improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment. These studies involved age groups ranging from pre-schoolers to adults. Results for all age groups showed that ABA increased participation in family and community activities.

Across studies, a small percentage of children show relatively little improvement. More research is needed to determine why some children with autism respond more favorably to early intensive ABA than others do. Currently, it remains difficult to predict the extent to which a particular child will benefit.

In some studies, researchers compared intensive ABA with less intensive ABA and/or other early intervention or special education programs for children with autism. Generally, they found that children who receive intensive ABA treatment make larger improvements in more skill areas than do children who participate in other interventions. In addition, the parents of the children who receive intensive ABA report greater reductions in daily stress than do parents whose children receive other treatments.

ABA and Adults with Autism

A number of recent studies confirm that ABA techniques are effective for building important life skills in teens and adults with autism. Many comprehensive autism support programs for adults employ and combine ABA techniques to help individuals transition successfully into independent living and employment.

Who Is Qualified to Provide ABA Intervention?

Just as a medical treatment program should be directed by a qualified medical professional, ABA programs for individuals with autism should be designed and supervised by qualified professionals, which include either licensed clinical psychologists with training in applied behaviour analysis or behaviour analysts, who are board certified with supervised experience providing ABA treatment for autism or who can clearly document that they have equivalent training and experience.


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