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What is "Applied Behavior Analysis"?

The following paragraphs are provided as a brief description of Applied Behavior Analysis, and its principles and practices. It is intended to provide a basic overview for parents and educators who want to know more about Anova's service models. 

The field of Behavior Analysis was developed from the scientific study of principles of learning and behavior. Applied Behavior Analysis uses established principles of learning, including operant and respondent learning, in order to address the behavioral needs of individuals which include building the skills and achievements of children in school settings, enhancing the development, abilities, and choices of children and adults with different kinds of disabilities, and augmenting the performance and satisfaction of employees in organizations and businesses.

At Anova, Applied Behavior Analysis might best be described as the design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional and environmental modifications to produce socially significant improvements in student behavior. Applied Behavior Analysis is based on empirical research, includes the direct observation and measurement of behavior, and utilizes positive reinforcement to promote skill acquisition and the reduction of problem behaviors to produce durable behavior change.

As the popularity of Applied Behavior Analysis has grown an increasing number of professionals from a wide range of professional backgrounds have been enlisted to meet the demand for behavioral services. Within this breadth of education and experiences, qualified Behavior Analysts distinguish themselves from other professions by utilizing the methodologies, and embracing the professional ethics, of Applied Behavior Analysis.

The assessment of problem behaviors and development of an effective intervention plan require the demonstration of a skillful combination of behavioral ethics, behavioral theory, and behavioral procedures.

Values and Ethics of Applied Behavior Analysis
Though in practice Behavior Analysis embraces ideas from other disciplines to maximize its usefulness to individuals, it is fundamentally unlike any other psychological and educational discipline. With more conventional insight-oriented psychological strategies the patient comes to an office seeking help and guidance, establishes a relationship of trust with the therapist, and expresses the underlying thoughts, wishes, and desires that form the underpinning of their conflict which become the framework for their guided experience of self-discovery and resolution.

This requires that the patient be an active participant in the process. Applied Behavior Analysis is increasingly the intervention of choice for use with the developmentally disabled and with emotionally disturbed individuals in educational and mental health settings, where the individual may be a passive participant in the therapeutic process. In other words, because Applied Behavior Analysis shapes the environment around the individual to effect the behavior of the individual, the person being helped may be only partially aware of the mechanisms being used to impact their behavior or performance.
Considering this, the practice of Applied Behavior Analysis must adhere to strict ethical standards that specify the Behavior Analyst’s responsibility to their client. A Behavior Analyst’s primary responsibility is to ensure the rights of their clients will be respected at all times. The Association for Behavior Analysts (ABA) in its ethical standards for the practice of behavior analysis, includes among these rights:

•    Behavior Analysts respect the privacy of clients and inform clients of the legal and ethical limitations to confidentiality in the course of professional services.
•    Behavior Analysts recommend or implement only behavior treatment plans for which they have the required skills.
•    Behavior Analysts support clients' legal rights and foster clients' optimal functioning.
•    Decisions involving clients are data-based throughout behavioral program designs, treatment, and intervention.
•    Behavior Analysts implement behavior programs based on detailed behavioral assessments conducted to determine factors responsible for the behavior.
•    Behavior Analysts evaluate each client's behavior and environment and in response develop the most effective treatment programs based on current research literature.
•    Behavior Analysts recommend the use of the least restrictive methods and recommend the most effective procedures.
•    Programs recommended or designed by Behavior Analysts must take into consideration the competence of the persons implementing them as well as the degree of appropriate supervision available.
•    Behavior Analysts recommend and support the preferential use of positive reinforcement and other non-aversive procedures.
•    Behavior Analysts uphold and advance the values, ethics, and knowledge of the profession.

Some Fundamentals of Applied Behavior Analysis
At the very moment that you read this sentence, the defining characteristics of Applied Behavior Analysis are busy shaping and influencing your thoughts and actions. You are sitting in your kitchen eating breakfast or at a stop light in your automobile obeying established rules of conduct and order learned by you through a lifetime of observation, trial, and error. A chain of a billion tiny fragments of experience leading up to this moment influence how you interpret what you are now reading. Your manner of dress, your attitudes and opinions, the foods you prefer, etc., all have been shaped over time in a continuous interplay between your response to your environment and your environment’s response to you.

Applied Behavior Analysis is not really a foreign or mysterious topic; it surrounds you every day and its principles can be found in your every interaction. It is based upon common and simple mechanisms that anyone can observe. In fact, its simplicity is why the behavioral approach has become so popular – Behavior Analysis defines its goals clearly, does not require a Ph.D. and years of clinical practice to implement its strategies effectively, and achieves measurable results.

The first step to understanding any individual behavior starts with a behavior assessment. A thoughtful and complete behavioral assessment cuts through the complexity of human behavior by utilizing the fundamentals of Applied Behavior Analysis. Behavior analysis is guided by a fundamental set of assumptions and values, including:

Behaviors Are Linked To The Environment In Which They Occur 

Behaviors do not occur in a vacuum. Behavior Analysts operate from the viewpoint that organisms interact with their environment in a predictable and orderly manner, and that any action by an individual occurs as a result of other, observable events.

Any Behavior With A Positive Outcome Will Occur Again 

Each of us is constantly experimenting with our environment. The 'new' behavior we try out isn’t really new; it is merely a minute variation of an existing behavior we are seeking to improve. In the case of problem behaviors they are present because they have been rewarded for the individual by positive outcomes.

Problem Behaviors Communicate Something 

All behavior has a communicative intent. Everyone’s behavior, even those with flawless verbal skills telegraph meaning through their behavior, and determining this meaning may contribute to the Functional Analysis by providing important information toward understanding the problem behavior.

Problem Behaviors Have a Kind of 'Logic' Behind Them

People do not engage in destructive or maladaptive behaviors solely because they have mental retardation or other developmental disabilities. They have LEARNED to use these behaviors because, for them, the behaviors work to meet their immediate wants and needs. There is logic to their behavior and, though we may not understand it at the outset, Functional Analyses help us to understand that logic.

Problem Behaviors are Functional
The purpose in evaluating problem behaviors is to understand the supporting network and function of the behavior to teach and develop positive alternative behaviors to replace it. This “Functional Analysis” provides the structure for investigating the relationship between the problem behavior and the environment in which it occurs.

Determining the function of the behavior is critical in developing strategies to prevent or react to the problem behavior. Without a clear understanding of the function of the behavior we may be inadvertently rewarding a behavior we want to eliminate.

Understanding the function of the behavior also allows us to select new skills to teach the individual, reward the use of those skills, and eliminate the problem behavior by replacing it with a constructive alternative.

Understanding the A-B-C Chain
The A-B-C Chain refers to the behavior being studied and the events that occur around it. A-B-C is short for: Antecedent – Behavior – Consequence.

Antecedents are environmental events or other stimuli which precede a behavior in time. They are important because they may be triggers for the behavior.

Behaviors can be any action by the student. In this case they are the behavior being studied.

Consequences are environmental events immediately following the behavior. They are important because they may contribute to its recurrence.

Behaviors do not occur in a vacuum. They are stimulated by events that precede them and by events that follow them. The Antecedent > Behavior > Consequence information leads the Behavior Analyst toward understanding the behavior’s function, or in other words, its value to the student.

When the Behavior Analyst has developed their hypothesis on the function of the behavior they begin to construct strategies that will weaken the value of the behavior and instead strengthen the value of other, more positive, replacements skills. The strategies they construct become the basis for the student’s Positive Behavior Intervention Plan.

For more information about Anova Behavior Analysis Services, please call (707) 527-7032.

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