Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been well documented over the past five decades as an effective method of teaching social and verbal behaviors that students with autism may not pick up on their own. ABA studies how behavior and learning works, and uses positive reinforcement to encourage positive behavior and discourage harmful behaviors.
These behaviors include communication skills, social skills, reading, writing, math, comprehension and adaptive living skills. ABA uses specific research-based instructional methodologies such as:
- Discrete Trial Instruction – Teaches students new skills, often in a one-on-one setting with multiple trials. Discrete trial is made up of three steps 1) prompt 2) response 3) reinforcement. For example, the teacher provides a prompt “say bear”. The student responds, “bear”. The teacher then gives the student a toy bear.
- Natural Environment Training – Takes advantage of teaching opportunities when the student is actively engaged in activities and follows the student’s interest in order to increase motivation, help generalize skills in the natural environment and use naturally occurring reinforcement.
- Incidental teaching – Similar to natural environment training, incidental teaching takes advantage of naturally occurring opportunities to teach and uses the three steps of discrete trial (prompt, response, reinforcement) to generalize skills. Incidental teaching follows the student’s lead, but the setting may be pre-arranged by the teacher. For example, if a student is learning how to request items, a teacher may set-up an activity that requires certain materials, but does not put all the materials on the table. When the student realizes he or she needs additional materials, an opportunity to practice requesting items is built into a naturally occurring situation.
- Direct Instruction – Students are taught in groups with other students that are close to the same academic level. Students respond as a group and individually to material that is presented at a fast pace. The teacher provides corrections and positive reinforcement for responses.
- Prompting and Fading – A prompt is an added “hint” from a teacher to assist a student in providing the desired response. Prompt hierarchies exist in ABA to help teachers provide the most appropriate amount of support. For example, a teacher may have to provide hand-over-hand assistance when a student is learning to write his or her name for the first time. Once the student learns the skill, the teacher may only need to tell a student “write your name.” Eventually, the student will see the word “name” on the top of the paper and write his or her name without a prompt from the teacher. A teacher must rely on data collection and monitoring to know when to fade prompts.
- Shaping – Reinforces approximations of a skill to help a student develop the entire skill. For example, if a student is learning to say “open”, but is only able to say “O,” a teacher would provide reinforcement for the attempt to say the word. The teacher also will model how to say the word “open” to the student. The teacher will continue this process every time the student attempts to say “open” to help him or her learn to say the entire word.
- Reinforcement –Immediately follows a behavior and increases the chance that the behavior will occur again. For example, a student who loves to play on the playground is more likely to complete math problems if he knows he can go to the playground as soon as his math work is done.
- Task Analysis/Chaining – Breaks down skills into individual steps. The teacher prompts and reinforces each step and chains them together to teach the student the entire skill.