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Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
Behavior analysis is the science of behavior originating from B.F. Skinner in the 1930’s. The principles and methods of behavior analysis have been applied effectively in many areas and have been successful in developing a wide range of skills in learners with and without disabilities.
Since the early 1960’s, hundreds of behavior analysts have applied the methods of shaping, chaining, modeling, and differential reinforcement of behavior, which are all derived from Skinners principles of reinforcement.
These techniques successfully build communication, play, social, academic, self-care, work, and community living skills as well as reduce maladaptive behaviors in learners of all ages. ABA therapy can be provided in structured sessions, naturally occurring activities, or contrived situations. All skills are broken down into small steps or components, and learners are provided many repeated opportunities to learn and practice skills. The goals of intervention as well as the methods of presentation are customized to the strengths and needs of the individual learner. Performance is measured continuously by direct observation, and intervention is modified accordingly.
Regardless of the age of the learner, the goal of ABA intervention is to enable him or her to function as independently and successfully as possible in a variety of environments.
Verbal Behavior is the principles of ABA as they apply to the development of communication. With the VB approach, all skills are examined comprehensively to see if they are emerging evenly across all behavioral operants. Language is seen as all other behavior and is thus taught according to its function, or what it accomplishes for the speaker/listener.
The primary verbal operants are what Skinner termed mands, tacts, echoics, and intraverbals. The function of a mand is to request or obtain what is wanted. For example, a child learns to say the word “cookie” when he is interested in obtaining a cookie. When a child sees something and labels it he is tacting. Echoics or the imitation of a modeled word is useful in teaching and expanding other repertoires. The intraverbal operant describes verbal behavior that is under the control of other verbal behavior. An intraverbal is a response to the language of another person. When a child is told “I’m baking…” and the child finishes the sentence with “cookies,” that’s an intraverbal. An intraverbal repertoire allows for discussion of stimuli that is not present.
Most individuals with autism have difficulty effectively using language. Children with ASD often exhibit difficulties in pragmatic language, with an inability to determine what to say, as well as how and when to say it. High-pitched tones and robotic sounding speech are sometimes a result of impaired communication as well.
Two prerequisite skills for language development are joint attention and social initiation. Joint attention involves an eye gaze and referential gestures such as pointing, showing and giving.
Children with autism make fewer utterances and fail to use language as a means of social initiation. Though no one treatment is found to successfully improve communication, the best treatment addresses these concerns, begins early during the preschool years, is individually tailored, and involves parents along with professionals. For some, verbal communication is realistic, for others gestured communication or communication through a symbol system such as picture boards can be attempted. Periodic evaluations must be made to find the best approaches and to reestablish goals for the individual child.
Occupational Therapy can benefit a person with autism by attempting to improve the quality of life for the individual. The aim is to maintain, improve, or introduce skills that allow the individual to participate as independently as possible in meaningful life activities. Coping skills, fine motor skills, play skills, self-help skills, and socialization are all targeted areas to be addressed.
Through occupational therapy techniques, a person with autism can be aided both at home and within the school setting.
Activities taught includes dressing, feeding, toilet training, grooming, and social skills. Fine motor and visual skills that assist in writing and scissor use, gross motor coordination to help the individual ride a bike or walk properly, and visual perceptual skills needed for reading and writing are also addressed.
Occupational therapy is part of a collaborative team of medical and educational professionals, as well as parents and other family members. Through such collaboration, a person with autism can move towards the appropriate social, play and learning skills needed to function successfully in everyday life.
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