Helping People Make Changes: Applied Behavior Analysis Examples in Action

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ABA therapist evaluates autistic child patient in a classroom.

According to the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks, Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, “is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior,” a treatment technique that can be used to adjust and improve a person’s behavior while taking into account their own individual needs and providing them with useful everyday skills. Because people with autism have been known to show difficulties in communication, emotional expression, or social interactions, they are one of the groups of individuals that are most frequently associated with ABA treatment.

One recent success story is that of an 8-year-old boy named Seamus, who had been non-verbal and had difficulties expressing emotion, according to WILX-TV, the NBC affiliate in Lansing, Michigan. Through ABA, Seamus has seen major improvements in both classroom and social settings. Applied behavior analysis examples not only bring benefits to the autism community, but are shown to have a positive effect on many diverse individuals and groups as well.

According to Psychology Today, applied behavior analysts work with clients and patients to identify behaviors that require change, evaluate and determine the necessary steps to make those changes, and help teach new skills that can curb negative behaviors. Here is how applied behavior analysis is helping individuals in the following communities:

Applied Behavior Analysis Examples Involving Autism

As mentioned earlier, applied behavior analysis has proven to have many benefits to individuals with autism. But just as autism is a disorder which exists on a wide spectrum, ABA can be effectively used in different ways to treat specific behavioral challenges brought by different levels of autism. The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) notes that ABA can be used to support these individuals in the following six ways, and potentially more.

Increasing Positive Behaviors

Examples may include reinforcing a person with autism to stay focused during a particular school or work task, or to demonstrate appropriate methods of interaction when meeting new people, like smiling and shaking hands.

Teaching New Skills

These types of skills could include learning appropriate ways of expressing approval or disdain to colleagues; or ways to build enriching social connections in new life environments, like after moving to a new city or neighborhood, or starting a job.

Maintaining Behaviors

In addition to increasing positive behaviors and teaching new skills, ABA therapists can help individuals maintain and consistently apply these methods in their day-to-day lives. Applied behavior analysis examples here can include showing individuals with autism the importance of and effective ways to employ self-control, or how to effectively demonstrate positive social behaviors throughout their school or work day.

Generalizing and Transferring Behaviors

ABA therapists recognize that it may be difficult for individuals with autism to translate their newly obtained skills through ABA to different environments. That’s why these therapists can teach patients to generalize and transfer behaviors. Examples can include helping an individual with autism continue good behavior practices as they transition from a smaller workspace to an office with more colleagues, or assisting students who have shown improvement in a closed-off educational environment to return to a larger classroom.

Restricting and Narrowing Conditions

This refers to areas or specific settings where negative or interfering behaviors may occur. For example, if a child with autism is exhibiting poor and disruptive verbal behavior in a large classroom but not in other environments, an ABA therapist might identify that classroom as a condition for the behavior and recommend the child spend less time there or be placed in another learning environment.

Reducing Interfering Behaviors

As in the example described above, an ABA therapist may also work to reduce or eliminate the negative behavior. For the student who is exhibiting poor and disruptive verbal remarks, an ABA therapist could work with them to address the root cause and reduce instances of that behavior in the future.

Applied Behavior Analysis Examples for Athletes

The benefits of applied behavior analysis are not just limited to individuals with autism. ABA therapists can also use these techniques to achieve the following goals when working with athletes. The following techniques can help athletes improve their performance on the field and have more fulfilling careers in sports.

Using Positive Reinforcement

Just as ABA can be used to recognize behaviors that need correcting, it can also be used in sports to address positive behavior reinforcement. A report published with the Association for Behavior Analysis International noted how behavioral intervention was effectively used to improve tackling skills for members of a high school football team. The positive reinforcement involved providing stickers for players to put on their helmets.

Applying and Absorbing Feedback

Similar to individuals or students with autism who are exhibiting negative behaviors, ABA therapists can help intervene and provide feedback to athletes about identifiable poor behaviors. In one applied behavior analysis example, a study by the Association for Behavior Analysis International noted how this was effectively used to improve the skills and performance for four female gymnasts.

Incorporating Mental Imagery

ABA therapists can help athletes achieve their goals by teaching them how to employ effective mental imaging techniques, which can help reinforce positive behaviors. This could include vicarious modeling, where athletes imagine themselves exercising or achieving a specific sports goal. This technique was reported in an article by the Journal of Sport and Health Science involving physical activity behavior in adolescent girls.

Identifying and Adjusting Conditions

For athletes, this can include recognizing present behaviors and outside conditions, and adjusting or adapting to them as necessary to achieve goals. For example, Behavioral Science in the 21st Century describes a UFC fighter who recognized outside conditions that might impair her performance. She identified conditions like a venue not playing proper fight music and the verbal taunts of her opponents. She was then subsequently able to adjust to these influences and reduce their effect on her.

Applied Behavior Analysis Examples for Workplaces and Organizations

One form of applied behavior analysis is called organizational behavior management (OBM), which applies ABA practices to workplaces and organizations to help improve individual and group performances and goals. Here are some examples of how OBM may be applied to workplaces.

Identifying Variables Affecting Target Performance

Similar to how an ABA therapist might identify external conditions that may affect an individual with autism, this step in OBM therapy examines which external variables might be impacting an employee or employees’ performance. According to an article from Psychological Services, the presence of managers or specific team members, working conditions, arrangement of work materials, or even incentives related to performance, such as reviews or monetary rewards, are all factors that can impact workers.

Using Feedback and Goal Setting

While workplaces and employees want to improve their performance, they often don’t have a particular goal in mind, nor are they aware of how to achieve that goal. According to a study in Psychological Services, goal setting in OBM consists of establishing a preset level of performance and then providing a predetermined reward if and when that level is achieved. This could range from a specific financial reward if a sales employee increases their output by a certain amount, or additional time off if an employee stays within task guidelines without making a mistake.

Reducing On-Site Injuries

ABA has proven to be an effective tool to help not only individuals with autism, but also professionals from various industries, professions, and backgrounds. In the coming years, the application and influence of ABA will continue to grow and its benefits will be felt by even more diverse communities.

Regis College is dedicated to preparing future applied behavior analysis therapists and related professionals by providing education that includes comprehensive research, analysis, communicative skills, and much more through MS and certificate ABA programs.

Sources

Association for Behavior Analysis International, “Behavioral Coaching” Autism Speaks, “What is Applied Behavior Analysis?” Behavioral Science in the 21st Century, “An ACT-guided analysis of elite athlete behavior.” Center for Autism and Related Disorders, “What is ABA?” Journal of Sport and Health Science, “Mental training can improve physical activity behavior in adolescents” Psychological Services, “Applying Behavior Analysis in Organizations: Organizational Behavior Management” Psychology Today, “Applied Behavior Analysis”

WILX, “New Jackson autism center hits close to home for council member”