Understanding the facts
There are a number of misconceptions about Applied Behaviour Analysis. At BeyondAutism we are committed to ABA and proud of our good practice. We want to highlight some of the facts about ABA that will help you understand it better and dispel any myths you may have heard.
We embrace individuality
We respect people with autism and embrace their unique qualities. Many of our learners engage in self-stimulatory behaviours that we would never try to remove unless they were causing harm to the individual or those around them. We focus on teaching skills to enable them to become active citizens rather than suppressing these behaviours. We work with our learners to ensure they are ready to learn, whilst finding a way to allow them to engage in their repetitive behaviours.
Punishment doesn’t mean physical or emotional harm
We do not use any procedures that cause harm to a person. Any sanctions-based intervention is a last resort. All our work is function based – we look to see what is causing a behaviour to happen. We then look at solutions to change the behaviour to remove these barriers to learning. That will never be something that causes physical or emotional harm. If you hear the term punishment procedures, this simply refers to adding or removing something from an environment that will decrease the likelihood of that behaviour happening again. For example, if you get a library fine you are less likely to hand a book in late again. That is punishment in real life.
We treat everyone as an individual
We would never teach an learner to repeat socially acceptable behaviours on command to have them ‘fit in’. Our priority is what is best for the individual and what skills they need for their safety and independence.
We teach skills that can be used outside of school
We do sometimes work at the table with students as it is an easy and predictable setting for some learners. However, we mainly work in the natural environment as this is the best place to teach certain skills. We teach a lot through play and encourage peer interactions at every opportunity. Our ethos is just enough support and we continuously promote independence.
ABA is evidence based
There is a lot of evidence to support the use of ABA for individuals with autism. Much of this is published in global scientific journals. A lot of this evidence is based on observational studies, demonstrating progress in those involved. There are not many randomised controlled experiments in the field – there are rightly ethical questions around studies that provide children in one group access to something that could help them which is denied to the control group.
We know that there is a lot of evidence about the value of early intervention, especially for children with autism. So we ensure that the principles of ABA are applied across all of our services, including Early Years, and implemented by our full mutli-disciplinary team.
We would like to see more research carried out in the UK to demonstrate the positive impact that ABA can have when used in the right way – as a set of underlying principles that work alongside therapies to meet the needs of the individual – and are seeking opportunities to work with professional bodies to push this forward.
We look at what an individual is trying to communicate through their behaviour
In ABA, all our work is function based. We look to see what is causing a certain behaviour, and then look at solutions that provide alternatives; and teach skills for self-management. This might be by removing something that is causing a barrier to learning, or by motivating a new behaviour through the use of something the individual finds enjoyable. This is what all of us do every day. For example, encouraging a child to try vegetables by either promising an exciting dessert, or saying that they won’t get that dessert unless they eat their main meal. This is part of how we all learn.
A myth has emerged that ABA is akin to training animals. We believe this misunderstanding comes from over-generalising behaviourism. The parameters and the purposes for teaching humans are not the same as training animals.
UK SBA have written a piece addressing some of the common myths and misrepresentations of Behaviour Analysis in their document Behaviour Analysis, Autism and Learning Disability – Fact and Fiction