What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

To understand applied behavior analysis or ABA, we must first understand behavior analysis. Behavior analysis or the science of behavior is the study of principles of learning and behavior. Behavior analysis is built on the philosophy that the environment influences behavior; meaning the environment, or what’s happening around us, directly impacts what we do.

Behavior analysis is often divided into two primary areas, the experimental analysis of behavior and applied behavior analysis. The experimental analysis of behavior focuses on studying and evaluating the fundamental and basic principles of behavior. Basically, they study what changes behavior and how different things influence behavior. What we learn in this area of the science is then used to guide behavioral change procedures in the real world in applied behavior analysis.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) uses the principles from the science of behavior to systematically change behaviors that are meaningful to those in the individual’s life. The goal of ABA is to improve the quality of life for our clients and those around them. ABA targets behavior in real-world settings such as in the home, school, clinics, industry, and community and often targets socially important behaviors such as problematic behaviors and learning.

At Arise Autism Center, we provide services that are in line with the dimensions of ABA by using systematic observation, data collection. We conduct thorough behavioral assessments, analyze daily data to allow for continuous revisions of the treatment plan, and conduct ongoing caregiver and staff training to ensure our services generalize to all areas of the individual’s life.

Although ABA is one of the most common treatments for autism, it should be noted that ABA is more than a treatment for autism. ABA has been shown to be effective in a variety of settings targeting a large range of behaviors. Behavior analysts are qualified to work in areas such as improving organizational behavior and functioning, increasing workplace safety, improving athletic performance and addressing developmental and skill deficits, education, and behavior problems.

Early Intervention Can Change Lives

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.
baby boy lying on the floor and plays with the figurines indoor

What are the signs of autism?

The autism diagnosis age and intensity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, behaviors become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.

Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.

The following may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, ask your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation right away:

By 6 months
  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful and engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact
By 9 months
  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions
By 12 months
  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
  • Little or no response to name
By 16 months
  • Very few or no words
By 24 months
  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)
At any age
  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

If you have concerns, get your child screened and contact your healthcare provider.

Autism Facts

  • In 2023, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 36 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2020 data.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls
  • Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.
  • 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85).
  • Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • Minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.
  • Early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.
  • There is no medical detection for autism.

Although there is nothing about how people with autism look that sets them apart from their peers, individuals with autism often behave and learn in very different ways than those without ASD. Further, each individual with ASD is unique in his or her abilities and challenges. Thus, one “cookie cutter” type intervention is likely to be unsuccessful. Treatment must be individualized and tailored to fit each individual’s needs.

Currently there is no cure for ASD, and unfortunately, there isn’t a “quick fix” either. One cannot take a medication or cure to treat the disorder. However, research does show that early intensive behavioral intervention (birth to 3 years old) and treatment services can improve a child’s development. Incorporating ABA into early intervention services has been demonstrated to be extremely effective for decades. Perhaps one of the most well known studies that demonstrated the effectiveness for ABA was published by Lovaas and colleagues in 1987. This study showed that approximately 47% of the children diagnosed with autism that received approximately 40 hours per week of intensive ABA services for 2-3 years successfully transitioned into a typical school setting. This was contrasted with the 2% of the comparison group who achieved the same outcomes. Several studies since have demonstrated similar, but less dramatic outcomes.

As stated previously, ABA and ABA therapy for children with autism are based on the principles of the science of behavior. In ABA therapy, we use these principles to make meaning changes in behavior. To do this, behavior analysts create learning situations that allow for multiple opportunities for reinforcement of appropriate and important social and communicative behaviors, while minimizing inappropriate or problematic behaviors.

Additional Resources