Facts & Misconceptions
Like many sciences, Applied Behavior Analysis has a past; the field is forever evolving. A Better Approach, LLC is committed to being apart of the #dobetter movement for high quality compassionate care. As part of our commitment to doing better we will be updating this page to encompass facts and misconceptions about ABA.
Myth #1: ABA is a specialized therapy just for people with autism and is not useful for people with other diagnoses.
Fact: ABA therapies have been shown to improve behavior for students with ASD; however, they have also been used to help decrease problem behavior for students with a variety of backgrounds (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008).
This includes classroom management (e.g. group contingencies) and direct intervention strategies for typically-developing students (Simonsen et al., 2008), students with intellectual disabilities (Horner et al., 2005), and students with emotional and/or behavioral disabilities (Wehby et al., 2003).
Many believe this particular inaccurate view of ABA was perpetuated by the findings of Ivar Lovaas, a pioneer who worked to help improve the lives of children with autism (Lovaas, 1987).
Simonsen, B., Fairmbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351-380.
Horner, R. H., Carr, E. G., Halle, J., McGee, G., Odom, S., & Wolery, M. (2005). The use of single-subject research to identify evidence-based practice in special education. Exceptional Children, 71(2), 165-179. doi:10.1177/001440290507100203
Wehby, J. H., Lane, K. L., & Falk, K. B. (2003). Academic instruction for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 11(4), 194-197.
Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(1), 3-9. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.55.1.3
ABA just uses food and toys to bribe kids into doing things, allowing kids to get hooked on edible rewards.
Fact: Practice within the field of ABA is driven by the concept of reinforcement. Reinforcement is when a stimulus is paired with a desired behavior. Therapist use reinforcement to alter a person’s behavior through contingency planning. Expectations are clearly outlined (verbal, written, and/or picture).
For example, a student who is working on remembering to raise their hand before speaking in class might receive verbal praise for doing so during a class discussion. The teacher has already established that the student likes and is motivated by verbal praise, therefore the pairing of the praise with the desired behavior will work to make the behavior more likely to occur in the future.
Sometimes students need more concrete or physical reinforcement than verbal praise. In these instances, tangible reinforcement might be used. Students might also access reinforcement by engaging in a preferred activity for a specific length of time.
Regardless of the type of reinforcement, a plan to fade reinforcement is put into place to help students maintain pro-social behaviors without requiring large amounts of contrived reinforcement. Generalization of skills and coming into contact with natural reinforcement (i.e. in the environment, intrinsic) is the goal.