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Utilizing ABA to Address Challenging Behaviors

ABA-based interventions are supportive in addressing all types of behavior; however, they are commonly associated with the reduction of challenging or maladaptive behaviors. Challenging behaviors are anything that presents a barrier to an individual’s autonomy in their environment. ABA-based interventions focus on behaviors themselves, rather than labeling those behaviors as “good” or “bad.” Applied Behavior Analysis isolates behavior into three distinct parts: 1) what happens before the behavior, 2) the behavior itself, and 3) the resulting consequences of the behavior. 

There are four main steps that ABA identifies to make an impact in addressing challenging behaviors:

1. Decrease challenging behaviors

The first thing an ABA team will address are behavioral concerns that impact the individual’s daily life and development. The team will collect data from interviews and observations and use that information to create an individualized Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for the individual. The BIP will include evidence-based behavioral strategies. The ABA team and family will all follow the same BIP to help decrease challenging behaviors and enhance the quality of life of both the child and family.  

2. Identify a reinforcement system that motivates the individual

Motivation is a major component for an individual learning how to change their behavior. Applying reinforcement is an excellent way to increase motivation. The ABA team will work to create a reinforcement system by identifying the types of reinforcement that are meaningful to the individual and determine how often this reinforcement needs to be applied to create a lasting behavior change. Reinforcement systems can range from preferred activities to verbal or social praise, or access to sensory activities. Each individual has different items and activities that they find more reinforcing than others. The team will work to identify what the individual likes or finds reinforcing for different tasks and how often it should be provided. For example, the ABA team may determine that the individual needs reinforcement in the form of verbal praise every two minutes, on average, to maintain on-task behavior. They will also work to expose the individual to new activities and items that can become reinforcing in the future. 

3. Teach replacement behaviors and functional communication 

As a part of the Behavior Intervention Plan that is designed by the ABA team, replacement behaviors will be identified. Replacement behaviors are things the individual can do instead of challenging behaviors to get their needs met. Replacement behaviors include teaching functional communication skills so the individual can ask for help, access, or to withdraw from situations without engaging in the challenging behaviors. Functional communication can include gestures or adaptive sign language, verbal approximations, and visuals. For example, an individual who chews non-edible household items can be taught to request a chewy toy by using picture exchange if they are non-verbal. Similarly, an individual who kicks out of frustration during an academic activity can be taught to use adaptive sign language to ask for help as a replacement behavior. 

4. Use specialized teaching strategies to help address the individual’s specific learning needs

The ABA team has an array of behavioral strategies to help each neurodiverse individual learn and flourish. Learning styles and levels of understanding vary across individuals. The ABA team will work to identify teaching methods that are best suited for each individual’s specific needs. The team may identify prerequisite skills that are necessary to teach due to gaps in development. For example, visual supports or pictures may be recommended to help the individual understand what’s expected of them. ABA teams often recommend teaching complex skills in smaller, more easily understood chunks using a system called task analysis. Additionally, front loading or verbal priming could be suggested to help an individual understand what is going to happen during a transition in their environment. 

ABA-based interventions look at the challenging behavior and provide the individual with alternatives to obtain the desired outcome. ABA-based interventions are not designed to eliminate behavior, they are designed to promote behaviors that allow the individual to receive what they want or need, in other words, functional behaviors. The ABA team creates an environment where the individual can develop their skills while minimizing risk to themselves or others. This also supports parents/caregivers so that they can address these behaviors when the ABA team is not present and can continue even after ABA services fade. ABA allows the individual to receive support in their skills development as needed using the principles of behavior in their natural environment, maximizing the impact of the support. 

 


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