What is ABA?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a structured teaching approach built on the principles of behaviour science, which defines how we all learn and acquire new skills. An understanding of how we teach and learn new skills is relevant to all children and young people, however it is particularly pertinent for pupils with autism because typically young people with autism do not learn and acquire new skills in the same way as their peers.

ABA has developed over the past 30 years as a highly successful approach for teaching children with autism. Whilst many interventions exist for teaching pupils with autism, there has been more research and better proven outcomes for the effectiveness of ABA, with emphasis on early and intensive intervention, than for any other teaching approach or intervention.

Many individuals with autism are described as ‘being in their own world’ and their ability to engage or interact with others is significantly impaired. The ABA approach begins with providing a fundamentally positive approach to teaching, using individually designed reinforcement strategies to engage pupils in learning and enable them to experience success and enjoyment of learning, maybe for this first time in their lives.

Each pupil has an individually designed learning programme, based on a comprehensive baseline assessment. From this point, curriculum delivery is of a ‘small steps’ approach, whereby skills are broken down into small achievable steps, which are taught in a systematic and consistent way. Appropriate responses and behaviours are reinforced with a positive consequence to make them more likely to occur in the future. Learning is designed to be enjoyable and successful, so that pupils remain motivated and engaged.

Pupils often have a high proportion of teaching in one to one sessions, with frequency of repetition to ensure effective development of skills. There is always an emphasis on generalising skills to varied environments and settings as soon as possible to ensure that skills are functional and useful. Pupils are also taught skills to learn within a group, again building up these skills in a systematic and consistent way.