For children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the Listen And Learn Centre works extensively with behavioural management interventions using a set of principles and techniques based on Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). ABA is a behavioural approach to teaching children new behaviours and skills using specialised, structured techniques. Interventions using an ABA approach are particularly common and are well supported by research evidence spanning over 50 years. Listen And Learn applies ABA principles to assist in the teaching of daily living skills, speech and language, social behaviour and non-verbal behaviour.
What is Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)? (click to open)
Applied Behavioural Analysis, commonly referred to as “ABA” is a systematic method of addressing and altering behaviour. Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is not a therapy in itself, but a theory and method using a set of principles. The theory identifies various teaching techniques which generally involve breaking down complex skills or behaviours into smaller steps and teaching them through the use of clear instructions, rewards, repetition and reinforcement in order to increase the desired behaviour. The first step in any ABA program is to observe the child and develop a plan to teach, modify or change particular behaviours. The behaviours requiring modification are observed to determine the antecedents and consequences of the behaviour (i.e., what serves to reinforce or keep the behaviour going). This is known as the Antecedents Behaviours Consequences (ABC) model. Goals are then formulated to determine which particular behaviours will be addressed in an intervention and in what order. The new behaviours will be broken down into smaller steps to teach the specific skills necessary to develop them.
Key components of ABA are:
- Studying behaviour via observation with regard to intensity, frequency and the environment in which it is produced.
- Breaking down the steps involved in producing a desired behaviour.
- Teaching these steps one at a time by approximation and acquisition over time.
- allowing repeated practice often using reward or reinforcement.
- Observing changes in behaviour over time and systematically refining the behaviour to reach the desired goal.
What is it used ABA Therapy used for? (click to open)
The ABA approach and its techniques can help children with mild to severe ASDs to address the difficulties faced by people with ASDs from the basics of dressing and toileting to academic learning and complex social interactions. This technique is used in the home, at school and in the community to assist the child to become more independent and manage a variety of situations more effectively.
Examples of ABA applications to a child with an ASD:
- To teach new skills: Breaking skills into manageable steps to be taught systematically using reinforcement, e.g., toileting, dressing, taking turns in game playing or communication. For example it can help children learn to replace difficult behaviour with more appropriate behaviour, such as using words to ask for an object rather than crying.
- To increase desired behaviours: Positive reinforcement to increase behaviour, e.g. rewarding a child to increase staying on-task or to increase their attempts to initiate play in a social interaction.
- To reduce inappropriate behaviours: Modification of the child’s environment or redirecting the child to a more appropriate activity e.g., ignoring a tantrum and redirecting the child to a functional activity.
- Generalisation of new skills: Teaching skills in various environments to ensure the new behaviour is transferred from one situation or response to several e.g., generalising compliant behaviours from the home environment to various public/ community settings.
How does the Listen And Learn Centre use ABA? (click to open)
The Listen And Learn Centre delivers behavioural interventions for children with an ASD to address issues ranging from speech and language difficulties, behaviour management and educational skills to social interactions and communication. Examples of particular skills taught might include toileting and dressing, making eye contact, gestures and imitation, following instructions, using words and language, taking turns during game play and interacting with others in social situations.
The involvement of the family is critical to this process. Ordinary activities, such as outings, going shopping, having dinner or getting dressed, provide opportunities for the family to teach skills to the child using ABA principles. The Listen And Learn Centre’s family-based interventions, including family meetings and parent workshops, teach strategies and skills for parents and carers to assist their child. They ensure that the whole family understands the Applied Behavioural Analysis principles and is assisted in using the techniques to reinforce new behaviours. The centre meets one-on-one with parents to teach particular applications of the ABA model. This involves understanding how to break down behaviours into smaller skills and reinforce the use of those micro-skills. It may also involve learning how to de-escalate disruptive behaviour; for example, by ignoring the undesirable behaviour but continuing to relate to the child.
An example of building a foundation for spoken language could be to teach parents to provide positive reinforcement (praise) whenever a child makes a speech-like sound. The parent could also reinforce this by repeating back to the child the sound that he/she has made. In later stages of development, a reward system may be developed for when a child correctly repeats a word that has been spoken.
Another example, to assist children in distinguishing differing emotional states, might use a variety of picture cards displaying basic emotions and the parent or therapist would ask the child to pick out a card that reflects a particular emotion. As the child develops, the exercise is graded to suit the increasing skill level. Later stages of development in this area for instance might use imitation and role plays to assist the child to correctly identify their own and others’ emotions.
An intervention by Listen And Learn Centre may also include attending the child’s crèche, kindergarten or school to work with integration aides and school teachers to assist them in using ABA principles to reinforce particular behaviours or skills at the school or kindergarten.
What happens at the Listen And Learn Centre? (click to open)
The first step for the child is to undergo a comprehensive assessment with staff at the centre. This may include observations of the child’s behaviour at home and at school. The assessments and observations form the basis of a report which records the child’s strengths and weaknesses in particular areas. The next step is to consult with the parents or carers and to discuss together the behaviours which need to be addressed and the skill sets which need to be developed. A plan of intervention for the child is then developed. The plan may incorporate strategies for home and crèche, kindergarten or childcare settings as well as particular programs such as speech therapy which may assist the child. This plan is reviewed with the family at regular intervals to monitor progress towards developmental goals.
The ultimate aim of these sorts of interventions is to assist children to participate more fully in everyday life. By teaching microskills, increasing a child’s language and communication skills, addressing behavioural issues and enhancing social skills, the child’s overall wellbeing is improved.
Two of the best guidelines for the use of positive reinforcement for children with ASDs are:
“Catch your child doing well; praise the best, ignore the rest.” – From “A Work in Progress” by Ron Leaf and John McEachin
ABA Therapy in Melbourne (click to open)
Find out more by calling the Listen And Learn Centre.