Many, many times, I've been asked "What exactly is ABA and what does it stand for?" I come from a hard-working, blue-collar family, so I was the first to really explore a different type of career path than the rest of my family. When I first started in the field, my family thought that I was paid to simply play with children. As we all learned more regarding the field of ABA, my family quickly learned that this wasn't the case. I typically explain it like this to those are newer to ABA.
First, ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. Sounds technical, yet let's look at each element separately.
Applied essentially means that our focus is on socially significant, real-world settings (Target, the park, the doctor's office, etc.). A lot of what we do is based on scientific principles, yet our work is not conducted in a lab per se. ABA is an applied science, one that we really love at Patterns!
Next, ABA is "Behavioral." Our focus is on behavior. We avoid mentalistic explanations for behavior, like "Rob is just doing that because he's mad." Notice "Mad" is not a behavior, nor does it help us in determining the purpose (or function) of behavior. Instead of using words like "Mad," the BCBA might describe what it looks like specifically (i.e. "Rob was falling to the floor and screaming").
Lastly, ABA is "Analytical." We collect and review data, and use it to inform decisions of how to proceed with programming. It's really that simple. This doesn't mean that ABA is a rigid approach. ABA should be enjoyable. When I consult with teams and supervise supervisors, one thing I look for is whether the client is enjoying treatment. If they aren't, I'm concerned. ABA should be both therapeutic and exciting!
What ABA isn't: magical. Families have often said, "It's like magic. When Miss Katie tries to work on eating, they'll just eat, but when I try, it doesn't work. It's like magic." It's not magic. Period. It takes a lot of effort and work to reach goals and outcomes and none of it involves waving the magic wand.
ABA isn't easy. It's tough for families and staff alike. We try to prepare families by making it clear that ABA programs require commitment and diligence. An ABA program is not a "quick fix" by any means.
ABA programs are also not perfect. As much as I'd like to announce that Patterns has its program on lock and without flaw, that's not the case. Expect the process to take time. There's a lot of refining that goes into a program. Our most successful cases are those that we've been involved in for multiple years. Be persistent yet patient, and give the program time to be effective. Also, communicate with your team and determine their rationale for particular strategies or approaches. You may not know it, but more than likely, there's a very specific purpose for how the program is developed.
One last note, ABA programs are doable and empowering. Patterns families get encouragement and support every step of the process. We maintain a philosophy of relentless optimism. We feel very honored to help facilitate behavior change in the lives of our clients and families. We know, from experience, that much can be gained through the provision of high-quality ABA services, and it's exciting and humbling to be a part of this process. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list or description of ABA. It's simply a couple brief notes on what ABA is, and what it isn't. Thanks for reading!