“ABA” stands for “applied behavior analysis”, a discipline that applies of the science of behavior to solve important human problems. ABA is not any single technique, curriculum, or treatment, but is instead a distinct field of practice that has defined characteristics. Some of those characteristics include the use of direct observation and measurement of behavior and environmental variables, clear descriptions of procedures, the analysis of data to determine the effects of an intervention, and a focus on creating meaningful outcomes that generalize to new settings and situations.
While ABA is best known as a treatment for young children with autism, it can be used across the age span and across a range of abilities. Applied Behavior Analysis can be used to address a range of issues that are important in people’s lives. For example, organizational behavioral management is used to improve workplace safety, productivity, and satisfaction. Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is used to treat challenging behavior for those with and without developmental disabilities. There are many applications of ABA that can lead to meaningful improvements in our lives.
Research shows that intensive intervention at an early age can lead to significantly better outcomes for children with autism, and as a result early intensive ABA has become the standard of care in most states. However, the benefits of ABA are not limited to young children. ABA can be used to address behavioral concerns and teach important skills to individuals across the lifespan, as well as to individuals with a range of diagnoses.
Many criticize ABA for teaching in a rote manner that leads to “robotic” use of skills. However, effective ABA uses a variety of teaching strategies to build skills that are fluid and generalize to a variety of situations. Additionally, research in ABA has addressed important repertoires, such as joint referencing and perspective taking, which enable an individual to respond flexibly in complex social situations.
Many people equate ABA with one-on-one, discrete trial teaching in a highly structured setting. While ABA may involve one-on-one, structured intervention, many other procedures fall under the umbrella of “ABA”. For example, peer mediated intervention, supported inclusion, and natural environment teaching are all examples of ABA procedures. The particular procedure, teaching format, and setting depend on individualized treatment needs, and in most cases treatment involves intervention in a variety of formats.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board® has established the BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification, an internationally accepted credential with rigorous coursework, experience, and exam requirements. Oregon’s SB 365 also established the Oregon Behavior Analyst Regulatory Board, which began licensing behavior analysts in Oregon in 2015 using BCBA credentials as a requirement for licensure. BCBAs in your area may be found using the certificant registry on the BACB website (see resource page). When selecting a behavior analyst, it is important to find out about the professional’s training and experience with the population of interest, as well as how the professional stays informed about current research and developments in the field.
Insurance coverage for ABA for autism varies depending on the state in which a plan is located and the type of plan. In 2013, Oregon became the 34th state to require commercial insurance plans to cover ABA as a treatment for autism, and litigation and Insurance Division advocacy since that time has hastened access to ABA benefits for Oregon’s consumers. The Oregon Health Plan also covers ABA following a review by the Health Evidence Review Commission in 2014. Coverage and access to ABA may vary based on circumstances such as type of health plan, age, and the availability of providers. For more information about insurance coverage for ABA, contact us directly, or visit some of the links on our resources page.