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Behaviour analysis

Behaviour analysis (or ABA) is not a therapy or a treatment approach.  It is the science of understanding behaviour.  However, therapies based on this science have garnered a wealth of evidence to show they are effective in helping people learn new skills, as well as reducing or eliminating engagement in behaviours that might be harmful to them or others.  Research in behaviour analysis is ongoing – here in the UK and around the world.  Every day we are learning new things about behaviour, as well as how we can use this information to help people reach their goals and improve the quality of their lives.

What services do Behaviour Analysts provide?

Behaviour Analysts work in a range of sectors, with a range of populations and behavioural issues.  There are Behaviour Analysts working in mainstream and special education, in the NHS and adult care services, in governmental departments looking at group changes such as increasing recycling, increasing road safety and so on, and in industry helping with employee motivation – just to name a few!  Most Behaviour Analysts specialise in particular settings or populations (for example, early intervention for children with autism, working with businesses to improve productivity and safety, helping teachers manage classrooms more effectively).

Services that use Behaviour Analysis can work in a variety of ways; from intensive 1:1 teaching for children with Autism, to whole-group strategies in mainstream schools and the workplace, to short term support for teaching specific skills, to training staff in care settings to identify triggers in the environment that can be creating stress and resulting challenging behaviours.

What makes Behaviour Analysis different to other approaches?

Because Behaviour Analysis is a science, all teaching and therapeutic approaches that are derived from the science are data based.  If you work with a Behaviour Analyst, you can expect to see him or her carefully observing behaviour and collecting data, and using this data to make decisions about what approaches to recommend and to determine whether those recommendations are working. Although there is a wealth of research to show the effectiveness of behaviour analytic approaches, Behaviour Analysts realise that each individual is different and strategies need to be tailored to suit that individual’s needs.  Data helps them do that.

What does a Behaviour Analytic approach entail?

Although assessments and interventions are tailored to individual needs, there are some key elements of every good behaviour analytic work:

  • Positive reinforcement must be a key component to the teaching or behaviour change, and this reinforcement must be carefully tailored for each person.
  • Any behaviour change (e.g., teaching new skills, reducing problem behaviours) must clearly benefit the individual and improve their quality of life.
  • There must be careful recording of data, usually on a daily basis, to demonstrate progress or make changes to strategies as needed.
  • Behaviour Analysts must receive ongoing training to stay up-to-date with scientific advances in the field.

Is Behaviour Analysis always called “Behaviour Analysis”?

It can be confusing for the public and for other professions to get to grips with Behaviour Analysis and the variety of service delivery options available.  Here are a few models that have are based on the science of Behaviour Analysis.  Regardless of the name, each of these service delivery models should be overseen by a qualified Behaviour Analyst.

  • Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI)
  • Verbal Behaviour (VB) model
  • Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)
  • Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Interventions and Support (PBIS)
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  • Precision Teaching
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)


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