Applied Behavior Analysis in Special Education

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What is the definition of applied behavior analysis? In short, it is a method of studying and managing behavior to bring about change. ABA therapists develop research-based behavior intervention plans (BIPs) to reduce problem behaviors in children.

ABA is also known as behavior modification and learning theory. The technique is especially useful in special education classrooms, as children with learning disabilities may also have behavior problems or disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can cause them to be disruptive at school, at home, or in their interactions with friends and peers.

ABA is not just reserved for children with learning disabilities, however. Even children without disabilities who act out may benefit from behavior analysis. Find out if ABA might be of use to your child with this review of the technique, including information on how it's conducted and implemented.

Who Benefits From Applied Behavior Analysis?

In addition to students with learning disabilities and behavior problems, ABA has been found to help children with autism, a disorder in which individuals may have trouble communicating with others, making eye contact and with social interaction generally.

How Is Behavior Analysis Conducted?

Therapists collect and analyze data based on careful observation of student behavior. They then make alterations in the student's environment to promote a behavior transformation.

ABA therapists may use positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement as part of their behavior intervention plans (BIPs) to reduce problem behavior. They may also demonstrate desired behaviors to children, such as teaching them to raise their hand before speaking in class rather than shouting out the answer.

Who Can Develop and Implement ABA?

ABA can be developed and implemented by teachers, psychologists, and other education professionals who have been trained in its use. Parents are also typically involved and encouraged to use ABA at home as well to create consistent behavioral intervention between home and school. For example, if a child undergoing ABA has been taught not to shout out in class any longer, their parents might be taught to reinforce this boundary at home.

Sometimes students exhibit the same problem behaviors at school as they do at home. Some students may behave worse at school and better at home. The ABA can be used to address a range of behavior and give parents the tools they need to appropriately correct children who act out.

How to Find out If ABA Is Appropriate for Your Child

Contact your child's teacher, school counselor, or school psychologist to discuss ABA. You can also request an IEP team meeting to discuss your child's behaviors and appropriate methods to address them such as ABA or similar methods. If your child hasn't been diagnosed with a learning disability but has worrisome behavior problems, you can still consult school personnel about suitable behavior intervention programs.

Together, you and the faculty can decide if ABA would suit your child or if another form of behavior management would be more fitting. The goal here is not so much to rely on any one intervention program as it is to correct the problem behavior and help children reach their potential.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Applied Behavior Analysis.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parent Training in Behavior Management for ADHD.

  3. Shepley C, Grisham-Brown J. Applied Behavior Analysis in Early Childhood Education: An Overview of Policies, Research, Blended Practices, and the Curriculum Framework. Behav Anal Pract. 2019;12(1):235-246. doi:10.1007/s40617-018-0236-x

  4. Autism Speaks. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

  5. National Center on Intensive Intervention. Implementing Behavioral Strategies.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.