Applied Behaviour Analysis is a scientific approach towards understanding the behaviour and how it is affected by the environment. ‘Behaviour’ refers to all kinds of actions and skills (not just misbehaviour), and ‘environment’ includes all sorts of physical and social events that might change or be changed by one’s behaviour. The science of behaviour analysis focuses on principles (that is, general laws) about how behaviour works, or how learning takes place. For example, one principle of behaviour analysis is positive reinforcement: When a behaviour is followed by something that is valued (a reward), that behaviour is likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behaviour analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviours and reducing those that may be harmful or that interfere with learning. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the use of those techniques and principles to address socially important problems, and to bring about meaningful behaviour change.
Autistic disorder (also called autism; more recently described as “mind-blindness“) is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during the first three years of life. Children with autism appears to live in their own world, showing little interest in others and lack social awareness. The focus of an autistic child is a consistent routine and includes an interest in repeating odd and peculiar behaviours. Autistic children often have problems in communication, avoid eye contact and show limited attachment to others.
In actuality, there is no such thing, not if having its own acronym implies that it is something separate from the science of Behaviour Analysis. The term “VBA” has apparently become shorthand for a program of Applied Behaviour Analysis that focuses on teaching verbal behaviour through a collection of highly effective teaching procedures taken from the science of behaviour analysis. In that case, VBA is ABA, plain and simple. Most, if not all, good ABA programs incorporate most, if not all, of the effective teaching procedures described elsewhere on this site. While it is important to specify that there are ABA programs that do and do not incorporate the teaching of verbal behaviour based on Skinner’s analysis of language, it would be unfortunate if people thought of teaching VB as anything other than ABA. So if you come across the term “VBA,” know that it probably refers to ABA with a focus on teaching verbal behaviour, but is truly simply ABA.
The TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children) method introduced the concept of the “Culture of Autism”. It uses a structured teaching approach where the environment is adapted to the child with ASD. This approach uses a lot of visual clarity focusing on the independence of the individual with autism.
TEACCH is a complete program of services for autistic people which makes use of various associated techniques depending upon the individual person’s needs and emerging capabilities. The main goal of TEACCH is to help autistic children grow up to their maximum ability by adult age. Advocates of TEACCH state that it aims for a ‘whole life’ approach in supporting children, adolescents, and adults with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder such as Autism or Asperger syndrome, through the help of visual information, structure and predictability. There is an emphasis on a continuance of care so where services are available, it is possible for an individual with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder to be supported from two years of age into adulthood.
TEACCH principles involve changing the behavior and skill level of the person as well as developing an environment that matches the person’s needs. It is a state program that tries to respond to the needs of autistic people using the best available approaches and methods known so far for educating them and to provide the maximum level of independence that they can achieve. This includes helping them understand the world that surrounds them, acquiring communication skills that will enable them to relate to other people and giving them the necessary capability to be able to make choices concerning their own lives. The TEACCH method considers the main focus of treatment to be ‘autism’ as a whole, rather than on ‘behaviour’.
TEACCH is a structured technique specialized to the person’s visual processing strengths by organizing the physical structure of the room and providing a visual conduct to supply information about activities. Structured teaching places heavy reliance upon teaching through visual means due to the difficulties that children with autism have with processing verbal information. Visual structure is provided at a variety of levels such as organizing areas of the classroom, providing a daily schedule using pictures or written words, as well as visual instructions and visual organization signalling the beginning and end of tasks.
This technique is based upon the observation that children with autism learn and connect information differently than other children. It assumes that many inappropriate behaviours of children with autism are the result of difficulty understanding what is expected of them. Educational strategies are established individually on the basis of a detailed assessment of the autistic person learning abilities, trying to identify potential for acquisitions rather than deficits. TEACCH also involves frequent program revisions according to the child’s maturation and progress.
The TEACCH method gives means of communication to the person, these comprehension and expression capabilities will enable him/her to understand better what is being told/asked and to express his/her needs and feelings by other means than behaviour problems.
The assessment called PEP; Psycho Educational Profile tries to identify areas where the person falls behind, areas where the skill has yet to be mastered, and areas where the skill is emerging. These domains are then put in an education program for the person. This is a must since there is a great variability of skills, even in the same autistic person, from one domain of ability to the other. As opposed to behaviour modification, these strategies do not work on the behaviour directly but on underlying conditions that will promote learning experiences. They also make use of recent cognitive psychology research results about some differences in particular areas of brain processing in autistic people as opposed to typical people.
Direct behaviour modification is reserved for those behaviours that endanger the person and for which the above strategy didn’t work, at least so far. This is very rare. The intention is toward improving communication skills and character to the maximum of the child’s potential, using education as a means to achieve that goal. When behaviour problems occur, they are not treated directly either. The approach calls for efforts to understand the underlying reasons for this behaviour problem: anxiety, physical pain, difficulty with the task, unpredictable changes, boredom, etc…
The principles and concepts guiding the TEACCH system have been summarized as:
1. Improved adaptation: Through the two strategies of improving skills by means of education and of modifying the environment to accommodate deficits.
2. Parent Collaboration: Parents work with professionals as co-therapists for their children so that techniques can be continued at home.
3. Assessment for Individualized Treatment: unique educational programs are designed for all individuals on the basis of regular assessments of abilities.
4. Structured Teaching: It has been found that children with autism benefit more from a structured educational environment than from free approaches.
5. Skill Enhancement: Assessment identifies emerging skills and work and then focuses upon these. (This approach is also applied to staff and parent training.)
6. Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy: Educational procedures are guided by theories of cognition and behaviour suggesting that difficult behavior may result from underlying problems in perception and understanding.
7. Generalist Training: Professionals in the TEACCH system are trained as generalists who understand the whole child, and do not specialize as psychologists, speech therapists etc.
1. Emphasis is placed on developing individual plans to help people with autism and their families to live together more effectively by reducing or replacing autism related behaviours that interfere with independence and quality of life
2. The physical layout of the classroom is arranged in a way that avoids distractions.
3. Materials are clearly marked and arranged.
4. Individual needs of students are considered when planning the physical structure on the classroom as well as the instructional lessons.
5. Schedules are a must! Individuals with autism typically have difficulties with logical memory and organization of time. Class and individual schedules help to overcome such difficulties.
6. Prompts and reinforcements are used in an organized, systematic matter to build success.
7. Directions are given both verbally and with alternative forms such as writing, PECS, or gestures.
8. The focus of teaching is on strengths and to correct as a “remedy” to their difficulties.
9. Takes a broad-based environmental approach by examining diverse areas and components of the individual’s life.
10. Most effective when applied across age groups and agencies.
11. Guides individuals with autism and prepares them to live and work more effectively at home, at school, and in the community.