Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tailoring programs to students

As a Behavior Analyst, I observe and work in various settings. Recently I came across comments on another Autism related blog that proclaimed Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) just makes kids into robots due to its overly high structured protocols and interventions!

Whenever I read these types of comments, I think to myself- ABA is not just about highly structured interventions with massive discrete trials that rewards correct responses with M&Ms.
Yes, I have to be honest, I do come across some ABA programs that are highly structured and lack fading procedures and Natural Environment Teaching. Yes, I do come across behavioral psychologists who joke about the ABA usage of primary reinforcers like M&Ms.

However, my response is usually this: A truly experienced Behavior Analyst will know what is necessary for each individual, situation and setting and will apply ABA principles accordingly.
I supervise a student with Autism who is mainstreamed with typical developing children. It has been very nice to witness how this child has grown over the past few years being in regular school with some added therapeutic supports.

On the other hand, I worked with students with Autism placed in general education classes where they are completely lost. This students desperately need one-on-one instruction with emphasis on motivation and teaching basic functional skills, such as attention and imitation. How are they going to learn if they cannot pay attention or imitate what is being taught? 
Thus, I have seen both sides, settings that were mainly Natural Environment Teaching that needed more structure and discrete trial additions to overly structured programs that needed to become more flexible and natural.

Is there an easy answer to all of this? NO. It all DEPENDS upon many factors that have to be assessed and evaluated individually. ABA is a single-subject design. This means, programs are tailored to the student. One of the problems with special education is cookie-cut curriculums that fit all. Instead of adjusting the environment to the student, the ABA environmental approach, they ask the student to adjust to the environment.

Sounds good? Well, let’s get back to work.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA