Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) has been viewed as a tool for addressing the needs of autistic learners for quite a while. According to Skinner (1953), ABA is a framework for studying the principles that define the choices of specific behaviour and learning strategies. ABA is often viewed as the extension of the Experimental Analysis of Behaviour when it is used in a different setting. ABA implies that cognition-based tools and strategies should be designed with the help of a scientific method so that specific behaviours could be changed.
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Furthermore, the approach suggests that the tools for meeting diverse behavioural needs should be devised. The identified changes should occur through the modification of the social environment in which an individual functions (Skinner 1953). With the help of operant conditioning techniques, such as positive and negative reinforcement, the framework studies clinically and socially relevant behaviours to explore the antecedents and consequences that change it.
ABA has contributed to the development of the strategies for meeting the needs of autistic learners significantly by offering the tools for modifications of the learner’s behaviour. In other words, in the context of ABA, modification means a change in the learner’s choice of behaviours. The modification approach implies that the corresponding behaviours are accepted after the learner inflicts certain consequences on themselves. For instance, after being praised for participating in a discussion, a learner is likely to engage in communication with peers more actively. Therefore, the effects of ABA on the enhancement of learning among ASD students cannot possibly be overrated.
Particularly, the framework for the behaviour modification creates premises for autistic children to develop social and cognitive skills that will, later on, serve as the basis for the acquisition of other abilities and types of information (e.g., developing the ability to write and read). The introduction of technology and the promotion of the conceptually systematic method allows for the rapid progress of learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
There are several defining characteristics of applied behaviour analysis. Also known as the seven dimensions of ABA, the said characteristics allow for the successful design and implementation of the strategies aimed at improving the learning process. By defining ABA as applied, one suggests that the strategies should be used to address specific issues. The behavioural elements of ABA imply that the interventions should be aimed at changing behaviours.
Therefore, ABA must be applied so that a practical approach toward meeting the needs of learners could be designed. From my personal experience, ABA must be shaped so that the needs of students in the multicultural environment could be met. Thus, the framework needs to be applied to different environments successfully.
The analytic aspect of the framework presupposes that the cause-and-effect connection must be evident in the course of ABA strategies application. Thus, ABA must be analytical to interpret the data retrieved from observations of learners’ behaviours and design the strategies that meet their needs appropriately. Personally, I have witnessed the situations in which the changes in the students’ behaviour informed the further choice of the teaching approaches. Therefore, ABA needs to be analytical so that these changes could be explored and understood.
The technological characteristics imply that, by using the relevant training and resources, anyone should be able to use the suggested interventions. Put differently, ABA has to be technological for the target population to access the relevant resources and use them accordingly. The technological aspect of the framework, therefore, implies that the environment in which therapists work should be clear and that other experts could work in the said environment as well. As my personal experience and understanding of the subject matter shows, it is crucial to incorporate tools such as modem media into the learning process to increase motivation and information processing levels among ASD students.
In turn, the conceptual systems of ABA are the specific theoretical frameworks serving as the foundation for the suggested strategies. ABA needs to be conceptual to build the approaches toward meeting the needs of autistic children. Thus, the prerequisites for a positive patient outcome can be created. For instance, the approach of positive reinforcement should be followed consistently so that the therapy could become successful. My experience showed me that autistic students respond rather fast to various types of reinforcement, especially the positive ones.
By calling ABA effective, one means that the suggested strategies should have a noticeable and powerful impact on the target population. Thus, ABA needs to be effective to contribute to an improvement in learners’ progress. For instance, applying the principle of the conceptually systematic approach to a real-life scenario, e.g., working with autistic children, one must make sure that behavioural principles should become the foundation for the choice of the appropriate strategies. As my personal experience proves, only the ABA strategies that have a strong staying power will have a palpable effect on autistic learners.
Finally, the generality of the ABA approach means that the strategies can be modified to be used in new environments (Skinner 1953). Therefore, ABA must be general so that it could help produce the strategies that would help meet the needs of diverse learners. My personal knowledge of the subject matter indicates that ABA strategies require generalisability so that they could be applied to multicultural settings, such as the environment in which African American, Asian, and other types of learners exist.
Herein lies the significance of applying ABA. The framework is crucial to the understanding of how society works and what role people play in it. Instead of focusing on research, ABA needs to be rooted in practical aspects. Therefore, ABA means the analysis of social behaviours. As a result, the foundation for building an improved approach to meeting the needs of ASD learners can be built. Granted that the ABA framework could use certain improvements, such as the idea of involving parents in the process, it still offers a solid platform for improving the learners’ success in developing the necessary cognitive and analytical skills.
The concept of behaviour plays an important role in ABA. A response to a particular situation can be defined as the behaviour that ABA views as the focus of its study. Therefore, behaviour means a set of standard responses that need to be studied and changed, if necessary. The difference between the current and the promoted models of behaviour is identified and analysed with the help of ABA. To differentiate between behaviour and other phenomena, one must make sure that the response identified as such should be recurrent in similar scenarios.
Behaviour: Definition and Five Schools
The concept of behaviour, which is central in the ABA framework and remains one of the key constructs of the theory, should be interpreted as the key focus of the ABA strategies. Behaviour can be defined as the function that is conditioned by specific environmental (i.e., sociocultural) factors. Traditionally, several crucial elements of behaviour are identified. These are the actor (i.e., the person that behaves in a specific way), the action itself, the interactions between the actor and the rest of the environment, the outcomes, and the characteristics of the observed behaviours (Skinner 1953).
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The approaches toward the understanding of how behaviour can be changed and what tools can be used for it, however, are quite numerous. Traditionally, five schools for understanding the concept of behaviour and the easy of altering it are identified. These are Methodological Behaviorism, Neobeahviorism, Cognitive Behaviourism, Social Learning Theory, and Radical Behaviourism.
Methodological Behaviourism (Watson)
Methodological behaviourism (MB) implies controlled observation of people’s behaviours so that they could be predicted and controlled successfully. Watson believed that only the behaviours that could be observed in public deserved scrutiny, whereas private ones should be dismissed as irrelevant. Furthermore, the simplification of theoretical frameworks can be viewed as a tendency in MB.
The use of methodological elements in behaviourism allows determining the patterns of social interactions. Particularly, the specified perspective helps understand and interpret the impacts of the sociocultural factors on one’s behaviour, as well as the influence of the multicultural environment on shaping one’s behaviours. Consequently, the external factors determining one’s behaviour are scrutinised closely.
The methodology (e.g., the approach toward teaching autistic students English) is developed by taking the environmental factors (e.g., the spatial design) and considering the internal events (i.e., the change in the learners’ motivation) to promote the necessary behaviour (i.e., active acquisition of language skills) (McSweeney & Murphy 2014; Parker 2015). Therefore, behaviourism must be methodological so that the factors shaping the learners’ behaviour could be identified successfully and used for the further design of the appropriate interventions. For instance, the approach may help improve the verbal behaviours of learners by using a deductive method, i.e., narrowing the general approach down by isolating the unique specifics of learners and adapting the approach to meet their needs.
Neobehaviourism also promotes the idea of methodological observations as the key to building strong theories. However, neobehaviourism was influenced heavily by logical positivism. Furthermore, the identified perspective suggested that the principles of behaviour should be formalised. The significance of experimental research is emphasised heavily. The significance of neobehaviourism lies primarily in the attempts of its founders to formalise the existing laws of behaviour. As a result, the viewpoints that could impede the further development of the behaviour study due to the prejudices and misconceptions in them could be dismissed.
The focus on the link between the stimulus and the behaviour that it conditioned helped shed light on the basic principles of human behaviour. Moreover, neobehaviourism sheds light on how the changes in the environment (i.e., the switch from a class-oriented to a learner-oriented strategy) alter the internal mental processes of a learner, therefore, either improving their progress or, on the contrary, making them fail to acquire the relevant skills. For example, the use of scaffolding as the environmental event and the further change toward the introspect into the learning process is likely to cause positive effects (McVeigh 2016; Walsh, Teo & Baydala 2014).
Cognitive Behaviourism (Tolman)
Tolman believed that the process of learning was implicit and, therefore, did not require immediate reinforcement. Coining the term “cognitive map” (Curzon & Tummons 2013, p. 46), Tolman viewed the learning process as the acquisition of signals, their further processing, and the production of a mental image representing the environment (Curzon & Tummons 2013). The identified approach stands in sharp contrast to the framework suggested by Watson since Tolman added cognitive elements into the framework. The shift from observations into the realm of theory made Tolman’s approach rather pliable compared to Watson’s and Hull’s frameworks.
Allowing behaviourists to connect the cognitive processes and the behaviour-related ones, the identified framework served as the foundation for developing an understanding of how the human brain works. As a result, the intrinsic factors determining the development of specific behaviours could be identified successfully. The cognitive behaviourism principles serve as the link between neobehaviourism and cognitive behaviourism, at the same time taking the impact of the social factors into account.
Similarly, the principles of Cognitive Behaviourism allow understanding how the changes in the environment (e.g., the promotion of a learner-oriented approach and the use of scaffolding) may help the learner engage in metacognition and, thus, understand their learning process better. The hypothetic expectation of a gradual improvement in the student’s score is likely to align with the observable behaviour, i.e., active acquisition of the necessary skills.
Social Learning Theory (Bandura)
Bandura claimed that specific behaviours could be acquired by learning and mimicry (Windsor 2015). The theorist is especially famous for the Bobo doll experiment that served as the proof of the validity of the theory. The experiment showed that the children who were shown an aggressive mode of behaviour mimicked it eagerly. The incorporation of social theories into the analysis of human behaviours and what conditioned them helped understand how to improve the learning process and help autistic children develop the required skills and acquire the relevant knowledge. Particularly, the patterns for learning essential information could be identified and promoted to the target population.
The adoption of Social Behaviourism principles implies that the analysis of one’s social beliefs, ideas, and philosophies should become the focal point of change in one’s behaviour. For instance, the transition to a learner-oriented teaching strategy in class is bound to trigger a change in the learners’ perception of themselves and their role in the learning process. Based on the identified change, the promotion of different behavioural strategies is bound to be successful. The introduction of the social behaviourism principles allows exploring the learning opportunities that the switch from society- to individual-oriented values will produce for autistic learners (O’Boyle 2014).
Radical Behaviourism (Skinner)
In his theoretical framework, Skinner drew parallels between the behaviour of an animal and that one of a human being. Thus, the theorist stated that the environment in which an individual develops affects their behaviours to a considerable degree. According to Skinner, operant conditioning defines the choice of the behaviours adopted by an individual. The emphasis on thinking and cognition, i.e., the crucial concepts that set aside human and animal behaviour, can be deemed as the reason for introducing the principles of radical behaviourism into the general framework. The identified theory allows taking a deeper insight into the nature of human behaviour.
Thus, the evaluation of the impact of the events that occur naturally in human development and the behavioural changes becomes a possibility. Unlike Social Behaviourism, the Radical Behaviourism principles suggest that the introduction of positive reinforcers (e.g., rewards for the acquisition of the appropriate knowledge and skills in the course of learning reading and writing for autistic children), as well as negative reinforcers (e.g., the learner does not have to redo the exercise after the correct answer is given), will compel the target population to develop the necessary behaviours (Zettle et al. 2014).
Analysis of Behaviour, Respondent Behaviour, and Operant Behaviour
Based on the theory provided by Skinner (1953), respondent behaviour is elicited by a particular stimulus. In contrast to the operant behaviour, which can be modified by particular environmental factors and deemed as a conscious response, a respondent behaviour is rooted in reflexes. Operant behaviours, in turn, imply that new controlling stimuli should be added to the process (Skinner 1953).
ABA is especially important when using reinforcement-based techniques to teach autistic children in the classroom environment. Particularly, the framework creates the foundation for developing the behaviours that allow for faster and more efficient acquisition of the required knowledge and skills. Furthermore, the opportunities for introspecting into the learning process and, therefore, the use of metacognition are created.
The application of motivating operations (MO) and abolishing operations (AO) contributes to the development of the required behaviours in autistic learners. Particularly, the use of the strategies based on positive and negative reinforcement and, to a lesser degree, positive and negative punishment, creates the environment for students to develop the required behaviours successfully. For instance, personal experience showed me that the use of rewards, e.g., stars marking the progress of first-graders, helps autistic students abandon the aggressive behaviours that are typical for ASD learners, and engage in other types of activities that allow them to express their emotional state (e.g., physical exercises during short breaks in between the tasks).
Reinforcement: Definition and Classification
Reinforcement is the ABA strategy that compels the target population to produce a specific response toward the suggested stimuli and, therefore, develops the required skill. In other words, it is an action or a set of actions that trigger a particular response from the learner. As a rule, several frameworks for classifying reinforcement are identified.
Positive reinforcement implies that the learner is provided with the stimulus that motivates them to carry out a specific action or produce a particular response. For instance, praise received for the task that has been completed successfully is an example of positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement, which is often confused with punishment, implies the absence of a motivating factor. For example, when a learner is not presented with a toy for the incorrect answer, the technique of negative reinforcement is used. Similarly, the absence of praise can be deemed as an example of negative reinforcement.
Reinforcement can also be categorised based on the factors that condition it. Primary reinforcements are also defined as unconditional and include the elements that are required to sustain life (e.g., food, drink, etc.). The tokens that can be deemed as supplementary are interpreted as secondary reinforcements (e.g., a toy, a school grade, financial incentives, etc.). Therefore, secondary reinforcements work with the help of the history of associations (Kearney 2015).
Another essential concept in the study of reinforcement, Premack’s principle suggests that the activities that are viewed as desirable to an individual can be used as positive reinforcement to engage the individual in question is a less probable activity (Premack 1959). For example, by promising a learner that they can play computer games after successfully completing the assignment, one is likely to convince the student to perform the task (Premack 1962).
The deprivation of specific factors that define the learner’s satisfaction becomes the foundation for building a reinforcement strategy. For example, when deprived of an opportunity to play video games, a learner will focus on the studying process. Satiation, in turn, is used to increase the student’s enthusiasm levels.
The concept of a token economy implies that the tokens used as reinforcers in promoting a particular behaviour should be exchanged for specific benefits and other reinforcers. For instance, after completing a home assignment, a learner can be rewarded with chips, small images, coins, etc., that, later on, can be exchanged for a game, candy, etc.
Also known as Noncontingent Reinforcement (NCI), reinforcement throughout the day suggests that the learner should be rewarded on a fixed-time basis as opposed to the strategy based on rewarding for a completed task. The identified approach can be used in situations involving students’ displaying disruptive behaviour during classes, etc. Positive and negative reinforcement, as well as positive and negative punishment, are typicality viewed as the key reinforcement approaches. The use of assistive technology is also viewed as one of the opportunities for enhancing the efficacy of the reinforcement (Kearney 2015).
Conclusions: Overview of the Acquired Knowledge and Developed Skills
The overview of the ABA approach, the relevant theories, and the strategies used to assist autistic children have shown that it is crucial to take the intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting the behaviour of an individual into account when shaping the appropriate teaching strategy.
The information mentioned above can be applied to the classroom environment by shaping the current teaching strategy toward a learner-oriented approach. The tools for enhancing autistic students’ motivation and promoting their engagement in the academic process can be developed successfully. As a result, their performance levels are bound to rise consistently.
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