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Putting the “Behavior” in Applied Behavior Analysis

What does the “B” in ABA Really Mean?

The word “behavior” is often used to describe good vs. bad behavior, particularly when talking about children.  When we think about how a child behaves, the first images that come to mind might be of tantrums, poor manners, talking back or other undesirable actions. A common misconception of ABA is that it is only used to fix “bad” or challenging behaviors. While these are all issues that ABA can help with, you might be surprised to hear the scope of ABA is actually much broader.

In the science of Behavior Analysis, “behavior” is simply everything a person does.  This means that when we talk about behavior, we are talking about a wide variety of skills and activities, not just undesirable behaviors.  Behaviors might include self-help skills, communication, following instructions, self-management, sustained attention and many, many more. 

This distinction is important because for ABA to be most effective, intervention must start early.  If you or professionals working with your child have the misconception that ABA is only for “bad” or unmanageable behaviors, treatment could be delayed and significant learning opportunities could be lost.  ABA can teach your child valuable skills and help him reach his full potential.

ABA as a Teaching Tool

Behavior Goes Where Reinforcement Flows

One of the core components of ABA is reinforcement.  Reinforcement refers to increasing a response (a behavior, an answer, a skill, etc.) by delivering something preferred such as praise, time with fun activities, a favorite snack or any number of other things.  By definition, reinforcement WORKS.  Reinforcers vary from person to person and the rule is that if a “reinforcer” isn’t working, its time to find a new reinforcer!

Harnessing the power of reinforcement allows us to be very clear about the responses we expect from our learners.  A natural example of reinforcement can be observed when teaching a child to ask for something rather than whining or crying.  If your child is working on saying “cookie,” you will wait until he or she says “cookie” before giving it to him.  The act of saying “cookie” is then reinforced by the yummy treat! This basic principal can be applied to any number of skills, including teaching more complex language.

How do You Eat an Elephant?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! One of the things that makes ABA so effective is that it gives us the tools to break complex skills into small, manageable parts.  These skills can range from self-care activities such as bathing, dressing and feeding, to more complex social skills such as holding conversations and interpreting social cues. 

Take for example, washing hands.  If you have a child who struggles with this, you know how overwhelming it can be to try and teach. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst will help break the skill into small steps such as “stand on step stool, turn on cold water, wet both hands, pump soap into hand,” etc.  This is called a task analysis.  Teaching each individual step, followed by delivering meaningful reinforcement, is an incredibly effective way of introducing a new skill!

These are only a couple of the ways in which ABA can help to teach new skills to all kinds of learners.  While ABA is an incredibly effective tool for reducing difficult behaviors, it is also a powerful teaching tool.  Waiting until behaviors become too challenging to handle can mean passing up valuable learning opportunities.

If you have questions about how ABA can help teach your child important skills, reach out to Pediatric Therapy Clinic in Bozeman at (406) 624-6669.

Happy to talk to you!

Pediatric Therapy Clinic, Inc

602 East Park Ave.
Anaconda, MT 59711
Call: 406.563.0260
Fax: 406.259.1777

1801 Harrison Ave.
Butte, MT 59701

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554 Pronghorn Trail, Ste A
Bozeman, MT 59718
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Fax: 406.259.1777


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Billings, MT 59101
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Fax: 406.259.1777


Speech Language Pathologist

Rooted in personal experience and ignited by her love for kids, Karly has been a speech-language pathologist since 2019. Karly completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Montana State University and went on to earn a Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Montana. Her final graduate internship brought her to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego where she stayed and expanded her clinical training for four years. A Montana native, Karly was thrilled to return to Bozeman to serve her community and empower individuals with communication differences and diverse learning styles. Karly enjoys working closely with families to provide home programming and education that promotes generalization of progress and confidence beyond the clinic   

Now Offering Speech Therapy!

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