Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a systematic approach devoted to understanding, studying and improving human behavior. The science of ABA assesses the observable interaction of environmental variables with human behavior in order to develop a treatment approach focused on increasing behavior of social significance.

Positive behavioral changes are made by breaking the desired behavior down into small components. During treatment, these small measurable components are followed by positive reinforcement. As a result of positive reinforcement the desired behavior increases.

ABA is used to treat individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder by assessing excessive behavior (behavior that occurs too frequently) and its correlation to deficit behavior (behavior that does not occur frequently enough). Maladaptive or problem behavior may occur for many reasons. (Reiss Havercamp, 1997; Carr et al., 1999c) It is essential to assess the function of the problem behavior in order to target and teach an alternative behavior that has the same ???payoff??? as the problem behavior. Interventions based on assessment of the function of behavior are much more likely to be successful than interventions that are selected arbitrarily (e.g. Irvin et al., 2001; Iwata et al., 1994b).

There are seven essential elements of an Applied Behavior Analysis program:
(Baer, Wolf Risley, 1968)

  • The program must be applied. In other words, the behaviors that one chooses to focus upon should have some social significance.
  • The program must be behavioral. The target behavior must need improvement and must be measurable. The behavior of the client and the behavior of those interacting with the client should be monitored for effective behavioral change.
  • The program must be analytic. There should be clear and convincing evidence, through carefully collected data, that the intervention is responsible for a change in behavior.
  • The program must be technological. The procedures that are used should be described completely enough to allow for duplication by another individual.
  • The program must be conceptually systematic. There should be relevance to established and accepted behavioral principles (i.e. operant conditioning).
  • The program must be effective. The program should seek to change the targeted behavior to a meaningful degree.
  • The program should display some generality. A change in behavior should be seen in a wide variety of environments, or should spread to a wide variety of related or similar behaviors.