Bethesda, we believe strongly in the ability of Applied Behavior Analysis—and
our skilled team of clinicians—to help people with disabilities learn new
skills, increase their independence, and make strides toward achieving their
even though ABA is a field that’s been intensely studied, there are plenty of
basic principles that can be taken from it and practiced at home on your own to
help you and your loved one achieve a greater quality of life. And one of our
own Board-Certified Behavior Analysts, Kayla Wagner, has some great tips to get
is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a scientific approach to understanding behavior,
what makes behaviors change, how behavior is affected by the environment, and
how learning takes place. Through careful assessment and close partnership with
patients and their families, clinicians formulate customized, flexible
treatment plans designed to help people achieve their goals. Goals can be
anything from promoting safety to teaching social skills and communication and
so much more.
in its infancy, ABA used some negative reinforcement or punishment to promote
behavior change, and there is some stigma around ABA therapy that still lingers
because of this. However, today (and at Bethesda), we only use positive
reinforcement. That means paying attention to and praising the behaviors you
want to see more of instead of only focusing on the negative behaviors.
reinforcement is *everything*
can be really easy to pay attention to the bad behaviors or the things you
don’t want your loved one to do,” says Wagner. “But behavior goes where
attention flows, so try shifting your mindset to focusing on the appropriate
behaviors or the behaviors you want to see more of.”
can feel unnatural at first, acknowledges Wagner. If your loved one is demonstrating
good behavior, like quietly reading a book or engaging in positive social
interaction, you may feel inclined to leave them be or take advantage of the
moment to throw in some laundry or get dinner started.
don’t have to make a big to-do out of it though,” says Wagner. “Try setting an
alarm for five minutes and then go over and say, ‘You’re doing a good job
reading that book,’ or ‘You’re playing really well with your sister.’ Try to be
proactive about praising positive, appropriate behaviors versus waiting for bad
behavior and then intervening.”
course, Wagner notes, there still may be times when you have to intervene, like
if your loved one is behaving aggressively toward someone else. But even then,
there are ways to shift your focus to make sure you’re not inadvertently reinforcing
the negative behavior. For instance, rather than focusing on the aggression,
focus on making sure the other person is okay. That sends the message that
negative behavior like aggression isn’t going to earn attention, which will
encourage the behavior to fade away.
patient, be consistent
isn’t a magic wand that’s going to fix everything the first time you do it,” says
Wagner. “Oftentimes you’re dealing with behaviors that have been learned and
reinforced over time, which means it will take time to unlearn them and shift
to healthier patterns of behavior.”
may make it difficult to see if you’re actually making progress, which can feel
frustrating. But Wagner has a tip for that too: once you’ve identified a
behavior you’d like to reduce or redirect, keep a tally of how often the behavior
day one, just keep track of how often the behavior happens,” says Wagner. “On
day two, start practicing shifting your attention away from the negative
behavior and toward more positive ones.” The more you stick with it, the more
you should start to see that tally go down.
when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see changes,” says Wagner. “But
keeping a tally can give you concrete evidence that it’s working.”
remember, says Wagner, changes are likely to happen over time in increments, so
even if the changes are small, they’re still worth celebrating.
going to happen in baby steps!” says Wagner.
Know when to call in the professionals
If the behavior problems are minor and these at-home techniques are helping, that’s great—you’re in good shape. But if the issues are significant—like if safety is compromised, quality of life is impacted because of disruptive behaviors, or you’re not seeing any positive changes—it may behoove you to call in a professional for support. They can provide more detailed analysis of the behavior, what’s driving it, and can help develop a plan specific to you, your loved one, and your goals, as well as help make adjustments to the plan along the way as needed to maximize outcomes—all so you can live a healthier, happier life.