ABA uses a number of different strategies. Way more than 5, but here are 5 of my favourite (in no particular order).
Strategies used in ABA
Cues or hints that help the learner know what they should do are called prompts. They can be either visual, verbal or environmental. There are prompt hierarchies that organize the different levels of prompts based on how much support they give the learner. The goal is to reduce the level of the prompt so that the learner is eventually independent. Most learners need some kind of prompting when learning a new skill. It is possible for the learner to become dependent on the prompt. This happens when the prompts are not methodically faded out. The learner never moves past the stage of requiring the prompt in order to engage in the behaviour.
Behaviour contracts are like other contracts. They spell out the expectations and what will happen if they occur or don’t occur. The Behaviour Analyst and the learner both agree to the contract. A behaviour contract is a collaborative effort. It’s not one sided. The learner has to have a stake in the contract or else they won’t participate. Here is an example of a behaviour contract. Both the learner and the BCBA write and sign the behaviour contract. Behaviour contracts are a great ABA strategy for older learners.
Reinforcement makes a behaviour more likely to happen again in the future. There is positive and negative reinforcement. Many people get negative reinforcement and punishment confused. But, they’re not the same! In ABA terms, positive and negative don’t have the same meaning as in regular english. Usually, we assume something positive is good and something negative is bad. In ABA, positive means adding something and negative means removing something. So… positive reinforcement is adding something to the environment that makes a behaviour more likely to happen. Meanwhile, negative reinforcement is removing something from the environment that makes a behaviour more likely to happen. Some examples of positive reinforcement are: praise, a high five and extra time to play. Some examples of negative reinforcement are: being excused from the dinner table after eating a specific amount of food or turning off your loud alarm clock.
Some learners are visual, they learn by watching. Video modeling is showing the learner a video of people engaging in the behaviour. Video modeling can teach all kinds of behaviours. Social exchanges are a very popular video modeling topic. Video modeling is popular strategy outside of ABA also. Have you ever gone to YouTube to learn how to do something? That’s video modeling. One of the benefits of video modeling is that the learner can watch the video many times. They can stop it and rewind to review and ask questions. Video modeling is especially useful now, during the pandemic while in person instruction might not be possible.
One of the keys to ABA is breaking big behaviour chains down into smaller more manageable steps; this is task analysis. To do a task analysis you first need to identify the target behaviour. Once you know the target behaviour you identify each step in the behaviour chain. When you’re ready to teach, there are three processes you can use: forward chaining, backward chaining and whole chain. These processes determine how you will be prompting the learner when you’re teaching. For example, in a forward chain, you would teach the first step but prompt the rest. Alternatively, in a backward chain, you prompt each step except the last. As your learner masters the steps you move either forward or backward on the chain. In a whole chain approach, you’re looking at whether prompting each step is needed.
These are just 5 of the strategies that are common in ABA. There are many more. You can use any combination of these strategies. Each ABA program should be individualized and designed specifically for your learner. BCBAs are the people who are best trained to design ABA programs.