What is Applied Behavior Analysis and What Constitutes an Applied Behavior Analytic Treatment?

By Eric W. Maier, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science devoted to the understanding and improvement of socially validated human behavior through objective means.  Specifically, it is the application of procedures based on the principles of behavior to issues that are socially relevant to produce practical change.  In their 1968 article, Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis, Baer, Wolf, and Risley describe the relevant dimensions that constitute applied behavior analysis as applied, behavioral, analytic, technological, conceptually systematic, effective, and having generality. (We encourage you to read both the 1968 and 1987 articles published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.)

As Behavior Analysts, we should continue to strive to provide the highest quality treatments to the individuals under our care.  Behavior analytic treatments need to be based off the seven dimensions described by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968.) As we are constantly telling our families and friends, there is no such thing as a good or bad ABA program: It is either an ABA program or it is something else, most likely an eclectic program. Unless the seven dimensions are incorporated into your program design, you are at risk of providing something other than an applied behavior analytic treatment.

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As providers of behavior analytic treatments, we want to avoid this problem.  An initial step should be maintaining a tight control over the trainings and objective evaluations we provide Behavioral Technicians under our supervision.  This is accomplished by providing ongoing, systematic trainings to the staff of Behavioral Technicians.  In addition, frequent objective evaluations providing the necessary feedback is highly recommended.  As Behavior Analysts, we should also make it a requirement to develop technologically tight descriptions of our behavioral programs so that we increase the probability of treatment integrity (i.e. the treatment is provided as prescribed by all team members) and control for data reliability issues (i.e. data is collected by all team members in a consistent manner.)  Assessing treatment integrity and data reliability will allow us to be confident when making the data-based decisions necessary in achieving everyone’s goals.