What are Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Verbal Behaviour (VB)?

The majority of children learn communication and social skills automatically. Children with autism may need explicit teaching of these skills. In ABA the target behaviour is broken down into small learnable steps. Data on the child’s performance is collected to record the child’s ongoing progress towards the target behaviour and to adjust the methods of teaching to optimise learning.

The verbal behaviour approach is developed from Skinners account of Verbal Behaviour (1957). The approach is behavioural and has a strong focus on the teaching of language. An excellent introduction to Verbal Behaviour we recommend is the book by Mary Barbera and Tracy Rasmussen, entitled the The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders.

ABA falls under the umbrella of Intensive behavioural interventions. This method has been particularly beneficial to support ASD children to acquire the core skills they are lacking and enable them to integrate into a school education system. A recent meta-analysis of Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) for children with autism showed that EIBI is at present the intervention of choice for children with autism (Eldevik et al, 2009, Grindle et al, 2009; Remington et al., 2007). The elements that were highlighted in the Eldevik’s paper as being beneficial are the following:

“(a) intervention is individualized and comprehensive, addressing all skill domains; (b) many behavior analytic procedures are used to build new repertoires and reduce interfering behavior (e.g., differential reinforcement, prompting, discrete-trial instruction, incidental teaching, activity-embedded trials, task analysis, and others); (c) one or more individuals with advanced training in applied behavior analysis and experience with young children with autism directs the intervention; (d) normal developmental sequences guides the selection of intervention goals and short-term objectives; (e) parents serve as active co-therapists for their children; (f) intervention is delivered in one-to- one fashion initially, with gradual transitions to small-group and large-group formats when warranted; (g) intervention typically begins in the home and is carried over into other environments (e.g., community settings), with gradual, systematic transitions to preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school classrooms when children develop the skills required to learn in those settings; (h) programming is intensive, is year round, and includes 20 to 30 hr of structured sessions per week plus informal instruction and practice throughout most of the children’s other waking hours…”

It is important to remember that all children are different and what works well for one child may not work as well for another. Equally, a particular approach may work very well at one point in your child’s program but it may not work as well later on. One of the main advantages to ABA or VB is that it is data driven and adjusted as needed to ensure the child’s continuing progress. These programmes are most effective when combined with play and physical activities to insure wholeness in development. It is also important to insure that the child has sufficient opportunities to lead and initiate activities. When the right balance is achieved and great care is taken to motive the child effectively learning is optimal.