Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What is Behavior Analysis?

To be totally honest, I'm not happy with my last post. I feel that it is very general and missing some components to people who may be new to looking at behavior so intently. Not only that, I feel like the blog started out, in my mind at least, a little haphazard. I'm going to attempt to start at the beginning. Hopefully in the end, my blog will introduce people to the science of behavior and begin to develop an understanding of its use in practical settings.

I'm a board certified behavior analyst. Depending on who you are and your background, I suppose "behavior analyst" can mean different things to different people. I'll explain my background and the "official" definition.
I started out using applied behavior analysis (ABA) as a home tutor or therapist for children with autism. I was in my second year of college and a girl stood up in class to announce available positions with families nearby. I was intrigued and decided I wanted to give it a try. I immediately fell in love with the effectiveness that new skills were taught. I changed my major to Human Development, where, at the time, the ABA program was housed. I worked with several consultants and many families as a therapist for the next 6 or 7 years (and have worked as a behavior analyst for the last 7 years!). Also during college, I began working at a wonderful school that employed ABA techniques for teaching every child who attended school there. Century School is amazing! The teaching methods help children make fantastic progress in academics and was extremely innovative. Graduate students (in ABA) for the most part, were the lead teachers in all of the preschool and elementary school classrooms. It served as a practicum site for the undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Kansas. The majority of graduate students/lead teachers were doing research at Century School, in one aspect or another of behavior analysis/effective teaching. The results from their research were then implemented into every day teaching at the school. I am grateful that I was able to spend so much supervised time working with children with autism in home programs and with typically developing children in a school setting.
At KU I studied behavior analysis as an undergrad and applied behavior analysis as a graduate student. Behavior analysis is the study of behavior and is considered a basic science. Rather than focusing on "traditional" psychological theories, studying the "mind" and "personality", behavior analysis focuses on actual "behaviors"... researching them using the same scientific method that other natural sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, etc) use. Behavior analysts study observable behavior that can be measured. The goal in most of the research is to change a specific behavior and in doing so, determine what the mechanisms for that change are. Applied behavior analysis takes the research and information gained in the "lab" (laboratory research) to the natural environment... where people live, work, learn, etc. Even though applied behavior analysis happens in "the real world" data collection is essential to its application. Applied behavior analysis relies on defining a behavior, measuring it, then analyzing the data to determine what to do next. ABA does not exist without data!
Behavior analysts are:
The Board Certified Behavior Analyst is an independent practitioner who also may work as an employee or independent contractor for an organization. The BCBA conducts descriptive and systematic (e.g., analogue) behavioral assessments, including functional analyses, and provides behavior analytic interpretations of the results. The BCBA designs and supervises behavior analytic interventions. The BCBA is able to effectively develop and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods for use in unfamiliar situations and for a range of cases. The BCBA seeks the consultation of more experienced practitioners when necessary. The BCBA teaches others to carry out ethical and effective behavior analytic interventions based on published research and designs and delivers instruction in behavior analysis. BCBAs supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and others who implement behavior analytic interventions. (The Behavior Analyst Certification Board bacb.com)

Although my introduction to ABA was through ABA programs for children with autism (which focused on reduction of aberrant behaviors and an increase in functional skills), applied behavior analysis is a much, much broader field. It is used to improve socially significant behaviors in the wider population including education, medical procedures, parenting, weight loss/gain, animal training and care, etc.
My blog will be focused mostly ABA and it's effectiveness in the areas of teaching children (education), parenting, and will most likely dabble a bit in its uses for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. In my next post, we'll get down to the nitty gritty. I'll introduce some basic concepts and principles of behavior analysis. I plan on alternating posts of "real life" examples of how we use applied behavior analysis in our home with more in depth "instruction" on the science itself. So here we go!