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Basics of Applied Behavior Analysis: Applications for Individuals of All Ages and Abilities

Michael J Morrier, PhD, BCBA-D. Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Robert Babcock, PhD, BCBA-D. R. Babcock and Associates, Auburn, AL. Financial Disclosures - Morrier. . Behavior Imagining Solutions .

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Basics of Applied Behavior Analysis: Applications for Individuals of All Ages and Abilities

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Basics of Applied Behavior Analysis: Applications for Individuals of All Ages and Abilities

Michael J Morrier, PhD, BCBA-D

Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA

Robert Babcock, PhD, BCBA-D

R. Babcock and Associates, Auburn, ALSlide2

Financial Disclosures - Morrier

Behavior Imagining Solutions

NODA Rural Study

Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

Project Director, Walden Lottery Pre-Kindergarten Program

Georgia Department of Public Health

Georgia Autism Assessment Collaborative

National Institutes of Mental Health

Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

ADDM Expert ReviewerSlide3

Learning Objectives


will be able to define the underlying principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA).


will identify how to incorporate ABA into natural settings within schools, homes, and communities to assist individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) acquire new skills.


will be able to describe different ABA programs that have been shown effective for individuals with ASD across the age range.Slide4

Prevalence of ASDSlide5

Applied Behavior Analysis is…

Science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior

Focus on

Objectively defined behavior

Intervention to improve behavior

Demonstrate reliable relationship between intervention and behavior improvements

Use methods of scientific inquiry

Discover environmental arrangements that reliably influence

socially significant behavior

to create behavior change

Cooper, Heron, &


, 2007Slide6

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Not your grandparents ABA

Tenants describe in 1968

(Baer, Wolf, & Risley;

Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis)

Meaningful behaviorSlide7

“the process of applying sometimes tentative principles of behavior to the improvement of specific behaviors, and simultaneously evaluating whether or not any changes noted are indeed attributed to the process of application”

(Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968, p. 91)

Functional skills

Initial and ongoing assessment

Behavior is controlled by environmental factors and consequences

Prompting – increases probability desired response will occur

Fading – systematic withdrawal of prompts

Shaping – reinforce successive approximations

Use data to make decisions on progress and next stepsWhat is ABA?Slide8

Tenants of ABA


Socially important


Can be seen, measured, and repeated


Show control over the behavior


Procedures are describe in detail

Conceptual systemsCan be replicatedEffectiveProduces large enough effect to be meaningful to individualGenerality

Is durable over time and settings

Baer, Wolf, &

Risley. (1968)


1(1), 91-97Slide9

Three Part Contingency


What happens before the behavior occurs

Could be something you are not thinking of

Not eating breakfast

Missed bus

Menstrual cycle starting


Observable, measurable, repeatable

Consequence What happens after behavior occursSlide10

Types of Consequences

Positive reinforcement

– any event which follows a behavior which


the likelihood that behavior occurs in the future

Negative reinforcement

– removal of an event which increases the likelihood behavior will occur in the future



any event which follows a behavior which decreases the likelihood that behavior occurs in the futureSlide11

Methods of Consequating Behavior









Research behind ABA and ASD

Behavior modification successful since 1940’s

“Little Dicky”

Decrease tantrums

(Wolf & Risley, 1963)

Wear glasses

(Wolf, Risley, &


, 1964)

Learn verbal language (Wolf & Risley, 1967)Prepare for attending school (Wolf & Risley, 1967)Slide13

Language training

In natural environments





, 1973)

Shaping verbal


(Hewett, 1965)Receptive language skills (McGee, Krantz, Mason, & McClannahan, 1983)Sign language use (Carr & Kologinsky

, 1983)

Use and generalization of prepositions



, &


, 1985)

Child social phrases


McGee & Daly, 2007)Slide14

Social Skills

Increasing eye contact

(Risley, 1968)

Reduction of self-stimulating behavior

In clinic





, Simmons, & Long, 1973)In natural environement (McGee, Paradis, & Feldman, 1993)Increasing peer-peer interactions (McGee, Almeida, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Feldman, 1991; Odom, Hoyson

, Jamieson, & Strain, 1985; Odom & Strain, 1984, 1986; Strain,


, & Jamieson, 1985)Slide15

Comprehensive ABA programs

Early Autism Project



, 1987; Smith,


, & Wynn, 2000)

RCT to show hours of ABA matter

LEAP Preschool

(Strain & Bovey, 2011)RCT of social curriculumWalden Early Childhood Center (McGee, Daly, & Jacobs, 1991; McGee, Morrier, & Daly, 1999, 2001)Slide16

Discrete Trial Training (Lovaas method)Pivotal





(PRT) (Koegel et al.)




xperiences, an Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents (LEAP) (Strain et al.)Incidental Teaching (Walden) (McGee et al.)Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Bondy & Frost)Early







(ESDM) (Dawson et al.)

Common ABA programs for young children with ASDSlide17

Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBI)

Schreibman et al. (2015)

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45

(8), 2411-2428

Autism researchers representing range of views and diverse disciplines

Consensus statement regarding empirical and theoretical basis

Describes influence of behavioral psychology and developmental science

Achieves optional outcomes

Substantial research base supports effectiveness across age range

Needs of toddlers with ASD just emerging

Schreibman et al. (2015).


; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide18

Toddler NDBI

Based on “naturalistic” behavioral intervention and developmental orientations

Rather than traditional ABA

Delivered in naturalistic and interactive social contexts

Play and daily routines

Involve child-directed teaching strategies

Use child-preferred materials

(McGee et al., 1991)

Natural rather than artificial rewards

(Koegel & Williams, 1980)Improves effectiveness of DTT proceduresSchreibman et al. (2015). JADD; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide19

Advantages of NDBI

Improved generalization

Cues constantly changing based on environment

Decreased need to teach each skill in multiple context

Children with ASD learn more rapidly

Reduced dependency on prompts

More natural sounding language

Gets used to everyday distractions

Promote social development through interactions with peers and adults

Considers child’s developmental readiness for goals and behavior plansChronological ageDevelopmental ageFamily-friendly approachesFamily environments Ongoing activities

Schreibman et al. (2015).


; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide20

Core Components of NDBI

Learning Targets

Entire range of developmental domains

Integration of knowledge and skills across domains

Skills not taught in isolation

Provides infrastructure to support learning on functional skills

Learning Contexts

Experiences natural contingencies of behavior

Establishes adult-child engagement activities

Facilitates learning and generalizationDevelopment-Enhancing StrategiesMotivating activitiesIncorporates behavioral strategies to support developmentModelingShapingChaining


Differential Reinforcement

Schreibman et al. (2015).


; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide21

Common Features of NDBIs

Three Part Contingency


Manualized Practice

Fidelity of Implementation Criteria

Individualized Treatment Goals

Ongoing Measurement

Child-Initiated Teaching Episodes

Environmental Arrangement

Natural ReinforcementUse of Prompting and Prompt FadingModelingAdult Imitation of Child’s Language, Play, or Body MovementsSchreibman et al. (2015).


; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide22

Example NDBI Interventions for ASD

Incidental Teaching

(IT; Hart & Risley, 1968; McGee et al, 1999)

Pivotal Response Training

(PRT; Koegel & Koegel, 2006; Koegel et al., 1989; Schreibman & Koegel, 2005)

Early Start Denver Model

(ESDM: Dawson et al., 2010; Rogers & Dawson, 2010; Rogers et al., 2012)

Enhanced Milieu Teaching

(EMT; Kaiser & Hester, 1994)

Reciprocal Imitation Training (RIT; Ingersoll, 2010; Ingersoll & Schreibman, 2006)Project Improving Parents As Communication Teachers (Project ImPACT; Ingersoll & Wainer, 2013a,b)Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER; Kaale et al. 2012, 2104; Kasari et al., 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014a,b)Social Communication/Emotional Regulation/Transactional Support

(SCERTS; Prizant et al., 2003)

Early Achievements

(Landa et al., 2011; Landa & Kalb, 2012)

Schreibman et al. (2015).


; 45(8) 2411-2428Slide23

Biological changes after PRT

10 children with ASD

Ages 4.5 – 7.0 years

20% female

5 hypo-activation at baseline

Weaker than normal coherent (BIO) vs. scrambled (SCR) motion

5 hyper-activation at baseline

Stronger than normal BIO vs. SCR motion

Greater parent-reported symptoms of anxiety and attention problems

Great difficulties with compliance/behavioral control5 typical peersAges 5.1 – 7.7 years60

% female

Pre-Post treatment fMRI changes in neural mechanisms

Coherent point-light displays

Scrambled point-light displays

16 weeks PRT, 7 hours per week


et al. (2015).

Brain Imagining



9(1) 74-88Slide24


Significant gains in social communication skills for all children

Hypo-activation children

Widespread increases in BIO > SCR activation in right Posterior Superior Temporal Cortex (


) – processing facial expression region

No regions of decreased BIO > SCR

Increased subcortical activity in social reward circuitry (social motivation)

Increased ventral striatum responses to more socially meaningful stimuli

Hyper-activation childrenDecreased BIO > SCR activation in right pSTS, the amygdala, thalamus, and hippocampus


et al. (2015).

Brain Imagining



9(1) 74-88Slide25


Neural systems related to social perception were malleable through PRT

More similar to typical children after PRT


group decreased activation


group increased activation

Potential biomarker for treatment response

Evidence-based ABA procedures may be able to change neural mechanism of children with ASD

Ventola et al. (2015). Brain Imagining Behav; 9(1) 74-88Slide26

ABA with Adults

Continues to focus on

Reducing challenging behaviors

Maintaining skills from earlier