5 Recent Developments in Applied Behavior Analysis

Recent Developments in Applied Behavior AnalysisIf you’re working in the field of applied behavior analysis or are a student or prospective student in a college ABA program, you need to stay up-to-date with the relevant research related to behavior, education, and psychology. In any career field, it is crucial to understand the latest developments that affect you as a professional as well as your clients and how you work with them. 

When psychology became an actual science in the 19th century, it came in a basic form, grew, explored its boundaries, and then formed limbs of specialties, such as applied behavior analysis. Since then, this important branch of psychology has accelerated decade by decade to become an essential part of our social structure. ABA is everywhere––in schools, in hospitals and clinics, on the sports field, inside big corporations, and in the home. 

Behavior is everywhere; therefore, ABA is everywhere. 

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As a student or ABA professional, how do you keep up with the latest trends and scientific developments related to your field? Where do you go to obtain this information?

Think about why this is important and how you can improve on this in the future. 

In the meantime, here are five recent developments in the world of applied behavior analysis––and feel free to dive more deeply into these topics at your own leisure. 

  • Advances in data collection/sharing
  • Advances in diagnostic methods bringing early detection
  • The addition of Applied Behavior Analysis into teaching curriculums
  • The increasing factor of functional assessment
  • The development of effective behavior intervention plans

Advances in Data Collection/Sharing

Advances in Data Collection/SharingFor many decades, data collection in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis was a closely guarded secret. Today, the advent of computerization and the creation of hand-held audio/visual recording devices allow professionals to observe from afar. Parents record adverse behaviors, send them directly to the professional, who may or may not share the video stream with cohorts to develop an individual plan for the individual patient. The rapid collection of patterns results in vast stores of evidence that the professional sifts through finds a general trend and begins applying possible solutions.

Some examples of data collection and collaborative tools that applied behavior analysts can use with their clients include:

  • ABA Therapy Tracker
  • ABA Teamwork
  • Accupoint
  • ACE ABA Software System
  • BIPTrack

There are various benefits to tracking and analyzing data with an app or computer program. Oftentimes ABA specialists, teachers, clinicians, and parents must observe multiple behaviors at once or behaviors that have such a high frequency that it makes things difficult to track by hand on a printed out datasheet. When individuals are able to use clickers, timers, and input data directly into a program electronically, this not only saves time and effort in regards to the physical data collection, but these programs typically do all of the analyzing as well. 

If you’re in a behavior-related field or are an analyst, it would be worth it to stay relevant with the ABA-type technology that is out there for you to use. Remember––work smarter, not harder. 

Advances in Diagnostic Methods Bringing Early Detection

Advances in Diagnostic Methods Bringing Early DetectionDuring the last two decades, the detection and monitoring of behavioral issues have developed into a science. Medical practitioners are well versed in the symptoms involved with Autism System Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), mood disorders, and any number of other behavior disorders. Certification in the field is a leap forward with practitioners certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board which regulates the standards necessary for quick observance and diagnosis of behavior disorders.

Early detection of autism and other behavioral disorders is key. With autism, now infants can be identified, although the window of opportunity is infancy through three years. If autism is not identified until later childhood years, those are years that interventions could have been in place. 

There are various questionnaires and physical assessments that parents and doctors can use to determine whether or not a child has autism. An example of a parent questionnaire is the M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised). 

The CDC explains the process of autism screening and diagnostics in pediatric and primary care practices. Some of the common screening and diagnostic tools that pediatricians use include Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ), Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS), Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS), Autism Diagnosis Interview – Revised (ADI-R), and the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale – Second Edition (GARS-2).

It is important that applied behavior analysts become familiar with the various screening and diagnostic tools that are used with children with autism. They should also learn how to read and understand diagnostic summaries and evaluations. New tools emerge frequently and it is best practice for ABA specialists to be familiar with them. 

The Addition of Applied Behavior Analysis into Teaching Curriculums

After the turn of the 21st Century, professionals came to realize that observations from the medical field were not enough to detect and diagnose any significant amounts of aberrant behaviors. Teacher education curriculums evolved to include the identification of behavior issues. The effort contributed new statistics to the point that, according to EurekAlert: The Global Source for Science News, government costs would expand to over $500 billion in ten years. The result is the push that brings more trained personnel to deal with the issues at the local level.

Regardless of an autism diagnosis, there are behavioral problems in every classroom––even in the general education setting. It benefits schools, and individual teachers, to learn and utilize ABA strategies in the classroom. 

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Using a Functional Behavior Assessment to create a Behavior Intervention Plan is one obvious way ABA has made its way into the school. Positive behavior supports, such as a school implementing PBIS, using a token economy, or setting up a school store are all examples of ABA used in the school setting. And collecting behavior data is something not all teachers are familiar with, but it is certainly something that is becoming more common, especially as inclusion increases. 

Applied behavior analysts who don’t primarily work in a school setting would benefit from understanding how ABA strategies work in the classroom. Many analysts work closely with their clients’ teachers, school counselors, and parents, making it imperative that they get out of the office and into the schools a bit more. 

The Increasing Factor of Functional Assessment

In 1968, Baer, Wolf, and Risley published an article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis that quickly became the mainstay of science. The team recommended the use of aversion interventions. With aversion intervention comes the use of stimuli to encourage the adverse behavior and a counter-stimulus to discourage the behavior. Thus, the patient learns to avoid the behavior through reaction to adverse stimuli. During the last decade, behaviorists have moved away from aversion therapy to functional assessment where the patient learns to reason through the behavior.

Today, FBA interventions have moved toward things like:

  •  Replacing inappropriate behaviors with appropriate ones
  • Delivering high quality attention when appropriate behaviors are observed
  • Using positive reinforcement
  • Focusing on functional communication training 

And much more! 

As the years progress, more research is available that back up various interventions we may have never thought about. Applied behavior analysts must continue to read about and train in applying new and relevant intervention models. 

The Development of Effective Behavior Intervention Plans

The Development of Effective Behavior Intervention PlansLastly, this development goes hand in hand with the Functional Behavior Assessment. With the advent of improved data collection techniques and the inclusion of medical and teaching personnel in the effort, the strategy of developing general plans of action to handle challenging behavior has stopped. 

The current trend is to observe the adverse behavior of each patient as an individual phenomenon and create a plan of action for that patient alone. These plans operate off the observations of local personnel and are produced by Certified Applied Behavior Analysts as instructional templates to handle individual cases. The understanding that all behavior issues are not the same and that each patient has a different solution is an essential step toward the justification of intervention.

Each person who exhibits problem behaviors has their own unique function of behavior. Once that is determined through FBA data, ABA specialists and/or school or clinic personnel can work together to develop individualized interventions to target those behaviors. 

Creating BIPs is just one way that BCBAs and ABAs can work with school systems. 

Recent Changes Enhancing Applied Behavior Analysis: Conclusion

Through data collection and sharing, the detection and treatment of behavior issues is now a recognizable solution in most cases. The differences in mind and body between individuals is forefront in the analysis of behavior issues. The continued training of professionals, parents, and patients is gradually alleviating adverse social patterns that may lead to injury or worse. The acceleration of changes in methodology brings hope for those afflicted with behavior issues.

As an applied behavior analyst, it is imperative that you seek out relevant and reliable research to grow as a professional, as well as utilize strategies and interventions that are proven to work. 

Brittany Cerny

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated October 2021