ABA in the Rehabilitation and Independent Living Setting
The fields of rehabilitation and independent living have become prime candidates for the application of applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques specifically tailored to help individuals impacted by an emerging disability. There are hundreds of different types of injuries and health conditions that can lead to the development of cognitive or physical impairment in victims, threatening their ability to survive on their own. In the context of personal freedom and caregiving, there is a huge difference between patients who can live independently and those who cannot. Practical ABA methodology is one of the few strategies proven to help people acquire and maintain essential skills that allow them to take back some control over their lives.
Related resource: Top 25 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Programs
Traumatic and Acquired Brain Injuries
Despite its relatively durable case, the human brain is a sensitive organ that can sustain serious and possibly permanent damage from various injuries. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can result from a variety of situations, including car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, and physical altercations. Open wounds and closed head injuries are both potential sources of long-term neurological impairment.
Acquired brain injuries are less immediate or obvious, but they can be just as debilitating as traumatic damage. An acquired injury may be the result of a single, brief event, like a heart attack, oxygen deprivation or seizure. These injuries may also be incurred over time due to repeated exposure, like chronic infections or excessive use of alcohol or drugs. Regardless of the source of the damage, both traumatic and acquired injuries can have a profound impact on a person’s ability to act independently and perform fundamental tasks that are essential for maintaining basic living standards.
Understanding the Impact of Brain Damage
Data collected from several states in the US indicates that between 3 and 5 million people are currently dealing with a disability resulting from a traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These injuries can have life-changing consequences for the victim physically, mentally and socially. Impairment of judgment, memory, perception and general thinking skills can cause numerous secondary problems, including the possibility of further injury. Neurological damage can also cause muscle weakness, loss of coordination, loss of sensory perception and problems with sleep or balance.
Goal of Behavior Analysis Intervention
In the context of rehabilitation and independent living, behavior analysis practitioners have several distinct priorities for their treatment plans. Behavior analysts don’t treat brain injuries directly. Instead, they focus on the behaviors stemming from and perpetuating the impairment. Analysts apply the basic principles of ABA to identify triggers and other factors leading to undesirable behavior, also called antecedents, as well as the consequences that reinforce it. While there are some issues and considerations specific to victims of brain injury, behavior analysts use much the same method as they would in any other patient-oriented setting.
Using ABA to Aid in Rehabilitation
The primary goal of rehabilitation in the context of brain injuries is to help the victim acquire the skills needed to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), according to the Brain Injury Association of America. The term ADL covers only the most essential tasks, like food preparation, using the bathroom and getting dressed. The ability to drive, conduct social interactions and follow schedules are more advanced forms of these skills. This basic groundwork allows the subject to take care of the essentials on their own and have the freedom to pursue additional rehabilitation both in and outside the home.
Behavior analysts working in rehabilitation settings can participate or intervene at various stages in the process. Acute rehabilitation typically begins immediately after a medical diagnosis and emergency treatments, like surgery or other inpatient care. Patient recovery is usually directed and managed by a team of professionals, including behavior analysts and psychologists. ABA sessions are also administered over a longer time period as part of post-acute rehabilitation and day treatment or outpatient therapy programs that offer long-term support.
Applications in Independent Living Environments
Compared to rehabilitation, independent living is a more long-term and consistent arrangement designed to accommodate special considerations or impairments. Behavior analysts in these settings focus on managing environmental factors and providing long-term therapy that helps the subjects build and maintain living skills. These services can be provided in a subject’s home as well as a nursing facility or other communal living environment. Behavior analysts are often also involved in broader program design and management at these facilities to encourage overall cooperation and wellness.
ABA Occupations in Independent Living and Rehabilitation
Licensed ABA practitioners can find a wide variety of positions that involve dealing directly with patients in a limited or one-on-one environment. Hospitals, clinics and living facilities can all benefit from the skills of a trained behavior analyst. Many professionals eventually choose an area of specialization regarding behavior and brain injury, like aging-related health issues, military disabilities, injuries in youth and cultural or gender issues. These pursuits often cross over into other fields of study within behavior analysis, including occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Career Preparation and Additional Resources
Students and new professionals interested in working in a rehabilitation or independent living setting should start studying their options as soon as possible. A bachelor’s degree may be enough to get started with entry-level positions within the field, but a graduate or doctoral degree is typically required to advance as an applied behavior analyst. Prospective practitioners should also consider additional certification and education, like recognition by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) or the Brain Injury Association of America.
Traumatic and acquired brain injuries are a leading source of severe cognitive, social and physical impairments throughout the United States. These injuries have wide-ranging and far-reaching consequences on the victim as well as their friends, family and extended support network. It’s not always possible to reach previous levels of capability and capacity following an injury, but measurable and consistent improvement is usually a realistic goal with professional assistance. While the field of applied behavior analysis is still growing and developing, it can produce life-changing benefits when successfully applied in a rehabilitation or independent living setting.