Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 What is Autism?   Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that is neurological in nature, although behaviorally diagnosed.  According to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) as published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) constitutes deficits along three major areas of development:  1) persistent difficulties in social communication and interaction, 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities, and 3) with or without accompanying language or intellectual impairment.


What is Behaviorism?  Behaviorism is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning, which naturally occurs through interaction with the environment.  According to this school of thought, behavior can be studied in a systematic and observable manner that is scientifically rigorous, with no consideration of internal mental states.  Behaviorism suggests that only observable behaviors should be accounted for because internal states such as cognitions, emotions and moods are too subjective to study in a manner that is truly scientific.


What is Behavior Analysis?  Behavior analysis is a branch of psychology based on the principles of Behaviorism as developed by Edward Thorndike, John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, Clark Hull and B.F. Skinner.  There are two major areas of Behavior Analysis:  experimental and applied.  Experimental behavior analysis involves basic research designed to add to the body of knowledge about behavior.  Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) on the other hand is focused on applying these behavioral principles to real-world situations.  


What do Behavior Analysts do?  Professionals who work in the field of ABA are interested in observable behaviors and their relationship with the immediate environment in which they occur.   Rather than focusing on internal states, ABA practitioners directly manipulate antecedent and consequential environmental variables in order to bring about changes in target behavior.  Behavior Analysts engage in the specific and comprehensive use of principles of learning, including both operant and respondent conditioning, in order to address the behavioral needs of widely varying individuals in diverse settings.  


What are some applications of Behavior Analysis?  Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is comprised of many different treatment modalities including Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Natural Environment Training (NET), and Verbal Behavior (VB).  Some of the behavioral techniques that are commonly used by Behavior Analysts across the different treatment modalities are prompting, chaining, shaping and fading.


What is Discrete Trial Training (DTT)?  One method of teaching that is commonly used in ABA programs is DTT.  DTT is a one-to-one instructional method of teaching in highly simplified and structured steps. Discrete trails are defined and scripted to make sure every trial is run the exact same way.  Each trial is short and therefore many teaching trials can be presented in short succession of one another in order to maximize trials and opportunities for learning.  There are 5 steps in involved in each trial:  1) antecedent, 2) prompt, 3) response, 4) consequence, and 5) inter-trial interval.  There is a clear beginning and end in each trial with antecedents and prompts kept simple and at an appropriate level.  By breaking down tasks into short manageable trials and using suitable prompts and guidance, DTT maximizes childrens' success and minimizes their failures.  In the end, a major principle to abide by within the field of ABA is that if the child isn't learning, then it is the method of teaching that needs to be modified.


What is Natural Environment Training (NET)?  Natural Environment Training (NET) was developed by Dr. Mark Sundberg & Dr. James W. Partington and is based on Skinner's Verbal Behavior (1957).  Teaching in the NET requires the therapist to focus on the child's immediate interests and activities as a guide to their language instruction.  It is conducted in a typical daily environment, not in a formal teaching arrangement.  This type of training allows for more manding (requesting) opportunities, reduces the need for intricate generalization procedures and promotes more spontaneous verbal behavior.  The child may also exhibit fewer negative behaviors because of the focus on motivation and the use of consequences more directly related to that motivation.


What is Verbal Behavior (VB)?  Verbal Behavior (VB) is the behavioral analysis of language by its formal and functional properties resulting in a classification system that allows for the identification of these functionally different types of language.  In addition to receptive or listener discriminations, Skinner presented the following types of expressive behavior:  echoic (and motor imitation), mand (request), tact, intraverbal, textual and transcriptive (spelling), (Skinner, 1957).  Behavior analysts consider language to be a behavior that can be directly taught and increased through reinforcement. Tools such as The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS-R, by Dr. James Partington) and Verbal Behavior-Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP, by Dr. Mark Sundberg) are used to identify specific language objectives and to provide a verbal behavior curriculum and skills tracking system.


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