Sunday, December 16, 2007

Applied Behavior Analysis [the field of] 1

As a teacher for high schoolers with severe & profound disabilities, the best tool kit I have comes from the field of applied behavior analysis. This field was defined by Baer, Wolf, and Risley in the first publication of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

"Applied" defines the field as socially relevant and leading to functional individual and socially significant benefits. Remember that previous to this new field, B. Fred Skinner, his students, and a few others were developing its basic principles by observing the patterns in choice-making behavior of pigeons, rats, and other lab animals. Though it ended up, luckily, that the principles developed by Skinner & others were applicable to people, this was not at all a foregone conclusion. The transfer of Behaviorist principles derived from the observations of some animal choice-making under controlled conditions turns out to be universally applicable across animals [including, of course, people]. And this stroke of luck allowed for the harvesting of a half-decade's worth of research for application to choice-making animals.
"Behavior" refers to the observations of real behavior and the systematic evaluations of that behavior.

I think the original article, though 40 years old, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of science as well as anybody who works with the shaping of behavior [such as teachers, doctors, judges, etc...].

I want to take the next series of blogs to develop the interplay of teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis [ABA]. Partially, I am motivated to do so because the field is very broad and the assessments, remediation, and techniques that flow from this bountiful field are applicable to any training model. But at this historical moment, the field of teaching is focusing the term "ABA" to the Lovaas/UCLA remediation attempts directed toward young children with autism.

I am afraid that a name of an entire field ["Applied Behavior Analysis"] will have its definition reduced to a particular remedial program. In fact, the Lovaas method flows directly from the ABA field and Lovaas himself is one of the most well known researchers in ABA. So I have absolutely no qualms with using the ABA description for his method. I just want that moniker to keep its wider meaning.