Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Three behavioral Theories

Applied Behavior Analysis was first originated by B.F Skinner. Applied Behavior Analysis is defined by Cooper, Heron, and Howard, (1987), as “The science in which procedures derived from the principles of behavior are systematically applied to improve socially significant behavior to a meaningful degree and to demonstrate experimentally that the procedures employed were responsible for the improvement in behavior.” In this model, behavior is defined in objective and measurable terms. All behavior is analyzed through a 3-part system, known as the ABC”s of behavior. Note the diagram below:

Antecedent Behavior Consequence

An antecedent is what happens before the behavior occurred. The behavior is the exact description of what the behavior looked like using measurable terms. The consequence is what happened directly after the behavior occurred.

Reinforcement, data collection and very meticulous prompt delivery and fading are important in a successful ABA program. Differences lie in the way reinforcement is used and will be discussed in further program descriptions.

Although ABA has been around for many years, its use as a teaching method for teaching children with ASD is more recent. The purpose of ABA in programming for ASD is to reduce some of the disruptive behaviors in individuals with autism, and to teach communication, social skills, play and self -help skills. (Bureau of Autism Services, 2007) For the purposes of the topic, we will consider the use of ABA in a variety of teaching programs, specifically, Discrete Trial Training, Verbal Behavior and The Competent Learner Model.

Discrete Trial Teaching is the primary instructional method in ABA. It involves breaking down a skill into much smaller parts, teaching each of these smaller parts at a time, allowing repeated practice, providing prompting for initial success then fading prompts systematically and utilizing reinforcement procedures to increase motivation. Skills are taught in a 1-1 format. Once a skill is mastered, generalization of that skill is incorporated into the program along with the acquisition of new skills.

To learn more about ABA and the early discrete trial method, watch this 9 minute video on you tube:

Verbal Behavior programming is also guided by the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and is considered a more contemporary behavior approach. . In addition to using ABA principles, a Verbal Behavior (VB) practitioner also incorporates B.F. Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior. More recently, Sundberg and Partington have outlined and studied the verbal behavior approach.

Verbal Behavior is defined as behavior that is mediated by the behavior of another person. This means it is what we do in most of our interactions with other people. Verbal behavior is communication. (Sundberg and Partington, 1998). It focuses attention on the functional analysis of language: looking at the conditions under which a person will use language. Rather than the communicative functions referred to by a speech-language pathologist, Verbal Behavior uses terms such as mands (requests), tacts ( labels) or intraverbals (answering questions and responding to another). All functions of a word are taught. Verbal behavior includes many different modalities, including speaking, using gestures, use of sign language, use of picture systems, and the use of various augmentative communication devices. Although all these modalities can be used with verbal behavior, the preferred alternative modality to speaking is signing, which is topographically similar to speaking. Verbal behavior instruction follows strict behavior principles and uses intensive data collection to record progress.

Verbal behavior involves teaching many skills within intensive teaching sessions using errorless teaching and fast paced instruction. In order to reduce problem behavior and enhance generalizations, tasks are presented one after another from many skill areas. Task complexity varies between easy tasks (allows for more reinforcement) with tasks that are more difficult and require more effort. The goal of this program is functional communication. The expectation is that the child will be able to request, comment, and respond to questions (using a word for a variety of language functions) in natural activities and routines. Manding or requesting is taught first, by paring yourself with fun and strong reinforcers that the child likes. An important and more recent aspect of Verbal Behavior is to teach a mastered skill in the natural environment, or Natural Environment Teaching (NET) to generalize the skills with others and in other environments.

The decision on what tasks to work on is determined by a criterion referenced assessment known as the ABLLS (The assessment of behavior and Language skills (Sundberg and Partington ) or a shortened version known as the BLAF ( The Behavioral Language Assessment Form ( Sundberg and Partington).This assessment is also helpful for demonstrating progress in the areas that are being addressed.

The Competent Learner Model is also based on behavioral and direct instruction principles. The target population is for children with complicated learning profiles, including children with autism. This program, developed by Vic Tucci, includes staff training and curriculum. The curriculum includes learner assessments, effective teaching strategies and a scope and sequence. Initially the student is assessed using the Competent Learner Repertoire Assessment and an Individual Placement test. There are seven repertoires and they include the following:
Participator –participates in a variety of instructional settings and persists with a task , even if novel or difficult.
Problem Solver- Learns to behave in a way that will lead to a solution
Listener- follows directions or listens to advice in given situations
Observer-Will produce factual information ( label), matches and imitates others actions
Talker- Speaks conventionally and answers questions on topic in an acceptable manner.
Reader- Reads material fluently and answers questions about the material.
Writer –Produces written material to convey clear ideas.
The seven repertoires form a core to all learning to all functional activities. The program provides very defined lessons which provide specific descriptions for teacher and learner behaviors, materials and criteria for mastery. There are specific training components or competencies that teachers and staff that work with this program must complete in order to administer it properly.
For a review of the CLM model, use the link below:


Carbone, Vincent. "Teaching Communication Skills to Students with Autism Using Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior." National Autism conference. Penn State University, State College, PA. 5 Aug. 2004.

Lee, David. "The ABC's of Applied Behavior Analysis-A Primer." Penn State University. videocassette. 2003.

Milchick, Sherry. "Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis." Berks County Intermediate Unit. Berks County Intermediate Unit. 10 May 2007.

Reese, Jeanne, and Mikus, Mary. "All About Autism." Berks County Intermediate Unit. Unknown.

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