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Applied Behaviour Analysis: Think like a Scientist and Change Challenging Behaviours

At any age, children can struggle with frustrations and expectations. When that happens, challenging behaviours like angry outbursts, aggression, tantrums, refusal, and prolonged periods of crying can occur. Sure, life is full of challenges, and learning to work through them is an important skill. But when these challenges are big and frequent—without the improvements you would expect with learning and maturity—they can create a distressing cycle that is hard to break. Children with ADD or ADHD, and developmental disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can experience lots of frustrations when skills are lagging behind their peers. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) can help reduce challenging behaviours and help your child develop effective skills too.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is now offered at Possibilities. Here are some common questions we are asked about our ABA Service, along with our answers.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) teaches parents to think like scientists when it comes to their children’s behaviour. With a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA), you’ll learn how to observe challenging behaviours and change them with specific strategies. ABA can help you and your child build adaptive behaviours too!

ABA is a type of therapy that uses scientific principles to help make meaningful changes in behaviour. With ABA, your family works with a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA). BCBAs conduct assessments that help determine 1) what behaviours to target for change, 2) what level of skill your child has in different areas, 3) what factors are keeping specific behaviours going, and 4) what function specific behaviours are serving for your child. With this data, a BCBA will develop an individualized Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP) for your family with research-driven strategies to build adaptive skills, and reduce challenging behaviours if they are also in the mix. Next, the BCBA can support you—and other adults who play important roles in your child’s life like teachers and school administrators—with administering the plan.

A BCBA is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst. This designation is allocated to an independent, graduate-level practitioner who has obtained a Masters or Doctorate degree and who is trained and certified to provide behaviour analytic services such as ABA. Board Certified Behaviour Analysts have many skills. They understand important factors that shape human behaviour, are competent in defining and measuring meaningful changes in behaviour, and know how to implement evidence-based strategies that prevent challenging behaviours from occurring. A BCBA can give insights into behaviour, while teaching you and your child more adaptive ways to respond and how to build new skills. 

At Possibilities, the BCBA provides behaviour support primarily for children ages 18 months to 12 years and their families.

Professionals who provide Applied Behaviour Analysis at Possibilities can support you and your child by addressing different kinds of challenging behaviours. Difficulties with self-regulation, trouble remaining on task or coping with transitions, trouble with anxiety or becoming oppositional in specific situations, and challenges with sensory behaviours are some common concerns treated in ABA. BCBAs can help you and your child build new skills, too! Some families have asked for help building skills like organization, and promoting independence with tasks like homework and self-help skills.

When a BCBA works with your family, you’ll learn how to become a keen observer of your child’s behaviour. With keen observation you can learn about factors that drive and maintain your child’s challenging behaviour. On the flip side, you can learn strategies that might reduce those concerning behaviours, too. At times, you might seek support to help increase your child’s ability to get started and complete tasks, like homework. Or, you might wonder how self-help skills can improve to make those getting ready for school or bedtime transitions run more smoothly. In ABA, you’ll learn strategies to build skills too!

When you work with a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, you’ll learn how to think like a scientist. As complex humans with very evolved brains, we like to think of ourselves as very aware—always understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it. In reality, many of our behaviours happen without our awareness. In the scientific community, Behavioural Scientists study outward behaviours—or actions they can see. They look at what factors make certain behaviours happen and what factors make those behaviours less likely to happen. They also make predictions about what will happen if certain variables are changed. This approach is how Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) works. You’ll learn from a BCBA how to change variables and measure how those changes change behaviour. Maybe your child panics with indecision when you ask her to choose her cereal in the morning. When you change things up—offering her a choice between only two cereals—you see the panic subside. By making these observations—first by observing the problem and then seeing what happens when you try something new—you’ve learned how to prevent challenging behaviour and create opportunities for your child to build new skills.

During sessions, you’ll work with the BCBA to pinpoint one to three specific behaviours you want to target for change. The Behaviour Analyst will ask questions, observe, and conduct a Comprehensive Functional Behaviour Assessment for your family. You’ll come to understand, in-depth, why your child exhibits specific behaviours. You’ll also learn how to define and measure each behaviour. Data that are collected will be plotted on graphs so you can see how changes you make increase or decrease specific behaviours. The ultimate goal is to teach you and your child better coping strategies to support success and well-being

School board policies and regulations vary, making school observations possible in some schools but not in others. If your child’s school is willing to participate, then school consultations and sessions can certainly be offered virtually. Consistency is helpful for changing behaviours, so implementing a Behaviour Intervention Plan across different settings can be beneficial.

No. ABA practitioners focus on changing behaviours—and that means the approach can be helpful for anyone, not just individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Yes, scientific studies show that children with autism can make significant gains when they receive ABA therapy. But ABA is certainly not an exclusive therapy for individuals with autism. In fact, BCBAs work with people of all ages and in various settings—from daycares and geriatric centres, to feeding clinics and sleep clinics!

Yes! If you have concerns about specific behaviours or lagging skills, then ABA can be a useful therapy for you and your child. Remember, the focus is on behaviours and not on diagnoses. So your family can get started with ABA—and benefit from it—without any formal diagnosis at all!

To make meaningful change happen, families work with the Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) for 8 sessions over approximately 16 weeks. In this time frame, you’ll identify one to three behaviours to focus on for intervention.

In the first four sessions, the BCBA will complete the Comprehensive Functional Behaviour Assessment with you. In these sessions you’ll learn more about human behaviour and why individuals do what they do! You’ll also learn how to define behaviour and measure it systematically as you begin to think like a scientist and prepare to measure behaviours. In the remaining four sessions, intervention begins. You’ll receive the results of the Comprehensive Functional Behaviour Assessment. You’ll also receive an individualized Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP) to reduce challenging behaviours and help your child build more effective and adaptive skills. As the sessions progress, you’ll receive support as you implement the Behaviour Intervention Plan. At the end, you’ll receive a summary of the intervention and recommendations for the future.

Yes, of course! You might need some support continuing to implement the Behaviour Intervention Plan for the behaviours you targeted in your initial sessions. Or there might be other behaviours you want to address. You can request additional 8-session blocks if you need them, or some booster sessions to help you solidify your skills and apply the principles you’ve learned to other behaviours and settings.   

Yes! All appointments can take place over secure video sessions. If observations are required, the BCBA will observe your child in real time during the video appointments. If behaviours you are targeting usually happen at other times, the BCBA will ask you to videotape those behaviours beforehand, for later observation during the appointment.

Yes! You do not need a doctor’s referral to get started with ABA.

Board Certified Behaviour Analysts are non-medical health professionals. As such, their services are not covered by OHIP. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) offered by Board Certified practitioners may be covered by private insurance plans.

For more information about Applied Behaviour Analysis, please contact us at [email protected] or call 1-833-482-5558. You can also get started right away by completing our Registration Form. Once this form is received, our Care Coordinator will review your needs, match you to an appropriate clinician, and get back to you with booking options.

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