ABA can help to decrease unwanted behaviors and increase desired behaviors. We refer to these desired behaviors as “replacement skills”. ABA first does what is called a “Functional Analysis”. The ABA therapist observes, interviews, and tracks data alongside the client or caregiver, and uses this to determine the function of the problem behaviors. The function simply means “why are they doing what they’re doing?” After we find out the function, we can begin to teach a replacement skill that serves that same function, but is socially appropriate. This way, the person still gets what they want, which is why they were engaging in the problem behavior to begin with. This is also referred to has “Functional Communication Training.” This can be done virtually, clinically, or in the natural setting. An example of this would be a nonverbal child on the autism spectrum who yells or screams very loudly. We would first want to find out why they are doing this. The function of problem behaviors usually serves 1 of 4 functions. These are sensory, escape, attention, and access to tangibles.
After a functional analysis the therapist is able to determine which one of these functions the screaming behavior is serving. If for example the learner was doing this to gain access to attention, we would teach them how to wave or use their communication device to ask for attention, or simply give them social attention on a fixed time schedule regardless of the targeted behavior. If the function of the screaming behavior was to escape a demand, we would teach the learner how to ask for a break and reinforce them by giving them a short break, which gets them what they wanted, but it is done in an appropriate manner. If the function was sensory, we would make sure that the learner has enough sensory input throughout the day so that they are not in a state of deprivation, and have to engage in stereotypical behaviors in order to self stimulate. If the function were access to a tangible item, such as food or water, we would teach them how to appropriately ask for these items. ABA can also help decrease unwanted behaviors such as over eating, smoking, addictions, and any other desired behavior changes.