At Mount Hawthorn education support centre we have a major focus on applied behaviour analysis (ABA). The Centre began using ABA in 1998 and has built a good reputation in the wider community for effective delivery of the program. Most of the Centre staff has now been involved in intensive professional development to enhance skills and knowledge in the area of ABA and discrete trial training and we keep pace with progress in research and development in this field.
ABA focuses on teaching small, measurable units of behaviour in a very systematic way. A task is broken down into small steps and taught in a one on one situation. Teaching trials are repeated many times, initially in rapid succession, until the student performs a response readily with minimal or no prompts. To maximise a child’s success, emerging skills are practised and reinforced in many less structured situations e.g. group activities in class, on excursions, and at home.
There seem to be a variety of beliefs around at the moment that ABA in some way either diminishes students, makes them robotic, takes away their personality or even, causes their autism to get worse. What we can say is that in the 10 years we have been running our program, we have never had this experience. What we have seen is students who, at the start, were inconsolably anxious about being in a classroom at all, let alone with other children, at the end being quite happy and calm, enjoy their classmates and able to ‘go with the gang’. We have seen students who, at the start, had very poor attention and were virtually unable to attend to anything at all (which interferes greatly with every kind of learning) eventually becoming able to focus on and complete their school work, play with peers and develop skills needed to learn. We have seen students who, at the start, did not understand the point of following any instructions at all, but at the end were happy and confident to listen to and be guided by their teachers who could then help them interact successfully with the world around them.
It is entirely up to individual parents whether they would find our program useful or not. We require parents to observe the program before making decisions, since parent enthusiasm is essential to its success. We do not enrol students in this program unless we are confident that parents are completely positive and happy with it.
For an interesting look at ABA, HERE is a very informative BBC documentary which examines the views of supporters and detractors of the ABA method.