In this edition of ABA Behind the Scenes, Jami Hardy, MS, RBT, LGPC, will be unpacking the concept of “Behavior” as part of the term “Applied Behavior Analysis.”
In ABA, when we talk about behavior, we really mean anything a person says or does. Behavior includes observable actions—all the things other people can see—as well as things everyone else may not be able to see, such as feelings, emotions, thinking, and remembering. We call the things we can all see overt behaviors and the things we are not able to see as covert behaviors.
At times we may describe covert behaviors to explain what is happening, such as feeling frustrated or sad. Though these feelings are valid, your BCBA may often translate those feelings into objective, overt terms that describe behavior anyone can see. For example, you may tell your BCBA that your child becomes frustrated when he does not clearly understand how to complete a task. The BCBA may then observe your child to determine what exactly that frustration looks like. Does your child throw things, or tear paper when presented with difficult tasks? Maybe he or she screams, and tries to leave the work area altogether? These would all qualify as overt behaviors that constitute what being frustrated looks like. Once your BCBA defines these behaviors in observable terms, everyone can work together to start teaching your child new, more appropriate behaviors, while reducing those inappropriate behaviors.
|Covert Behavior||Overt Behavior|
|Frustrated||Tearing paper, crying, falling on the floor|
|Happy||Jumping up and down, smiling, laughing|
|Sad||Turning away from mom, putting head down|
Your BCBA will most likely focus on behavior that can be observed, measured, and described so that he or she is able to effectively intervene and help your child to change those behaviors. That doesn’t mean all of those covert behaviors aren’t important, we just can’t see them to intervene effectively. For example, an observable behavior would be taking a bite of a banana. We can see this happening, we can record how many bites are being taken, and we can describe the amount or size of bites. On the contrary, being hungry is a behavior that cannot be observed, measured, or described directly in clear and specific terms, which would make it difficult for intervention. We focus on all of those related overt behaviors so that we can effectively help change behavior.
When we talk about behavior in ABA, we focus on important behaviors that matter to the wellbeing of those we serve and have a socially important impact on their lives. Examples of this would be speaking and language building, social skills, adaptive hygiene skills, nutritional-based eating, and school-readiness skills. Building language is critical for children to be able to communicate their wants and needs, describe their environment, and develop social skills that will enrich their relationships. Adaptive and nutritional-based eating skills are important for living healthy and supporting independent lives well after treatment. Acquiring school preparation skills will improve the likelihood of children succeeding in the classroom and foster their educational growth. Your BCBA will work collaboratively with you to increase behaviors that are important to help your child succeed, and to decrease behaviors that limit your child’s learning and inclusion.
By Jami Hardy, MS, RBT, LGPC