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ABA Therapy History: Who Invented ABA Therapy?

Discover the roots of ABA therapy and how it has evolved into the widely used treatment for autism today.

Early History of ABA Therapy

As the parent of an autistic child, you have most likely heard of ABA therapy. The evolution of ABA therapy has created a possible treatment plan for your child, but it is natural to want to learn more about this plan before committing to it. 

In this guide, you can discover how ABA therapy started, how it is used as a treatment for autism and the future of this therapy.

Who Invented ABA Therapy?

Also known as Applied Behavior Analysis, ABA therapy is a form of behavior therapy that was developed in the 1960s. It was developed by Ole Ivar Lovaas, a Norwegian-American clinical psychologist who spent nearly 50 years researching ways to improve the lives of autistic children and their families.

The idea of Applied Behavior Analysis is to analyze, learn and change certain behaviors through positive reinforcement. This means rewarding children for positive behavior rather than punishing them for unwanted behavior.

ABA therapy has been used to treat patients such as non-verbal and self-injurious autistic children. Lovaas wanted to decrease the challenging behaviors while increasing communication among patients.

Who Founded ABA Therapy?

While Lovaas has devoted a lot of time to researching and developing ABA therapy, he is not the only pioneer of this treatment. There are many individuals who had a hand in bringing ABA therapy to light for autistic families.

These pioneers include Charles Ferster, B. F. Skinner, Donald M. Baer, Sidney Bijou, Marian DeMyer, Robert Koegel and Lynn Koegel. 

Charles Ferster worked with B. F. Skinner at Harvard University to develop Errorless Learning. They originally used this type of behavior modification on animals, but they were also able to use this method to teach autistic children how to speak. In addition, Charles co-authored the book "Schedules of Reinforcement" in 1957.

Donald M. Baer has contributed to ABA therapy by researching and publishing literature on several psychological issues and treatments, including early childhood interventions, experimental design and behavior-analytic theory. He also researched the effects of removing positive reinforcements as a way to address unwanted behaviors in young children.

Sidney Bijou researched and developed another approach to behavior therapy. Positive actions are still rewarded in this approach, but negative actions are ignored instead of punished. He believed encouraging positive behavior would motivate children to behave positively. Lovaas adapted this technique in ABA therapy for autism. 

Marian DeMyer worked with Ole Ivar Lovaas to conduct behavioral experiments on autistic children. Their goal was to show that positive behavior can be encouraged through positive reinforcements. One example was using candy as a reward for positive behavior. Additionally, Marian DeMyer was a popular writer and contributor to autism research.

Robert and Lynn Koegel worked together to develop Pivotal Response Treatment, which is used in ABA therapy. They have trained a range of special education and healthcare leaders in the United States and overseas. The Koegels have also developed several interventions and methods to help autistic individuals and their families. Their research and hard work in autism have resulted in a range of state, federal and private foundation grants.

Development And Expansion Of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy was originally designed to help autistic children develop communication skills. The goal was to prevent autistic children from being institutionalized. Today, it is used to meet the specific needs of each patient.

Over the years, ABA therapy has expanded to special education teachers and healthcare workers. Furthermore, several autism centers that specialize in ABA therapy have opened up in Illinois. These centers offer play-based environments to encourage children to explore their interests while receiving ABA and speech therapy.

The expansion of ABA therapy has shown that there is now optimism rather than pessimism in autism.

Unfortunately, the previous practice of ABA therapy included methods that could be uncomfortable or harmful to autistic individuals. This was done in an effort to make autistic children more like their peers.

1. Forced eye contact for a long period of time.

2. Withholding basic needs, such as food and drinks.

3. Restricting all access to self-stimulating behaviors.

4. Forcing patients to eliminate or mask their autistic traits.

The good news is, ABA therapy no longer uses these methods as a form of treatment. In fact, these methods are seen as a red flag by many and are not recommended to be used by therapists.

Contemporary ABA Therapy

If you are the parent of an autistic child, you may be pleased to know that contemporary ABA therapy is part of a treatment package rather than the only source of therapy.

The Current State Of ABA Therapy

Today, ABA therapy is individualized to meet the needs of each child. The treatment may include speech therapy, sensory integration therapy, occupational therapy and psychotherapy.

Therapists may follow the five stages of ABA therapy when working with their patients.

Discrete Trial Teaching

Lessons are broken down into smaller tasks with a cue-and-response structure. Therapists teach one task at a time until it is mastered by the child. Then, therapists may move on to the next task. Children are rewarded after successfully using the cue-and-response structure.

Naturalistic Teaching

Naturalistic Teaching allows children to learn at their own pace, and it is usually based on their routine. Children have the opportunity to choose the activities, from discussions to games. The reinforcement itself depends on the activity or situation.

Pivotal Response Training

Pivotal Response Training focuses on key areas of a child's development. This includes their motivation, social interactions, self-management and response to multiple cues.

The three components of Pivotal Response Training are the development of communication, increasing positive behaviors and decreasing harmful self-stimulating behaviors.

Token Economy

Tokens represent real-world currency exchange, and the tokens are rewarded or removed based on predefined behaviors. This is done to encourage positive behavior in autistic children, but the instructions and criteria must be clear for this method to work.

Children can learn how to visualize progress, accept and work toward a goal, self-monitor and adjust their behavior. Here are several steps of Token Economy in ABA therapy.

1. Break down the day into smaller blocks of time.

2. Address up to three behaviors at once.

3. Offer reward options that appeal to the child.

4. Be clear about the desired behavior, and frame the instructions in a positive tone.

5. Physically hand the child their token.

The tokens can be traded in for their reward.

Contingent Observation

Contingent Observation is the final learning stage, and it is used when the child is in a group of peers. If a child performs an unwanted behavior, their therapist reminds them that it is unacceptable. Your child can then observe their peers performing their tasks as a way to learn what behavior is acceptable.

Overall, the goal of ABA therapy should be developing behaviors and skills that help autistic children to be more independent.

The Future Of ABA Therapy

The future of ABA therapy is growing, and this form of therapy has become a treatment plan that meets individual needs. Thanks to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, all ABA therapists are trained to keep up with the evolving moral code. This is done to ensure patients are always treated with dignity, integrity, respect and compassion.

Timeline of ABA Therapy's History

The following is a portion of ABA therapy's history timeline.

1913 - "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It" is published by John B. Watson.

1924 - "Principles of Psychology" is published by Jacob Robert Kantor.

1938 - "Behavior of Organisms" is published by B.F. Skinner.

1943 - Behavior shaping is discovered.

1944 - William Estes and Skinner document punishment.

1947 - Keller Breland and Marian Breland open an animal training school that eventually became the Animal Behavior Enterprises of Hot Springs, Arkansas. It is the first business that uses positive reinforcement.

1948 - The first conference on the Experimental Analysis of Behavior takes place at Indiana University.

1949 - "Operant Conditioning of a Human Vegetative Organism" is published by Paul Fuller.

1950 - The first behavior-analytic textbook, "Principles of Psychology," is published by William James.

1953 - Ogden Lindsley and B.F. Skinner open the Behavior Research Laboratory.

1957 - "Schedules of Reinforcement" is published by Charles Ferster and B. F. Skinner.

1958 - The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is founded.

1960 - Behaviordelia is founded by Dick Malott.

1961 - "The Analysis of Behavior" is published by James G. Holland and B. F. Skinner.

1961 - Charles Ferster uses Errorless Learning to teach autistic children how to speak at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

1968 - The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is founded.

1968 - Lovaas creates the UCLA Young Autism Project, which uses Errorless Learning.

1972 - The "Behaviorism" journal is founded by Willard Day.

1972 - "Self-Directed Behavior: Self Modification for Personal Adjustment" is published by Watson and Roland Tharp.

1974 - The founding of the Midwestern Association for Behavior Analysis.

1978 - First Harvard meeting on Reinforcement Schedules as Discriminative Stimuli.

1981 - Robert Epstein establishes the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

1983 - Japanese Association for Behavior Analysis is established.

1987 - The Lovaas Study.

1994 - The first Department of Behavior Analysis in the United States is established.

1998 - The Behavior Analyst Certification Board is established.

2000 - The publication of the European Journal of Behavior Analysis begins.

2008 - The Association for Behavior Analysis begins the publication of "Behavior Analysis in Practice".

If you are the parent of an autistic child, you can take comfort in knowing ABA therapy has evolved into an effective treatment plan that is tailored to your child's needs.



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