31 Jul 2018

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Observable behaviours? In the first post in this series, the team talked about the need for thorough assessment to understand a child’s needs. This was followed by a discussion on how an ABA programmer will work out which behaviours to focus on. We termed those “socially significant” behaviours – in other words behaviours that will make a real difference in the life of the child and their family. The next step is then to define the behaviours in a way that everyone can be clear about what is going to be taught.

Observable Behaviours

Once target behaviours have been identified, a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst or Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCBA or BCaBA) will carefully define the behaviours in observable and measurable terms. The definition for the behaviour must be objective, clear, and discriminate between what is and what is not an example of the target behaviour.

The first level of the target behaviour is observable, that is, everyone must be able to see the same thing.

For example, “Hitting is defined as open palm, closed fist, elbow, upper arm, striking, slapping, punching, swinging at a person.”

Hitting does not include using head (e.g. “head butting”), using body (“pushing”), or using feet (“kicking”).

Definitions Matter

With a clear definition, it becomes easier to collect data on the behaviours we can see (hence, observable).  An ABA programmer will avoid descriptive terms such as   “The child is feeling anxious.” “The learner is confused.” “The person is scared.” These  terms “anxious”, “confused” and “scared” are not clearly defined. What looks “anxious” to one observer, may appear angry or agitated to another.

Rather an ABA programmer will focus on the specific behaviours and use observable terms to describe them. For example, “the child is biting his nails”  (when he might be anxious); “the student has paused and is not writing down the answer” (when the child might be confused by the question); or “the child is shaking and hiding behind his mother” (when he might be scared).

Why do we want behaviour to be observable? So we can measure it! Measurement is the core of all ABA interventions. How do we know if things are getting better (or worse) if we don’t have a system of evaluation?

Part 4 in this series next week will explain the role of measurement.

As always please feel free to come and talk to the team should you have any questions or need support. Jenny and the team can be contacted on 9274 7062.

Jenny Lin

ABACAS Program Manager


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