Becoming a Behavior Analyst

The Top 10 Features of a Good ABA Classroom

By Michael F. Dorsey, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, Professor of Education and Director of The Institute for Behavioral Studies, Van Loan School at Endicott College

Thirty-plus years of research and continuous refinements have firmly established Applied Behavior Analysis as the most effective approach in reducing inappropriate behavior and increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.  In turn, parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder have been able to effectively advocate to ensure that their children are provided ABA services in classrooms and other educational settings. 

While this is a great step forward, no research-based standard has been established as of yet for what constitutes an effective “ABA Classroom.” Parents and teachers are left on their own to determine what works.

With this predicament in mind, the following is a guideline for elements of an effective ABA Classroom that parents and teachers should expect to find:

  1. The class philosophy must be based exclusively on the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis and utilize only Evidence-Based Practices.
  2. Applications of ABA technology should include the collection of objective data on all IEP Behavioral Goals/Objectives simultaneously with the occurrence of the targeted behaviors.  
  3. All data should be summarized and graphed daily. 
  4. Changes in teaching strategies and/or specific Goals/Objectives should be based on this data.
  5. A Behavioral Analyst should be assigned to consult with the school and home-based educational staff.  Consultation hours should be divided between the student’s home and school.  This consultant should be a Licensed Applied Behavior Analyst (LABA) or Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and have a minimum of a master’s degree in Behavior Analysis, Special Education or Psychology, as well as experience in the education and treatment of children with similar developmental issues and at the same age.  Specifically, those standards outlined by the Association for Behavior Analysis as well as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) should be followed as a basis for the selection of this individual.
  6. All staff, including the classroom teacher, aides, habilitation staff, home-based, etc., must together meet at a minimum of twice per month to review the data and to make decisions relative to the continued appropriateness of current goals/objectives and/or teaching strategies.  All data must be available for review by parents at any time.
  7.  All IEP Goals should be based on a development assessment, such as The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) or Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) and updated on an on-going basis to assist in the initial identification and ongoing monitoring of IEP Goals.
  8. All educational services (i.e., Class, Home-Based, etc.) must be based on the same IEP, with one set of Goals and Objectives, the same teaching strategies, materials, data collection procedures, etc.  It is imperative that everyone uses exactly the same approach, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
  9. Written “Protocols” should be developed for all educational/behavioral goals and objectives. At minimum, such protocols should include an objective definition of the behavior being taught/reduced, a listing of the materials necessary to conduct the learning experience, the types of prompting being utilized, fading, maintenance and generalization procedures, and a data sheet to record performance.
  10. Finally, parents should be provided a weekly schedule, broken-down by 30-minute intervals within each day, in which the activity for that time period and the IEP Goal/Objective being addressed is included.

While the presence of these components will not guarantee the academic/behavioral success of the student, their absence should be considered as a deviation from recognized best practices in Applied Behavior Analysis and raise a question of compliance with the student’s IEP.


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