Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Program

Supporting the special education instruction of students with autism and related disorders through the use of principles of ABA.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the application of behavioral principles to shape behaviors and teach new skills. Behaviors are observed and analyzed to determine their function. The antecedents and consequences (events preceding and subsequent to the behavior) are analyzed and manipulated in an effort to shape or change behavior. Skills are broken down into small, discrete steps and taught systematically.

In designated classrooms, ABA is used to

  • modify behaviors,
  • teach new skills, and
  • prepare students to function as independently as possible.

PreK-12 ABA staff provide ongoing training and direct support to school staff to enhance the delivery of services using ABA methodologies. This includes the development and implementation of individualized instructional curricula and behavioral programs.

ABA Parent Training

The following short videos are designed to support learning skills and developing structures  in the home environment for students with Autism and other developmental disabilities. 

Parent Video: Introduction

Developing Schedules

Developing Routines

Response Forms: Building Independence

Work Sprints

Teaching Safe Walking

Behind the Mask - Your Superhero Teachers - A students guide to PPE

Reinforcement Series - Part 1

Reinforcement Series - Part 2

Reinforcement Series - Part 3

Our ABA Program and Services

Key Elements

ABA programs emphasize

  • the importance of looking at the ABCs (antecedents, behaviors, and consequences) of behaviors,
  • teaching new behaviors, and
  • developing systematic instructional plans to teach new skills.

Skills are broken down into small units through a task analysis.

ABA programs teach skills through the use of

  • reinforcement,
  • shaping,
  • prompting,
  • fading,
  • chaining,
  • extinction, and
  • discrimination.

Data collection and analysis is an important component of an ABA program. Data is used to measure progress on the acquisition of new behaviors and new skills.

Verbal Behavior Program

A verbal behavior program utilizes the basic principles of ABA with a focus on teaching verbal behavior as defined by B.F. Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

Forms of verbal behavior include

  • talking,
  • signing,
  • picture systems, and
  • other augmentative communication systems.

Verbal behavior programs use a behavioral classification system for language that identifies verbal operants or functional units of language. These include:

  • mands (requests),
  • tacts (labels),
  • echoic (vocal imitation),
  • motor imitation,
  • receptive language, and
  • intraverbals (answering questions, conversation).

In a verbal behavior program, the mand repertoire is taught early on in programming by using words that are highly motivating to the child as the targets. Each target word is taught across the verbal operants or assessed to determine that generalization occurred across the different functions or operants. Fairfax County Public Schools is enhancing its ABA services to include verbal behavior.

The Integration of Verbal Behavior and the Curriculum

The Early Academic Curriculum Guide uses a verbal behavior framework for analyzing language. Preschool and elementary teachers are encouraged to use this guide to identify appropriate goals and objectives in the language-communication area.

In a VB approach there is an emphasis on helping students make spontaneous, independent requests and on their ability to use signs, words, or pictures across each of the different functions (request, receptive label, expressive label, etc). A curriculum planning form has been developed and provided to each teacher. This planning form provides a systematic way to integrate the different functions of language into activities or units.

Skills That Can Be Taught Using ABA

ABA programs focus on the development of comprehensive skills.

  • Language skills are critical for independent functioning, cognitive growth, and social development, and are a key component in the FCPS ABA-VB program.
  • Social, play, and leisure skills are also important and enhance a child's quality of life.
  • Self-help skills build independence.
  • Academic skills help a child access the general education curriculum.

Generalization and Transfer of Skills

Well-designed ABA teaching programs result in positive outcomes that are durable over time and generalize to new situations.

FCPS uses a structured ABA approach which

  • allows for flexibility to meet each student's needs and
  • emphasizes teaching in the natural environment.

ABA Teaching Procedures that Facilitate Generalization and Transfer of Skills

Teaching procedures should be systematic, yet flexible to meet the individual needs of the students. For students to be successful in a variety of environments, intervention must be as natural as possible and take place in different instructional formats including small and large group settings. FCPS teachers look at the individual needs of students when making instructional decisions such as the complexity of language used with the student, the reinforcement schedule, the types of reinforcement, or the specific skills to be taught.

Data Collection and Analysis

It is important to collect and analyze data to

  • measure student progress,
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the student's individual program, and
  • to identify skills or behaviors that students need to learn.

There are a variety of data collection methods, such as continuous data procedures and time sampling procedures, that yield reliable, accurate, and valid data. FCPS uses a variety of data collection methods to measure progress including probe data, time sampling recording procedures, and trial by trial data probes.

ABA Coaches Support the Needs of Students with Autism

ABA coaches are teachers who have advanced technical skills and knowledge in the application of Applied Behavior Analysis. Each coach supports a group of classes within a geographic area. The ABA coaches visit classes on a regular basis to assist teachers to design and deliver ABA services to students. The coaches are available to provide training to staff as needed.

Curriculum Resources and Assessment Tools used by FCPS Autism Teachers

Early Academic Curriculum Guide, which was developed by FCPS staff with support from Todd Streff, Great Strides Behavioral Consulting Inc. and with resources provided by Ron Leaf, Ph.D., Autism Partnership. The curriculum guide includes a comprehensive skill list, an assessment checklist, and data forms to measure progress and skill acquisition.

The Assessment of Basic Language Learning Skills (ABLLS) will be used to educate all autism staff and parents on the functional units of language within a verbal behavior framework. As FCPS enhances its ABA services with the addition of verbal behavior, teachers and ABA coaches will be trained and knowledgeable about the ABLLS and may use it as an additional resource to guide curriculum selection. There is an emphasis on selecting a curriculum based on individual student needs rather than relying exclusively on a single instrument.

FCPS autism teachers also administer the Brigance Diagnostic Inventory in the fall and in the spring to assess student performance.

Classroom Observations and Private ABA Service Providers

Collaboration between home ABA providers and school teams is important for fostering student progress and facilitating generalization of skills.

Each school has procedures and policies for classroom visits designed to maintain the integrity and continuity of the instructional program.

Parents wishing to have their home ABA consultants observe in their child's classroom should request that visit through the principal. Once the principal has received the request:

  • The principal will coordinate the visit and contact the ABA coach who will accompany the consultant during the classroom observation.
  • The ABA coach will also be available to meet with the home ABA consultant immediately following the observation to answer any questions.
  • The ABA coaches will follow-up with teachers after the classroom visit and will take into consideration the information discussed during the debriefing.

Students in the Autism Classroom with Significant Behavioral Concerns

The teacher or principal should contact the ABA coach. Depending on the severity of the behavior, the ABA coach will ask the staff to gather data about the antecedents, the behavior (frequency, intensity, or duration), and the consequences following the behavior. This data is critical in forming a hypothesis to identify the function(s) of the behavior and determine the appropriate interventions.

Once the data is gathered, the ABA coach will support the school team in developing a behavior plan. Behavior plans should be shared and reviewed with all members of the team. The implementation of a behavior plan requires consistency and support from the team including the family. Data will continue to be gathered to assess the effectiveness of the plan.

Training Opportunities Available for Parents of Children with Autism and FCPS Autism Staff

The FCPS staff and outside consultants provide training and workshops for both parents and FCPS autism staff. Parent workshops are offered on a monthly basis. 

Contact Information

Tina Wilkerson
Coordinator
571-423-4110
TWilkerson@fcps.edu