The great thing about Applied Behavioral Analyses (ABA) therapy, is that unlike other therapies where progress is measured with 6 month testing (which is often unreliable as the child might not be in the mood that day), ABA measures by charting and data. Data is collected on behavior improvement or increase, to know when changes to the programme need to be made, or when to tweak a goal.
When data is collected, it can be put onto graphs to show how quickly the behavior is improving. Or any patterns in regression and where we can expect the child’s behavior to be in the future. These are all important things to know! But how can we measure a behavior?
Let’s take an example. Let’s say that your child is tantrumming several times an hour and you want to know if this is actually getting worse or better. First the therapist can look at how many times the child tantrums; this would be called frequency, e.g. 8 tantrums. If it was measured in a specific time frame, it would be called the rate, e.g. 8 tantrums in one hour.
Maybe you are working on reducing this to no tantrums, but would you really notice if your child had 7 tantrums in an hour instead of 8? Probably not, and that’s where data collecting and graphs are so pivotal. We can physically see the behavior reducing and know what we are doing is working, even though it’s only by a small increment.
On the other hand, perhaps your child tantrums for 30 minutes straight within that hour. You need for this to be reduced as that would be a huge stressor for everyone involved. Your therapist collects data with the aim of reducing the amount of time your child tantrums for. The amount of time would be referred to as duration— As with the amount of tantrums in an hour, if your child tantrumed for 2 minutes less you probably wouldn’t notice, but a data graph would open your eyes to this improvement.
This data can also be used for education goals, such as if you were to measure fluency. This measures how long it takes your child to complete a task. Perhaps they are working on a puzzle, and it takes them 10 minutes to put in 8 pieces but two weeks later it takes them 10 minutes to put in 9 pieces. This is a small achievement, but an achievement that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
The last form of measurement is called response latency. This is basically how long it takes for your child to respond to you. For example, you’ve asked your child to come here, and he’s still standing, face down, looking at his toy. It takes them 8 seconds to do what you asked them to do, which can be really frustrating for a parent! But also hinders your child as 8 seconds is a long time in an emergency situation or even a social setting with friends. Response latency measurement would hope to graph less time, perhaps at first 7 seconds instead of 8.
Measurements are a wonderful tool in ABA. Not only do they allow things to move forward in a clinical sense, but they can bring comfort and hope to parents who may feel behavior is getting more challenging or can’t see any noticeable improvements.