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Harvey is 25 and has Autism. He lives at home with his family, where he is supported by care staff as well as ABA-trained tutors. His parents approached Open Avenues as they were concerned about his progress, particularly around his communication, challenging behaviour, and engagement in activities. Harvey’s speech was mumbled - often inaudible - and unclear. As a result Harvey could only be understood by those who knew him very well. He would become anxious and agitated by changes in routine, and rarely initiated activities, instead choosing to be sit alone throughout most of his day.

A number of targets were put in place to increase Harvey’s clarity of speech, for example encouraging him to order and describe picture sequences on flashcards (“first the man opens the fridge, then he gets a drink, last he drinks it”). Tutors encouraged Harvey to speak clearly and loudly, by modelling phrases for him to echo. Now, Harvey is more confident to raise his voice and make himself heard, and he can now be understood not only by those close to him but by the wider community. On a recent trip to Subway, he was able to order the salad for his sandwich without support, even making himself heard and understood over the counter to the server!

To help Harvey’s anxieties around transitions, visual schedules were introduced. Tutors and care staff began to use these consistently before and during activities and trips, referring to the schedule often to reassure him of what was happening. Any changes in routine were updated on the schedule and discussed with him so he felt prepared and supported. Harvey is less anxious now in the community and he has been supported to assert himself by expressing his anxiety to staff, and asking for a break if he is feeling nervous.

The visual schedule was also used to encourage Harvey to engage more in activities. As individuals with Autism are often better able to process visual images than written text, small picture symbols were made of all the leisure activities available to him at home and in the community. By offering Harvey limited choices of 3-4 activities, it was easier for him to weigh up his options and decide what he might like to do. Recently Harvey has begun to initiate engagement in activities such as swing ball and darts, which is a big step forward.

Visual prompt cards were also made for his daily chores such as cleaning his bedroom and doing the laundry. Staff taught Harvey to follow these independently using a consistent approach, and strategies like least-to-most prompting and prompt fading. Now Harvey is able to follow the schedule, be more independent and less passive, and take on a share of household responsibilities.

Harvey’s quality of life continues to improve due to his increased engagement in a range of leisure activities and chores, improved access to the community, and strategies in place to help him cope with anxiety and distress.


Don’t take our word for it!If you want to learn more, here are some useful articles about Applied Behaviour Analysis

Information for Parents/Carers New to ABA
The UK Society for Behaviour Analysis (UK-SBA) contributes to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behaviour analysis through research, education, and practice. The UK-SBA promotes the ethical and effective application of behaviour analysis to a wide range of areas including education, rehabilitation and health care, business, and the community.

A Balanced View On ABA Therapy, By An Autistic Adult
Eileen Lamb, author of "All Across The Spectrum" and “Be The One,” is the founder of The Autism Cafe. On her blog, she shares the ups and downs of raising a severely autistic child while being on the autism spectrum herself.

ABA in 2020-2021: Current State of the Research
The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) is a non-profit, professional associationmade up of a volunteer board of directors and over 1400 members. It is the largest professional association representing behavioural science and services in Canada. This document provides a summary of recent ABA research (pertaining mostly to Autism).

Behavioural method is not an attempt to ‘cure’ autism  
Professor Richard Hastings of Warwick University responds to a BBC4 documentary based on an ABA school which aired in 2013, and addresses a number of criticisms and concerns highlighted in the programme.

Early intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder  
In this seminar, Professor Karola Dillenburger of Queen’s University Belfast outlines how our approach to ABA in the UK differs to that of many other countries (for example, in the US where health insurance providers are required to offer ABA therapy), and how it differs from the standard ‘eclectic’ approach available in the UK.

Download the slides here


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When our supervisor began working with Leo, he rarely paid attention to people and spent most of his time repetitively manipulating toys, giving little eye contact to others. Leo babbled with a few sounds but did not say words. He struggled to complete simple 2-piece puzzles, needing hand over hand guidance to complete them. Leo’s mum had ABA targets in place, but found the data sheets and programmes overwhelming and was unsure how to run the programmes that had been put in place.

The Open Avenues supervisor began working with Leo in close collaboration with Leo’s family, and with regular hands-on visits to really get to know him. Our supervisor simplified the folder to make the data collection more manageable, and provided a number of resources needed to teach the targets. Practical, hands-on training was given to the family to show them step-by-step how to motivate Leo, how to teach the targets, and how they could work on targets little and often throughout their day.

The supervisor used repetitive, simple social interaction activities to increase his eye contact with, and interest in, other people; for example a “ready, steady……..GO!” ‘game’ where the supervisor would run at Leo and give him tickles. When he heard “ready, steady…” Leo would look around in anticipation of tickles! This helped to cue Leo into paying attention to other people, a pre-requisite for listening to and following instructions in order to learn.

Our supervisor prioritised his imitation skills (“copy me!”), and once Leo became more proficient with copying actions this was used to teach him to copy sounds (“say ‘buh’!”). Once Leo copied his first sound, within a week he was able to copy words and was very quickly able to use these words to communicate his wants and needs. His parents were thrilled that their son was able to use his voice.

Leo is very sociable and regularly approaches his parents and tutors for cuddles or piggybacks. He is able to complete a 20-piece jigsaw independently, showing great focus and concentration. The practical, hands-on approach of our supervisor enabled Leo’s mum to feel comfortable with how to teach her son, and that all the resources needed would be taken care of.


There is a fair bit of jargon in the ABA world, mainly because it's a science and words are being used in precise, technical ways. This is a plain-English parent guide, without going into too much detail.

ABA -Applied Behaviour Analysis (of course!). "Applied" here relates to behaviour that is socially significant. "Behaviour" from an ABA perspective is anything that we do (including speaking, thinking, eating, reading etc). "Analysis" refers to the fact that ABA is data driven. Progress is measured and interventions adjusted accordingly.

ABCs -Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence. What happens before a behaviour, the behaviour, what happens after. Used to analyse function of behaviour e.g. why someone is doing it.

ABLLS -A curriculum used in ABA for assessing a child's progess. Stands for The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills.

Antecedent -What comes before a behaviour. Eg Jane always reaches for a choc after turning on the TV (TV is antecedent to choc-eating behaviour).

Aversive -Something making a behaviour less likely to happen again.

BACB -Behavior Analyst Certification Board. This is the international credentialling organisation which governs the BCBA, BCaBA and RBT qualifications. Based in the US but accredits courses worldwide.

BCBA -Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (high level of ABA professional, oversees programmes, supervises BCaBAs and RBTs).

BCBA-D -Board Certified Behaviour Analyst - Doctoral (BCBAs with doctoral training or a Phd in behavioural analysis; functions in the same capacity as BCBAs).

BCaBA -Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst (supervises programme under guidance of BCBA or BCBA-D, supervises RBTs).

CABAS -This is a form of ABA developed for schools especially Jigsaw School in the UK. Stands for the Comprehensive Application of Behaviour Analysis to Schooling.

DTT -Discrete trial training (DTT) is a method of teaching in simplified and structured steps. Instead of teaching an entire skill in one go, the skill is broken down and "built-up" using discrete trials that teach each step one at a time with reinforcement for correct answers.

EIBI -Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention - pre school intensive ABA, can be 20-40 hours a week.

ESDM -Early Start Denver Model (a form of ABA combined with childhood developmental curriculum, has been well and extensively researched).

MSc -Currently five UK universities offer a Masters degree in ABA, this might or might not be followed by the BCBA. MScs are good at ABA, these are serious professionals. The five are: University of Kent, Uni of South Wales, Queen's Uni, Belfast, Ulster Uni, and Bangor university.

Mand -Meaning a request, from deMAND or comMAND. Could be a requesting word or non-verbal communication (e.g. saying "juice" or signing juice when this drink is desired). "Manding" is the associated verb. Many VB programmes start with mand training.

NET -Natural environment training (as opposed to tabletop DTT) eg. practising labelling fruits in the supermarket or joining in with children at a club.

PBS -Positive Behaviour Support. Yet another branch of ABA, much-used in the UK by the NHS in adult settings and tends to be more about removing the antecedents and a bit less about teaching new skills (though proper PBS should be BCBA-led and about whatever segment of ABA is best).

PRT -Pivotal Response Treatment, also known as Pivotal Response Therapy and Pivotal Response Training: a form of ABA and childhood developmental goals, centring on pivotal clusters of skills. Also with lots of research behind it. Pairing - What an ABA tutor does at the start of a programme, pairing themselves with highly motivating things (e.g. playing games, using toys that the child particularly likes) so that the tutor becomes associated with having fun.

RBT -Registered Behaviour Technician (tutor qualification, relatively new yet in UK).Reinforcement - Something that makes a behaviour more likely to happen again. This can be something added to the setting, such as social praise, tickles or a favourite toy, or something removed.

Tact -Naming or labelling something that you see, hear, feel, smell or taste (e.g. saying "that's a cat" when you see a cat or "I smell popcorn"). Comes from the word conTACT. "Tacting" is the associated verb.

VB -Verbal Behaviour is a form of ABA which uses BF Skinner's analysis of verbal behaviour to teach mands, tacts etc. VB doesn't always have to be vocal. ABA/VB programmes have a specific focus on teaching each of the verbal operants.

VB-MAPP -This is the curriculum used under VB programmes, with lots of tasks and targets to be filled in on the VB-MAPP document as child learns skills. Stands for Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP).

Verbal Operants -These are different types of language (e.g. mand - saying "milk" when you want some milk or tact - saying "milk" when you see a carton of milk).



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