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A Sneak Peek Into Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)

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Based on the learning and motivation principles, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a field of study which involves the use of techniques and principles in delivering behavioural intervention for targeted groups. It involves providing intervention or support for individuals to learn new behaviour or improve certain target behaviour to a meaningful degree of social significance. Also, ABA therapy is widely recognized as the most effective and evidence-based treatment for autistic children. With this, MY Psychology connects with Heng Jean, who worked as an Applied Behavior Analysis therapist before to share with us the basic information of the profession and also the therapy in relation with its benefits for the target community.

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  1. What is your motivation of being a behavioural / ABA therapist?

      1. Clients’ progress is definitely the most important factor that motivates me as a behavioural therapist. I always remind myself how critical my role is in improving my client’s quality of life. If I do not provide the most quality service that I am capable of, my clients’ and their families’ future will be affected. When I face with obstacles in my work, I look back at what I have done and how my actions have impacted my clients’ life. Seeing positive changes in my clients make me feel happy and confident with what I am doing. Their progresses and improvement often keep me going.

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  1. How can kids benefit from attending ABA therapy or session conducted by therapists?
      1. Behavioural therapy derived from Applied Behaviour Analysis principles can help the recipient of the services to build functional, adaptive and independent skills. Usually, therapists aim to build age appropriate skills that match with developmental milestone of an individual. In the process of providing therapy, therapists also seek for opportunity to allow recipients to generalize the learnt skills from structured learning across more natural settings. For example, at structured learning an individual was taught to recognize colour of red and white. In a natural setting, for example painting, therapists encourage generalization by asking the individual “let’s paint red colour now” and let the individual to choose red paint among other paints.
      2. Since different recipients have different needs, the therapy provided are individualized where recipient have different goals that matches with their ability. For example, if an individual has difficulty in understanding instructions, the individualized education plan will target to work on simple instructions like “come here”, “sit down”, etc. Level of target will be increased once the client is ready. On the other hand, individuals that are very receptive and take instructions very well will be taught on complex instructions such as “Put your bag in the cupboard, leave your lunch box in the dining area, and I will meet you in the hall after that”. Individualized education plan enables recipients to learn at their own pace without getting overwhelmed. Instead of forcing them to learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.

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  1. What is the requirement of becoming a behavioural / ABA therapist?
      1. There is no definite requirement to be an Applied Behaviour Analysis therapist, but I personally think that thorough understanding of ABA is very important for therapists to work professionally to promote functional skills in individuals. Behavioural therapy provided for children are often incorporated with fun element to build their interest. As such, fun and joyful are also important personalities for therapists that work with children. Patience towards client is also important, because we are often exposed to situation where we have to deal with challenging behaviours (e.g. scratching, biting, shouting) displayed by the individuals. These behaviours often challenge people’s patience, and as behavioural therapists, we have to deal with them calmly and patiently. Also, behavioural therapists might face a lot of challenges and obstacles during the process of service provision. We sometimes encounter clients that display aggressive behaviour, experience stress from clients’ caregiver, etc. Thus, it is important that therapists are resilient and able to persist in what we are doing.

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  1. What are the challenges of a behavioral / Applied Behaviour Analysis therapist when working with special need children?
      1. Working as a centre-based behavioural therapist, I sometimes face challenges with clients’ skill generalization in other settings. For clients that have difficulties in generalizing learnt skills (for example, client is able to go to toilet independently in the centre but not at home), it is not easy to seek for chances that allow me to promote further behavioural change in other settings that are outside of the centre.
      2. Another challenge is to not to be too emotionally involve when working with children with special need. A strong bond between therapists and their clients are likely to encourage effectiveness of the intervention. However, it is important for therapist to always be rational and make wise decisions that promote the wellbeing of clients in the process of intervention.
      3. From time to time, challenges also include getting parental involvement in developing and maintaining functional skills in clients. Cooperation of families is often important to ensure consistency among what has been taught at home and in centre. As such, I often try my best to encourage consistency, so that my clients would not have to undergo any confusion when spending time in different settings (home and centre).

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  1. Could you share with us the most satisfied / happiest moment during your work with children?
      1. In general, I always feel content and happy when my clients’ show improvement as a result of the intervention. One of the most memorable moments is when my client was finally able to get his hair cut in a saloon. This client of mine had resisted to get his hair cut for quite some time. To prevent my client’s hair from getting too long, his mother has to cut his hair while he was asleep. It was a long process to build his tolerance for a haircut. Preparation involved steps such as gradual exposure of letting scissors to touch his hair and repeated visits to saloon to build familiarity. It is so amazing to see him, who used to be so anxious when seeing a scissor touched his hair, to be able to sit still and get his haircut done. Although it involved a long process of preparation, it is definitely worth it to see such meaningful changes in my client’s life.
      2. Apart from client’s improvement, working as a behavioural therapist itself is reinforcing. To me, this is the best job in the world, as I often have as much fun as my clients. Interactions with clients often create many laughter and happy moments that make me enjoy my job very much!

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