We speak to Behaviour Analyst, Rebecca McLinden

What is ABA at Irabina?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) has a long history within the autistic community. Since its inception in the 1960s, it has gone through decades of iterations and refinement. ABA looks very different today compared to its inception, and is now a fully-realised, scientific approach to identifying, understanding and affecting a positive change in behaviours.

In an era where social media is rife with ‘pseudoscientific’ solutions and scaremongering, ABA is one of the few (if not only) treatments for autism that has been thoroughly researched, proven and developed on stringent scientific evidence.

We spoke with Rebecca McLinden, one of our Behaviour Analysts here at Irabina, to get a better understanding of what ABA really looks like today, and what makes ABA at Irabina so unique.

First, could you please give a brief introduction to ABA?

Most people know it as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with autism, but ABA is first and foremost a branch of science concerned with the application of basic principles of behaviour and learning. When used in therapy, it applies the science of how behaviour works to real-life situations.

What does an ABA session look like?

Each session looks different for every individual, dependent on their age, skill set and interests. A very brief overview would be that we make effort to constantly establish ourselves as a reinforcing person to the individual, whilst simultaneously teaching. In sessions, individuals are encouraged to repeatedly practice new skills, with additional skills added as their repertoire increases. Over time, these skills may be combined to form more complex behaviours, such as: conversations, cooperative play, daily living routines etc.

How is ABA different at Irabina?

I think what makes us different is the knowledge base and experience of our team. We have all been in the field for many years, and have come from quite different backgrounds within the field. This means we are able to create a ‘bespoke’ ABA package for each client, working together to use an approach that best suits them. We also have a dedication to longer hours, with sessions being a minimum of 3 hours and upwards to 7 or 8 a day, allowing us to maximise learning opportunities.
Irabina is also a family centred practice. We see parents and caregivers as an essential part of each individual’s team, and so a lot of support is given to them. Finally, we are a multi-disciplinary team here, which is great for collaborating on goals.

Who are the staff members that implement the plans?

Our team is led by masters in the field of behaviour analysis with extensive experience in ABA. Some of them have been in the ABA field for 7-10 years, and in the autism field even longer. Behaviour technicians are typically university graduates, who receive extensive training and practice under the ongoing supervision from the experienced team.
In addition to the experienced behaviour analysts, the team work very closely with other allied health professionals within Irabina to ensure we provide a comprehensive plan for our clients.

“I don’t think a week goes by where I haven’t cried with pride for our clients.”

Is there only one way to deliver ABA?

No, not at all. ABA refers to a science, or practice of the science – think of it as an umbrella above many different ‘teaching strategies’ that can be implemented to effect behaviour and learning. At Irabina we leverage a variety of teaching tools. This could include Discrete Trial Teaching, Natural Environment Teaching, Incidental Teaching, video modelling, group and 1:1 learning, and even strategies such as Precision Teaching. We don’t stick to one ‘method’ here. At the end of the day, it’s about meeting the needs and goals of that individual and their family. We want to be as flexible as possible to support that.

Is ABA just for young kids?

No, while there is a lot of evidence that ABA when delivered as an Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) has amazing outcomes, that doesn’t mean it should stop there or cannot be applied to school aged children, teens and adults. Everybody’s behaviour works on the same principles; therefore, ABA can be applied to a baby, a child, a teen and even me and you. ABA can be used at any age – plans are personalised to be effective in a way that meets the needs of that individual.

Is ABA only used in autism treatments?

No. ABA is used in a variety of settings – from athletes training for the Olympics to diabetics needing to manage their sugar intake. ABA can help those with acquired brain injuries or dementia, or improve workers productivity and wellbeing in business, and many more situations.
ABA is simply about applying a behavioural science to a population so we can understand certain behaviours to bring about socially significant change, which means to effect behaviour in ways that is important to the person and those around them.

What are some of the goals you’ve seen individuals achieve with ABA?

It’s funny, but when most people think of achieving goals they picture these big outcomes, like flying to the moon. But for so many of our clients and their families it’s the small things that make all the difference. Being able to tolerate a haircut or go to the optometrist. Walking safely next to their parent or carer. Asking for a hug. Learning to go to the toilet. Being independent in school or able to carry out their own food shopping. These ‘every day’ goals can make all the difference for an individual with autism and their caregivers.
As behaviour analysts it’s our responsibility to identify these goals and then break them down into the tiny steps needed to get there. And trust me, we’ll be cheering (and crying) just as hard as the parents at every sign of success. I don’t think a week goes by where I haven’t cried with pride for our clients.

Rebecca McLinden - Behaviour Analyst at Irabina

Rebecca McLinden is one of our amazing Behaviour Analysts at Irabina. Together with the ABA Team she helps develop custom-made programs that leverage behaviour analysis to help our clients and their families achieve the goals that are important to them.

Irabina Autism Services has grown to become Australia’s largest paediatric Autism-specific service provider, developing its ABA program with the needs and goals of its children and their families at its heart. If you’re interested in learning more about ABA and how it can help someone in your care, reach out to us on 03 9720 1118 or visit our ABA page.

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