The 7 dimensions of ABA have been used for decades by ABA professionals to successfully implement clear and effective research-based interventions to clients. They are used in treatment planning for those receiving ABA therapy, primarily people with autism or other developmental disorders, to ensure that the needs of each client are met in a scientific and data-driven way. The 7 dimensions are:
- Conceptually systematic
It is essential that all ABA interventions are relevant to the client and socially significant. Behavior goals must be written in measurable and attainable ways. Likewise, interventions must be written clearly enough so that any member of the intervention team could properly deliver the therapy.
When the 7 dimensions of ABA are successfully followed, positive behavior changes can be observed across various settings, with different people, and long after treatment ends.
The History of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) stems from behavior therapy that came out of the 20th century.
In the early 1960s and 1970s, behavior therapy started being used on children with autism. Through positive reinforcement, as well as punishment techniques, behavioral programs helped to improve social skills, behavior, and communication abilities in autistic children.
Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas was an early pioneer of applying behavior therapy to children with autism. He initially worked with nonverbal children with autism who lived in institutions in England. He successfully improved their verbal skills while they lived at these facilities. Their skills reversed, however, when they went home and were no longer regularly working on the behavioral program.
Dr. Lovaas found that children with parents who stayed directly involved in their therapy programs made the best progress with their verbal and communication skills. From this work, Dr. Lovaas created early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI). Since then, ABA research and practitioners have developed a wide range of ABA interventions to successfully work with people on the autism spectrum, as well as those with other developmental and behavioral disorders.
ABA is a behavior therapy rooted in the science of learning and behavior. It helps clinicians and parents better understand how the atypical behavior of a child works, how it is affected by the child’s environment, and how new learning best takes place.
ABA therapy involves using a variety of techniques in order to understand the problematic behaviors of clients and to change those behaviors into positive ones. ABA can be adapted to meet the unique needs of each client. The therapy can be provided wherever clients are, such as at home, at school, or in a community setting.
The primary goals of ABA therapy are to:
- Boost language and communication skills.
- Improve attention, focus, memory, and academics.
- Expand social skills.
- Decrease problematic or disruptive behaviors.
ABA is most commonly used to help children and adults with autism. However, it can be successfully applied to a variety of mental and developmental disorders. Such conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Traumatic brain injury.
What Are the 7 Dimensions of ABA?
The 7 dimensions of ABA refer to 7 key areas that should be incorporated into any board certified behavior analyst’s (BCBA) treatment plan for their clients. Goals must fit each of the categories to ensure that meaningful behavior change takes place that can be applied across different settings.
The 7 dimensions of ABA were developed by three behavioral researchers. Donald Baer, Montrose Wolf, and Todd Risley introduced their framework to the public in 1968 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. They identified the following 7 dimensions of ABA therapy:
- Conceptually systematic
To help people correctly remember the 7 dimensions of ABA therapy, the acronym GET A CAB is used by some in the field of ABA.
Through these 7 dimensions, BCBAs consider variables that are effective for changing and improving behavior. They help behavior therapists focus on behaviors that are socially important, highlight these skills, and teach them to clients in a way that they are easily transferrable to everyday life.
Generality means that a behavior goal needs to be written and implemented in such a way that once it is achieved, the behavior can be applied over time, with different people and in many different settings. The client must be able to maintain the learned behavior long after therapy has ended.
ABA therapy is not considered complete until the client can generalize their new skills in a variety of situations. Skills are often mastered within therapy sessions, but generalizing those skills to situations outside of therapy can be far more challenging.
In ABA therapy, all interventions must be effective at producing practical changes in behavior. The effects of selected interventions on the targeted behaviors are closely monitored to see if they are effective or not. If current interventions are not effective, the treatment plan must be reevaluated and new interventions can be tried.
BCBAs collect data so they can objectively monitor client progress. By continually collecting this data on the effects of interventions being used, BCBAs can closely observe how their clients are responding to the selected interventions. Behavior technicians track this data, providing notes after every session to assess if they are seeing the behavior changes they are looking for in the client.
In regard to ABA therapy, technological means that all interventions being used are clearly identified and described. It is important that the interventions are written clearly enough so that anyone reading the treatment plan could understand the goals and effectively implement the interventions themselves.
Each intervention must be clearly described so any member of the client’s intervention team knows exactly what to do. Intervention teams often consist of many different people, such as a BCBA, BCaBA, registered behavior technician (RBT), teachers, counselors, and parents. When all of these members can produce the same high-quality treatment, an intervention is technological.
The applied dimension concerns the types of problems that are covered in the treatment plan and how quickly they can be applied to the individual’s life. For a problem to be applied, it must be relevant in greater society, not just in treatment.
The targeted skill must be socially significant for it to be worth changing. The definition of socially significant varies from person to person, but the goal must be socially significant to the client and their family. When considering this dimension, the therapist thinks about how urgent the skill is for the client and how quickly it needs to be applied to the client’s environment.
5. Conceptually Systematic
ABA plans that are conceptually systematic ensure that each intervention being used relates to the greater conceptual goal of the ABA treatment, explains Dr. Ward of Behavioral Science in the 21st century. Behavior goals need to be technological, but they must also contribute to a behavioral principle or process.
As behavior therapists identify individual behavior goals and their interventions, there is a risk of just writing up a collection of treatment methods and tricks to try. It is important not to lose sight of the greater behavioral learning process that is occurring. A conceptually systematic plan is research-based and stays focused on achieving the principles of ABA therapy.
An analytic ABA treatment plan utilizes data to make treatment decisions. Throughout treatment, behavior therapists collect data about a client’s responses to the interventions being used. Rather than subjectively evaluating behavior changes, such as measuring them by the treatment team’s overall feeling or perception of the client’s behavior, the data shows if interventions are being effective.
Analyzing the data illuminates clear relationships between certain interventions and positive behavior changes. When the data indicates that the desired change is not occurring, it is clear that alternative interventions need to be tried. Analyzing client behavior through data collection allows clinicians to demonstrate that the interventions are causing behavior change, not just chance or other environmental variables.
The behavioral dimension focuses on pragmatic behavioral change. BCBAs analyze specific behaviors, identify areas of improvement, and predict how certain interventions will influence those behaviors.
If interventions do not produce the desired behavior changes, BCBAs reanalyze the intervention to figure out what is not working. Interventions are then adjusted in hopes of achieving the desired behavior changes.
Behavioral goals are focused on decreasing and increasing behaviors. Therapists strive to implement interventions that reduce problematic behaviors. Likewise, behavior goals can be centered around increasing positive behaviors.
Applying the 7 Dimensions of ABA Therapy
By applying the 7 dimensions of ABA therapy to interventions, therapists ensure that the treatment is supported by research and that the interventions are socially necessary and effective. The 7 dimensions also help ABA therapists to closely monitor their clients’ progress and modify interventions, as necessary.
One of the strengths of ABA therapy is the ability to individualize interventions to meet the unique needs of each client. The 7 dimensions help BCBAs create structured individualized treatment plans to track their clients’ targeted behavior skills.
As a treatment plan is implemented, ongoing evaluation of a client’s observable and measurable behaviors ensures the interventions are actually working. If a client does not respond to interventions as expected, the treatment plan outlined by the 7 dimensions can be adjusted to better meet the client’s needs.
The framework provided by the 7 dimensions of ABA therapy helps BCBAs, behavior technicians, educators, and teachers all stay on the same page about a client’s goals. As more people are involved with providing consistent behavioral interventions, clients are able to make the most progress.
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- Applied Behavior Analysis. Psychology Today.
- Seven Dimensions of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis): Changing Human Behavior the Scientific Way. (January 2019). Psych Central Professional.
- Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis. (1968). Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.