The 7 Dimensions of ABA

This is one of the first things I came across in my more formal study of ABA, however I didn’t really pay too much attention until I did a little bit more further study for my BCBA.

The entire article is from quite a while ago, and is cited at the bottom of this article, however I have found this link to be quite useful in surmising the information.

In this blog today, I just want to discuss a little bit about each dimension and why I feel it is important in the work that I do. I think this is particularly relevant, and good timing for me to revise, as I am aiming to complete another subject towards my BCBA next month.

Study tip # 1 – I use the mnemonic ‘GET A CAB’ to label the 7 items :D

Applied - the work we do, needs to be of socially, significant importance. That is, it needs to be relevant to the individual and make a change that will impact and make their life, and the people surrounding them lives, better. This is were person centered planning, family centered planning, quality of life, and individualised programs come into play. Not to mention, ideas related to inclusion and accessing the local community, and in Australia, the NDIS, having an effect. It is a nice aspect of ABA, and provides the underpinning for meaningful services and interventions.

Behavioural - we are concerned with the observable. All behaviour is observable and measurable (until we get to private events, which I am not even going to begin to try and understand on here)! However, if we have clear, objective, observable and measurable behaviour, we can collect meaningful data, create interventions and test to see whether those interventions make a difference, and prove the effectiveness of what we have done.

Analytical - this is the part I feel I have the least experience in. I think, indirectly, I can be quite analytical in the work I do, however, I often struggle to have the time, or correct guidance to implement potential treatment plans and validate their analytical value. It requires manipulating antecedents and consequences to bring about (or decrease) a particular behaviour. I think I do a lot of the manipulating to decrease and then once the behaviour is decreased, we are all pretty happy so it is all good, however I wonder if we were able to control and manipulate further, and produce some sort of experimental design, we may gather further information about the behaviour and what is mantaining it over longer periods of time? Anyway … food for thought for another day.

Generality – this is such an important dimension. What is the point of doing what we do, if it only works in one place? Or with one person? Or with one material? Or only at a certain time of day? We need to ensure that was we do in one particular set up, can be generalised and maintained to another environment, person, object etc. This is definitely an area where I find it is often very hard to generalise and replicate educational based research and interventions from research, to classroom practice. I don’t really have any great ideas for how to go about making this easier, I just want it to be easier :)

Conceptual – This dimension focuses on the need for techniques and interventions being related to some sort of theoretical base, and with applied behaviour analysis, that is definitely the case with a lot of the strategies used. In regards to the way this is used in ABA, it makes for more meaningful and effective interventions – they are not just being pulled out of nowhere, there is already some semblance of reasoning there.

Technological – this notion is similar to generality, in the sense of we want things to be expanded on, however it directly relates to specific components of ABA being replicable, particularly with research. If what you have done, has worked so well, then I should be able to a) understand how you did it, through your extremely detailed research and b) replicate your study and achieve similar results. This is something I hope to be able to do one day soon, and I apologise to all those poster presenters at conferences, whom I judged harshly and thought “Pft, I already knew that, do something new!” But this is an important aspect as it builds on research already about there, and provides first time researchers, a starting point :P

Effective – save the best for last! Of course, why would we do all this, if it wasn’t effective. We constantly take data on what we are doing, and this is something I have stressed to many people I have worked with over the years, so we can see if what we are doing, is working. And if it is not working, then we can review and see what we need to change, and where, so that we can ensure we are not spending time, money and resources on something that is not working. Although, by using strategies and techniques with many, many years research behind them, we should hopefully be on the right track to start with … but as it will be evidenced in my soon to come science post, we need to constantly be checking in on ourselves and evaluating what we are doing.

This was actually a really good refresher for getting back into study!



Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97.

Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan – Seven Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis

The importance of being evidence-based.

Not necessarily earnest though.

Many years ago, when I was studying my Special Ed course, I remember having a very brief discussion with one of my lecturers in regards to “harmful” treatments. We were discussing the fact that there are some promising interventions out there (in regards to Autism interventions) however there just wasn’t as much research to support these treatments as there is in regards to behavioural interventions.

Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely all in favour of behavioural based treatments. There is a long history and evidence base of behavioural interventions being highly effective in many different aspects. However I was just interested to see what the deal was with other interventions, and how could we really discount something, if it hadn’t been tested yet (another relevant blog post coming soon – I’m a Scientist!)

Her response was quite informative and I really learned something about science and research. In my mind, I was only considering ‘harmful’ interventions to be the ones that cause physical harm e.g. Students being rolled up into blankets and then suffocating. However she explained that ‘harmful’ interventions also could be interventions that were taking the time, money and place of proven interventions, and providing ineffective treatments, wasting the time and money that could have been spent on effective, evidenced-based treatments.

It was like a light switch. It made sense to me, and explained to me why some ABA providers were perhaps extremely vocal and adamant about the effectiveness of ABA.

I have been doing this for many, many years, and I am still learning to this day. By continuing my study towards becoming a BCBA, I am actually linking things together and things are falling into place even more. But this particular conversation has always stood out in my mind, and I take it with me in my work.

I wanted families to understand the importance of evidence-based treatments. And understand their rights and the types of questions they should ask when engaging with a service provider e.g. What are our goals? When do you review our goals? What measurement tools do you use to check the effectiveness of what you are doing?

I can completely empathise with families wanting to try anything and everything. And a lot of families have friends who may have tried different interventions, and have anecdotal reports about its effectiveness. I imagine I would be in the same boat as families, and want to try everything, and do everything in my power to help my children. Personally, I just want to be able to support families, and share with them the information I have learned over my time in this field, and hopefully provide them with good information.

I was always happy to be a consultant for families who had recently received a diagnosis, because I wanted to share with them the importance of evidence-based interventions, and the types of questions they should be asking service providers, and how if you aren’t happy with a service, you can move on to a different service (particularly if you are paying for a service).

I feel this type of information will be even more relevant in the future once the National Disability Insurance Scheme comes into play, and hope families can utilise the tools available to help them make informed decisions.

I’m always ready for Summer!

Thinking back to some of the different things I have done over the years, I have been pretty lucky to be able to have a lot of fun in my work – particularly in sessions!

One thing I love to do, particularly on extremely hot, Australian Summer days, is do sessions outside, preferably near water. And one of my favourite things to use, are water balloons!

I don’t think I have used these since I was a kid. And even then, I don’t remember using them that often. But I was in Woolworths one day, walking past the party items, and thought “That would be an awesome idea!”

It was.

I cannot think of one child who did not want to give water balloons a go. I have one who was a little scared, but he was interested and watched me (hiding behind the wall, with his hands covering his ears) as I filled up water balloons and then proceeded to pop them all over his garden (I clearly had a great time!)

They have been an invaluable asset to my little reinforcer kit. And they surpassed their original use as a nice reinforcer for a hot day, to being a part of many different programs I was teaching.

Initially, I used water balloons as reinforcement e.g. “First we have to get all our tokens, then we can do water balloons outside!”

The I started realising there was a whole lot more we could be doing with water balloons.

I introduced waiting to three brothers who all wanted water balloons at once, but there was only one tap to fill it up!

I used it to teach accepting and tolerating change, at a very, very basic level i.e. I would say “What colour balloon do you want?” and whatever he would answer, I would say “Hmmm, nah, what about this colour instead?” and he would happily take it because at that point in time, he didn’t care about the controlling the colour, he just wanted a water balloon!

I used it to teach a brother and sister to follow more complex instructions e.g. “I want you to pop the balloon next to the small, green plant in the garden.”

It is great for even discrimination tasks – colours, attributes (big/little, full/empty, wet/dry).

And of course, requesting/manding! Getting signs/gestures/picture/vocalisations/mands for water balloons is always an exciting thing, especially with kids who are just beginning to learn to request, and then you get the added bonus of fun water balloons once the balloon has been requested for :)

Of course, there are a few rules discussed before the use of water balloons. I always check with the parents that it is an OK thing to use with their kids. And then the rule for the kids is once a balloon is popped, pick up all the pieces and put it in the bin, and then you can get a new one.

So even though we have had a mild winter here in Australia, I suggest stocking up on water balloons, because if you are anywhere near me, I’m going to buy out all the local supplies ;)


Water Balloon Pump

Can you name the 7 dwarves?

I am pretty sure I can’t.

I can, however, name the five key components of an effective literacy program.

To be fair, I should probably know both of those, because they both could be relevant in my work. Although I think knowing Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends names would be more relevant … I haven’t come across a kid who loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarves yet.

Anyway, I want to provide a little overview of yet another area I am passionate about. Literacy. This is at the front of my mind because I delivered some fantastic Literacy workshops this week in regional NSW.

I have worked with hundreds of children over the years who are struggling with their reading, and have used very specific programs, that are underpinned by scientific research, to ensure their success, and it is that scientific research I will be discussing today.

Three independent inquiries into the components needed in an effective literacy program were conducted between the 2000 and 2006, in Australia (The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy), The US (The National Reading Panel), and the UK (The Rose Report). Each of these independent reviews looked at all the research on teaching reading available and gathered information about what the research indicated worked. They all found that the same key five components that need to be present for a reading program to be effective. Those five key components are:

  1. Phonemic awareness – oral manipulation of sounds/words e.g. rhyming, syllables, oral blending & segmenting, breaking words into the smallest units of sound (phonemes)
  2. Phonics – linking the letter sounds to their written form e.g. knowing that when we see the letter “m” it makes the sound /mmmmmm/
  3. Fluency – the ability to read quickly and accurately
  4. Comprehension – the ability to understand what you are reading
  5. Vocabulary – understanding the meaning of the words you are reading

These five components, along with explicit and systematic instruction in phonics skills, as well as opportunity to practice these component skills in reading real text, will help to provide the best intervention for teaching students to read.

I find it is (relatively) easy to teach kids the foundational skills needed to be able to decode sounds and blend words and provide repeated practice so they remember them!

However teaching them how to remember what they have read, understand what they have read and make sense of it, is quite difficult. Looking back at the five key components, there is a kind of progression, moving down the list in regards to the skills. You need to be able to read accurately before you can read fluently, and once you start to read fluently, you can then spend more time and energy understanding what you are reading (comprehension), and trying to make sense of what you are reading, which ultimately, is the goal of reading.

It isn’t easy. Teaching students to read fluently to help with comprehending what they are reading, and then teaching students how to understand what they are reading, and increasing their vocabulary to help with comprehension, takes a lot of practice and repetition. There are a lot of different things you can do to help students learn different strategies to make sense of what they are reading. Reading aloud to students, or having them read aloud to you, and asking questions to check for meaning is one of the easiest ways to do this.

There are also Direct Instruction programs that teach comprehension explicitly. I have used theses programs with a few students over the years, and they are highly effective, teaching specific skills and giving students strategies to take meaning from what they are reading.

There is a whole lot more I can talk about on this topic, but I will probably make individual blog posts on those down the track. So I’ll leave you with the things I find are really helpful when teaching students who are struggling to read:

  • a clear progression of teaching individual phonic sounds and skills,
  • building on previously learned/mastered skills,
  • explicit teaching of reading strategies, and
  • opportunities to practice those skills in a supported situation while asking questions to check for meaning and understanding i.e. having them read aloud to practice.


Direct Instruction Reading – Douglas Carnine

National Institute for Direct Instruction

MultiLit – Making Up Lost Time in Literacy

National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy

National Reading Panel

The Rose Report

Short and successful.

Despite the title, this is actually going to be a relatively long blog post!

I was thinking about the way I wanted to approach this blog, and as with everything I do, I’m sure it will change over time, but I thought a good way to go was to link a lesson/concept learned during my work, with a story as an example. And I have lots of stories as examples, so I think I will start with a good thing to remember :)

I have been working with children with Autism and their families for many years now, and honestly, I can’t even remember how, or when, I consciously made the decision to head in this direction, but I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing, or what I would end up doing, way back at the beginning of my career.

I remember being not only very new, but very young, and reasonably naive. One of my very first kids I worked with, I was shadowing him for social skills help in the playground at school. He really didn’t want me there, and really didn’t want me in his space, asking him to do things at lunch time that involved a whole bunch of kids he really didn’t want!

I remember before I’d even started with him, all the big goals I had in mind, and a timeline of what I wanted to be doing and when. I am a big planner, I love to plan ahead, and come up with ideas, and work out a way to achieve those ideas. So it kind of makes sense that I have always done that, even in my beginning days.

I had a little support in implementing, but considering I was quite new to the whole idea, not a huge amount of input from the supervisors of his program. The teachers (who were AMAZING at their job and fantastic team teachers) were really great and supportive, and it was such a surreal experience for me, going into a classroom, every week, and getting paid. Previously, I had only been in classrooms on prac, so this was very different.

So I would go in every week, at morning tea and lunch, and when I arrived, my kid would be at the top of the play equipment, spot me and scream, angrily “GO AWAY LAUREN!!!” (he was only kidding … I hope!) But each week, I stayed and we did a whole bunch of activities at morning tea and lunch.

Probably after around 2 terms of this, plus at home ABA therapy after school, I had a more realistic expectation of what we were able to achieve. I knew my kid a whole lot better, I knew the resources and set up of the school a whole lot better, and I had a lot more skills – I learned about ‘Task Analysis’ – the process of breaking a skill into smaller, more manageable steps in order to teach the skill. (Task Analysis)

I learned to adjust my goals and still aim high, but think about smaller, shorter goals to aim to achieve in the meantime – all apart of the bigger ‘end’ goal.

At the end of our time at that school, my kid did actually enjoy being around a few of the other kids and had a lot more skills to use in social situations. I still see him today, and he doesn’t yell at me to go away when he sees me, so I am counting that as a win!

This concept of “Short and successful” is something I am constantly discussing with families today. It can be very hard to ‘break’ down a goal, a particularly big one, say for example, sitting at the table and eating what is on the plate. (I’m pretty sure my parents had that goal for me when I was younger :P)

Sometimes, people can get caught up in the bigger picture and just focus on “He won’t sit down to eat, I have to feed him, he only eats rice!” If our only goal is “sit down and eat what is on the plate” it will probably be very hard to achieve.

If we can set shorter goals, and have smaller aims to achieve, we are actually going to set our kids up for success. In the example of sitting at the table and eating dinner, we could break that down to achieve smaller goals in a few different ways.

We could aim for sitting at the table for a certain period of time, starting small, and building on that success – e.g. using a timer, sitting for 1 minute and eating.

We could aim for eating a certain amount of food at a time, and only have that on the plate – e.g. 5 spoonfuls/bites, or three 1cm x 1cm potato pieces.

We could aim for trying and eating new foods, by putting different foods on the plate to ‘try’ as well as something we know they will eat – e.g. “First try carrot, then you can have chocolate yoghurt!”

With all of those goals, there is a lot of work to do, particularly if we are starting small and setting up our chances of success. We can build on that by reinforcing success, and increasing the goal systematically over time.

If we have goals that are reasonably attainable, and we provide opportunities for our kids to practice those goals, and then we reinforce them for attaining that particular goal, we will be able to teach them new skills, and increase the chance that they will be able to achieve those small goals we have laid out, and be successful. We can then build on the successes, and get to the bigger picture!

For the individual, it is motivating, and builds their self esteem, particularly if they find certain tasks difficult. For the therapist and family, it is also motivating, and you feel successful because you know the little steps that are being taken, are leading to bigger things.

It is something that can be hard to navigate, and it can be difficult to potentially break tasks down as small as possible, but there are some good resources out there to help with this (which I have attached at the end of this post.) Sometimes it helps to sit down and attempt the task yourself to see exactly what is involved in the task.

And like with all the good things I love about behaviour analysis, applying it to real life situations. I use task analysis quite often. In particular, when I have to write reports.

I break down the format of a report, and I set myself goals of what I have to achieve in a certain time frame. I start with the intro and graphs, then I have a break (reinforcement!) Then I do the written analysis of the graphs, then I have another break. This section involves a lot more thinking and writing. Then I do the strategies and recommendations, as well as the summary, and then I am done! I actually get to practice this because I usually have more than one report to write. However, by setting myself smaller, easier goals at first, and achieving those goals, I am more motivated to move onto the next ‘goal’ to achieve.

Of course, I have other things motivating me i.e. I need to get the report completed, but in general, this principle of choosing small goals to be ‘short and successful’ is applicable to many different facets of everyday life – running 5km, losing weight, or saving for a house deposit.

Regardless of what I am applying this technique to, I use it frequently, and love explaining to parents how we can apply it, and see successes, while always reiterating, the bigger goal and the bigger picture, but for us to get there, we do need to start small, in order to be successful.


Evidence-based practice: Task Analysis

ABA: The Role of Task Analysis and Chaining

Where do I begin?

The entire development and creation of ‘Great Start Educational Services’ has been a long time coming. It has something that has been at the back of my mind for many, many years. I kept a journal through everything I have done to help remind myself of what I want to do, and how to get there, and even though I still have a way to go, I know I am on the right track.

I honestly love what I do. I know I am very lucky to be in a job where I do love doing everything I do. I love the concepts, and the ideas of behaviourism. I love how I can look at any situation and know that I have a variety of tools and strategies at my disposal to use. I love working with passionate, like-minded people. I love learning new things, and finding out new things, and attending conferences, reading research, even just having conversations with people about a range of different topics that I am passionate about.

But I guess the main thing I love the most about my job, and what I thought would be a most appropriate first ‘official’ blog post, would be the families that I have worked with over the years.

I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to be a part of so many different families lives, and to help support them through different (and most often difficult) stages of their lives. I have worked with some amazing kids, and even more amazing Mums, Dads, siblings, Grandparents, teachers, Speechies, OT’s psychs, Pediatricians … the list goes on!

I love being able to be there for a family when they are unsure what to do, or how to tackle something. I love being able to teach new skills to kids, and see them get it, when it finally clicks!

This feeling is the same for all the kids and families I know. From the very first kids I worked with many, many years ago, up until all the families and kids I still meet today. Knowing them, and being a part of their lives in some way, shape, or form, has definitely shaped me into not only the person I am in my working life today, but the person I am in general.

So thank-you! I feel so lucky to know all of you :)

My aim for this blog is to be a (hopefully!) regular blog where I can post things I have found, different teaching ideas, interesting information, to help spread the word and share information about behaviourism.