Which is Better ABA or Verbal Behavior?

I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, Autism Mom, Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, and author of the book, The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders, which was published in 2007 and is now available in 10 languages.

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Occasionally, I get a question, something like, “Which is better? ABA or verbal behavior?” This is like asking, “Which is better? Soda or Sprite?” or “Which is better? Religion or catholicism?” You see, applied behavior analysis or ABA is the umbrella term. It’s the science. It’s the whole class, and applied behavior analysis is the science of changing socially significant behavior. As a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, I applied the science of ABA. Under the ABA umbrella, we have the different subtypes, just like under the soda classification, we would have different flavors of soda, such as Sprite, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Root Beer. We would have the class of soda with the different flavors.

Using that analogy, we have applied behavior analysis, the science of changing socially significant behavior, and we can have different types of ABA programs, such as using the verbal behavior approach or, more technically, using Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior or the verbal behavior approach. Under the classification or umbrella of ABA, we also have subcategories like precision teaching, direct instruction, and the Lovaas model all underneath that umbrella.

Asking which is better, ABA or verbal behavior, is not accurate. Actually, when you’re using a verbal behavior approach, especially when you’re using it under the direction of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who’s had training in verbal behavior, then you are using both ABA and verbal behavior. I find that I make the most gains with children using Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior under the umbrella of applied behavior analysis.

The verbal behavior approach actually started in 1957 when B.F. Skinner wrote his classic book, “Verbal Behavior.” This book though has nothing to do with autism. He doesn’t even mention autism. It’s an analysis of language and how language happens, whether it’s with people with head injuries or even for us to learn a second language, and it’s an analysis of how language happens and that language is a behavior and can be assessed and treated just like any behavior. B.F. Skinner’s book is very difficult to read for us non-linguistics. Even for behavior analysts, it’s a pretty difficult book to read. Thankfully, other people have interpreted Skinner’s work, namely Dr. Mark Sundberg, Dr. Partington, who wrote the ABLLS, which is the assessment that I used to use in 1999 to 2006. Now, I use the VB-MAPP by Dr. Mark Sundberg exclusively. This really has helped us apply the work of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior to help children with autism.

In an effort to get this material even more easy to read is the reason I wrote my book in 2007, to help parents and professionals learn how to apply verbal behavior principles outlined by Skinner and then by others to help children improve language, improve learning skills, and decrease problem behaviors. If you haven’t read my book yet, I would encourage you to read a copy. Also, check out my website, MaryBarbera.com. There’s lots of free resources, as well as many video blogs just like this one explaining in very short amount of time different topics on the issue of autism and ABA.

Thanks a lot for watching, and I’ll see you next week.