Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) is a widely known concept and is accepted and practiced by schools district-wide as well as state agencies. As where Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a newer science and is increasing its recognition as well. With the evolution of science and the progression of times, it is important the similarities and differences be discussed.
PBS is non-aversive and was designed to replace the belittling interventions that took away the rights of individuals with special needs. Environmental conditions are altered in attempts to alter behaviors while no specific technique to define it. PBS focuses on the rights and values of the individuals it serves. Its main purpose is to support the individual throughout their life.
ABA is a science that uses environmental variables to influence socially significant behavior and develops a technology for behavior change. ABA focuses on the practical application of the interventions as well. It relies on using data to guide the interventions and demonstrate empirical support. The main purpose of ABA is to, not only reduce the challenge behaviors, but decrease skill deficits driving the individual to independence.
While the similarities are few, they are noteworthy. Accordingly to Johnston et al (2006), PBS should acknowledge ABA as a foundation. It is based on the improvement of the lifestyle and focuses on the values and rights of the individuals. While ABA respects those same components, along with social validation, person-centered planning, and integrity of the individual (just to name a few), ABA is regarded as a scientific practice thus providing a strong foundation for some of the interventions that PBS uses and implements. PBS and ABA, both, want to see the behavior modified, and that is done through the implementation of interventions. Some commonalities amongst the interventions are a focus on lifestyle change, modification of ecological interventions and setting events, antecedent manipulations, building environments, proactive planning, and emergency procedures all while preserving the dignity of the individual. Even though all of these components have shown to improve behavior, they have different explanations.
What distinguishes them from one another is their primary focus. PBS focuses on the cultural values and the antecedent influences while ABA is the effectiveness of the treatment and the 3-term contingency. The 3-term contingency refers to the antecedent and consequence of the behavior both as contributing factors to the cause and maintenance of the behavior, which also supports the reason for any behavior changes. Since PBS tends to use more general environmental changes there is a lack of clear justification of any behavior changes. PBS uses behavior supports to assist with changing the individuals’ behavior change. When done incorrectly can lead to increased dependency, reduced generalizability of skills, and challenges regarding transition from services. ABA has shown that through the development and reinforcement of skills individuals increase the likeliness of reaching independence which is our ultimate goal with services.
And while both disciplines evaluate the effectiveness of treatment it is important to note that ABA uses the scientific method to drive their practice including, modification of interventions and progress of the individual.
Through the expansion in practice of ABA we, as a field, can maximize the potential of the individuals we serve, and after all, isn’t that why we do what we do?