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History Of ABA Therapy & Who Invented It?







Learn about the history of Applied Behavior Analysis, a behavior therapy for kids diagnosed with autism, as well as who invented it.

Does Your Child Have Autism? Proudsteps ABA is a modern provider of at-home Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Our best-in-class therapists are ready to help.

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Who Invented ABA Therapy?

The original inventor of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy was O. Ivar Lovaas (1927-2010), a renowned clinical psychologist who first began using the principles of behaviorism to treat people with autism in the 1950s and 60s.

He was also one of the first psychologists to recognize that children on the autism spectrum could learn and make gains through systematic instruction. Lovaas helped bring this treatment method into mainstream use in psychology, social services, and education settings throughout the world. His role in the development of ABA was shaped by his own behavioral preconditions.

Timeline Of ABA’s History

1913 – The book Psychology as the Behavior Views is published by John B. Watson.

1917 – The psychologist Jacob Robert Kantor completes university with a Ph.D. He would later go on to find interbehaviorism, which he is best known for by historians today.

1924 – Jacob Kantor publishes a journal titled The Principles of Psychology. There were several similar books written by Kantor at this time, including books on history and language.

1929 – Burrhus Frederic Skinner begins higher education at Harvard University, with a major in Psychology.

1932 – A operant conditioning chamber, a device used for examining behavior exhibited in animals, is invented by Burrhus Skinner.

1938 – At Columbia University, Fred Keller begins work as a faculty member. He collaborates with Nat Schoenfeld in the creation of a behavioral program for undergraduates and graduates.

1938 – Burrush Skinner writes and releases the book Behavior of Organisms, showing rudimentary studies on behavior analysis.

1943 – The idea of shaping materializes, or reinforcement of desired behaviors.

1944 – Burrhus Skinner and William Estes released a journal on behavior and punishment

1945 – Skinner’s work, On the Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms, details how verbal behavior can be used to understand the psychological definitions.

1947 – Skinner gives a lecture entitled the William James Lectures A Harvard University about spoken behavior.

1947 – Marian “Bailey” Breland and Keller Breland start lessons or animal training, which would later become known as Animal Behavior Enterprises, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, focusing on behavior therapy for animals.

1948 – Skinner releases the novel Walden Two, which at the time of its publication was seen as science fiction but had ideas that would later be adapted into modern ABA therapy.

1948 – At Indiana University, the Experimental Analysis of Behavior conference takes place.

1949 – Operant conditioning is done to a challenged individual by Paul Fuller, which is published in the same year.

1950 – Burrhus Skinner collaborates with Charles Boris Ferster in a pigeon laboratory at Harvard University.

1950 – Principles of Psychology is published by William James, widely recognized as the first textbook detailing subjects closely tied to behavior analysis.

1953 – Two Temporal Parameters of the Maintenance of Avoidance Behavior is published in a journal called Comparative and Physiological Psychology, itself did by the White Rat.

1953 – The Behavior Research Laboratory was begun by Skinner and Ogden Lindsley.

1953 – Science and Human Behavior is published by Skinner.

1956 – The first experiment on punishment was conducted by Nathan Azrin.

1957 – A book called Verbal Behavior is published by Skinner, at the time known for detailing linguistics.

1957 – Schedules of Reinforcement is published by both Skinner and Fester.

1958 – Beginning of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

1958 – A review was created by Noam Chomsky about Skinner’s writings in Verbal Behavior.

1958 – Joseph Brady, a psychologist, and neuroscientist join Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

1959 – A program is begun by Joseph Brady with money, whereby they’re used to test the effects of flying in space.

1960 – Tactics of Scientific Research is published by Murray Sidman.

1960 – Behavior Delia is stated by Richard Malott.

1961 – The Analysis of Behavior is jointly published by Skinner and James G. Holland.

1961 – Burrhus Skinner’s collaborator, Charles Ferster, moves to Indiana University School of Medicine. He pioneered the use of Errorless Learning for teaching kids with autism. The focus was on communication skills.

1961 – The University of Kansas receives Frances Horowitz, who is quickly delegated to a program about the development of humans.

1962 – Arizona State University opens a department for psychology. Its moniker is known as Ford Skinner in the Desert.

1962 – The first applied behavior analysis journal is published, called the Journal of Mathematics.

1963 – In London, the Experimental Analysis of Behavior Group has a large inauguration.

1963 – Laboratory Studies in Operant Behavior is published by Jack Michael.

1964 – In Kansas City, the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project begins construction.

1964 – The Division for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior begins with Division 25.

1965 – Ellen P. Reese uses ABA therapy to make a series of films for autistic learning.

1965 – Nate Azrin and Ted Ayllon at Anna State Hospital detail the first token economy, a theory that both punishments and rewards can influence behavior.

1965 – The University of Texas takes on Donald M. Baer.

1966 – Digital computers are discussed by Uber and Donald S. Blough over how they can be used to moderate behavior analysis experiments.

1966 – The first review is done on operant research by Werner Honig.

1967 – In Louisa, Virginia, Twin Oaks was created by Kathleen Kincaid.

1968 – More modern publications involving ABA are done by Risley, Baer, and Wolf.

1968 – The National Medal of Science is awarded to Burrhus Skinner.

1968 – Beginning of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

1968 – The UCLA Young Autism Project was begun by Lovaas.

1969 – The University of Florida begins a doctoral program.

1970 – In Greensboro, the University of North Carolina begins providing doctoral behavior analysis courses.

1970 – On the Law and of Effect is published by Richard Herrnstein.

1970 – NIMH gives Stephanie Stolz the position of Chief of the Small Grants.

1971 – The book Beyond the Freedom and Dignity is published by Skinner.

1971 – Western Michigan University student Jack Michael is awarded the American Psychological Foundation’s Distinguished Contributions to Education in Psychology award

1972 – Behaviorism is created by Willard Day.

1972 – Roland Tharp and David Watson write Self Directed Behavior Self Modification for Personal Adjustment

1973 – A community experiment is created in Comunidad de los Horcones, Mexico.

1974 – Toilet Training in Less Than a Day is published by Azrin and Foxx.

1974 – The creation of the Midwestern Association for Behavior Analysis, or MAMA.

1975 – An ABA journal is published in Mexico.

1975 – Incorporation of MABA.

1976 – In West Virginia, A doctoral program for behavior analysis is created.

1977 – The creation of Help! This Animal is Driving Me Crazy is completed and published by Daniel Tortora.

1977 – The Journal of Organizational Behavior Development is created by Aubrey C. Daniels.

1977 – An article titled Programming Generally of Treatment Interventions is published by Stokes and Baer.

1978 – Discriminative Stimuli is the first Harvard Symposium on Reinforcement Schedules.

1978 – Behaviors for Social Actions, a journal, is published.

1978 – Human Competence is put out by Thomas Gilbert.

1978 – Robert P. Hawkins changes the name of School Applications for Learning Theory to Education and Treatment of Children.

1978 – Publication begins for The Behavior Analyst.

1978 – Behavior analysis is taught at many jobs, according to Aubrey Daniels.

1980 – The official name is changed from the Midwestern Association to the Association for Behavior Analysis.

1981 – Robert Stein creates the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

1981 – Behavior analysis letters are created by John Stratton.

1982 – Publication starts on The Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

1982 – Toward a Functional Analysis of Self-Injury is published.

1983 – The Japanese Association for Behavior Analysts Letter is created.

1985 – Aubrey Daniels publishes Bringing out the Best in People.

1986 – The Director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse is Charles R. Shuster.

1987 – Establishment of the B.F. Skinner Foundation.

1987 – The Surgeon General makes note of the work that Lovaas did throughout his career.

1991 – The Distinguished Scientific Applications award is given to Joseph Brady.

1993 – A meeting is held In New York for “Walden Fellowship.

1993 – First woman to be the editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is Nancy Neef.

1994 – The US Department of Behavior Analysis is made.

1994 – Akershus University and Olso start two master’s Degree items.

1994 – Distinguished Service to Behavior Analysis is your reward.

1998 – Certification board for Behavior Analysis is created.

2000 – The European journal of Behavior Analysis becomes published.

2005 – Behavior Analysis and The Association

2007 – Association of Professional Behavior Analysts formed

2008 – The Certification to disinfect, and that’s when they were led into the chamber.

2009 – Oklahoma and Nevada are the first states to license behavior analysts.

How has ABA therapy changed over the years?

It’s important to remember that ABA therapy is very recent. However, in the time that the therapy has existed, some impactful changes have been made. There is no exact day of its creation since its honing up until contemporary times took the work of different scientists, therapists, and psychologists in varied studies.  The practices done in the past are what give it some level of controversy today. Some of what is criticized about ABA are procedures that aren’t used anymore. Some of the credit for this goes to Ivar Lovaas. A big practice at the time that would’ve seen considerable disapproval today was electroshock therapy. This involved giving the spectrum patient a jolt, or shock, whenever bad behavior was exhibited to them. Of course, such treatment wouldn’t last long in the medical field today and would be considered malpractice now. 

Another major change is the ability of kids to learn and not be punished. Instead of punishing excessively.

Autistic children are led to show favorable behavior through the choices they make, not through physical punishments.

Another big change is the variety in which a child can be provided with ABA therapy. Parents now can have every session at home if they choose to. 

Read More: At-Home ABA Therapy

In the past, many sessions were conducted in closed-off spaces or even in psychiatric hospitals. These have greatly improved the reliability of ABA therapy. An additional change is the personable level that therapists bring with them for every child now. When behavioral studies first started, this certainly wasn’t the case. Therapists are trained on how to interact with autistic individuals of all ages. Children, in particular, have a difficult time dealing with their autism, since it can inhibit their ability to express themselves. For this reason, and many others, they sometimes become aggressive and resort to self-harm. In the not-too-distant past, this was sometimes reacted with methods that wouldn’t have a child grow and mature at all. Furthermore, autistic patients are treated much better than before. Many were thought of as mentally retarded and the works of people in the field at the time were way. With this label, it would’ve become hard to teach since retardation and autistic kids aren’t the same. There was a slower learning pace. But today, all of these issues are gone and therapy is much easier for a child. Currently, there are 7 dimensions of ABA therapy which include:

  1. Generality

  2. Effective

  3. Technological

  4. Applied

  5. Conceptually Systematic

  6. Analytic

  7. Behavior


Read More: 7 Dimensions Of ABA Therapy

Who invented ABA therapy?

Charles Ferster and Ivar Lovaas are considered two of the inventors of ABA therapy. Few things in the world have been invented without the help of other people. If ABA’s inventor could be named as one man, it would be impossible to do. There are several people responsible for this therapy. Charles Ferster, Ivar Levaas, Charles Ferster, and Marian DeMyer were the inventors of ABA therapy.  They consisted of college graduates, professors, and authors. studying the subject.

Many of them wrote books about their studies, and some have multiple works on the topic, discussing new things they learned about the therapy as their careers grew older.

When did ABA therapy for autism start?

It started in 1960 when Marian K. DeMyer and Charles B. did experiments with those who are autistic. However, this distinction wasn’t made by them. Instead, the kids were listed as handicapped. They attempted to prove that reinforcements in the environment could help kids respond in positive ways when in their presence. The experiment involved other people as well, like B.F. Skinner.  It was noted that candy was constantly being purchased from a vending machine by children.

After picking the candy as reinforcements, therapists would give out the candy whenever something favorable was done.

ABA therapy has a brief but very broad history. The techniques previously used compared to today show that improvements have helped the brand.









History of ABA Therapy and who invented it
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