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This post is written using research from two published research articles on positive behaviour support. If you would like to read further into this topic, both references can be found at the end of the post. 

To start off our 3 ways that positive behaviour support is different from ABA let’s start with the major differentiator between the two approaches.. their ethos and models

# 1 What is ABA (Applied behavior analysis)

ABA is one of the only empirically based approaches to assist individuals diagnosed with autism and developmental disabilities. The ABA model is a field within psychology that focuses on analysing behaviour. ABA  observes and measures behaviour in controlled and uncontrolled environments, in order to understand the impact that certain variables have on a behaviour of concern. Through these analyses, ABA aims to identify specific variables that are responsible for the change in behaviour, before working towards minimising their impacts. ABA provided a conceptual framework relevant to behaviour change, and a number of empirically-validated assessment and intervention strategies. ABA’s ethos is quite individualistic and looks at moulding the person by telling us how things can change


What is positive behaviour support (PBS)

Whereas positive behaviour support (PBS) uses a system-based approach, which aims to decrease behaviour at an individual and community level. PBS emerged around 20 years after the ABA model from three major sources – ABA, the inclusion movement and person-centred values. PBS was created in response to concerns that there were aversive procedures being implemented by other therapy models. Unlike ABA, the PBS model changes methods (environmental redesign) to enhance quality of life for the person. Reductions in behaviours of concern is a side effect. It focuses more on “environments of concern”. PBS also recognised that there was a need for sustainable outcomes that strengthen helpful behaviour through positive reinforcement but look at elimination and/or reduction of aversive consequence-based strategies. PBS’s ethos looks at developing resilience and skills, but it also looks at things from a philosophical level and societal level. PBS telling us what needs to change.

Where is there overlap?

Both approaches use a scientific approach to analysing behaviour and share a similar principle – based on an understanding of why, when and how behaviours happen and what purposes they serve (via the use of functional behaviour assessment).

#2 ABA focuses on.. the behaviour

ABA places a heavy focus on measurable behaviours. These could be public/visible behaviours (what others can see) and private (what others can’t see, such as thoughts and feelings). Once the function of the behaviour is determined, ABA focuses on antecedent strategies. Meaning it addresses the underlying cause/s, before then trying to prevent the behaviour from recurring. While this sounds very similar to PBS it’s more of an individualised focus. 

An example, if a child’s behaviour at school was determined to be avoidant, then avoidance strategies would be commenced. However, other models would emphasise that the root cause of the behaviour was first a result of low self-confidence in the task they were asked to do.. which in turn led to their avoidance in trying. Like the PBS model..


PBS focuses on.. environment, long term focus, non-linear/constructional approach

PBS is a multidisciplinary model, meaning it focuses not only on identifying the ‘function’ of the behaviour, but is also values-led. This means PBS places more value on collaboration with key stakeholders, enhanced community participation, build life skills, when designing individual support plans. While PBS does incorporate behaviour analysis through its data-based assessment processes, it goes two additional steps further by also incorporating an inclusion movement, and person-centred values. 

So if we used the same child in the example above, if a PBS model recognised the avoidant behaviour, then a prevention strategy would be implemented to support the child through the challenging task and give them additional support to feel more confident in their future attempts. 

#3 The ABA facets (features)

There are four facets to behaviour analysis (ABA):

  • Radical behaviourism
  • Experimental analysis of behaviour 
  • Behaviour service delivery 
  • And applied behaviour analysis 

Meaning ABA methods believe the causes of behaviour, and behaviour itself can be measured and controlled by genetics and environmental events. 


The PBS facets 

Whereas the positive behaviour support model integrates nine features: 

  • Comprehensive lifestyle change
  • A lifespan perspective 
  • Ecological validity
  • Stakeholder participation
  • Social validity
  • Systems change/multicomponent intervention
  • Emphasis on prevention
  • Flexibility in scientific practices,
  • And multiple theoretical perspectives

The intention behind having so many features is to create a cohesive whole approach. 

I hope this has been helpful!

Here at Autism360, we follow a positive behaviour support approach.


And can we help? 

And if you think an Autism360 positive behaviour support practitioner could help you/your child, book a call with us here to discuss the start of your journey with us. 

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