Making sense of ABA vs. IBI

By Scott Bark
Lead Manager, Transition Services, Central East Autism Program

The autism community is rich in acronyms: ASD, DSM, and DTT are just a few examples.  So many acronyms to remember can seem overwhelming at times and understanding the differences between them is equally important.

And this brings us to two acronyms that are used extensively in the autism community: ABA and IBI.
So what are they?

We sometimes hear them used interchangeably, but they are not the same.  ABA stands for Applied Behaviour Analysis, which is the science of systematically applying the principles of learning to meaningfully improve social behaviours.  The uses of ABA are broad: not only in autism, but also education, the workplace, treatment of addictions, and in sports performance, to name just a few.

A key characteristic of ABA is that it is based on science.  ABA based interventions are supported by research and are published in peer reviewed, scientific journals.  For children with autism, ABA may be used to understand under what circumstances a behaviour occurs, as well as to teach new skills and reduce inappropriate behaviours, or both.  The changes in a child’s behaviours are carefully tracked by collecting different types of information about that behaviour (for example, how often it occurs) and the child’s treatment may be adjusted based on this.

The professionals who practice ABA are called Applied Behaviour Analysts and many practicing in Ontario are Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBA – another acronym!).  Check out the website for the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (www.Ontaba.org) to learn more about ABA in Ontario.

Okay – so that’s ABA in a nutshell.
So what about IBI, and why do I sometimes hear it used interchangeably with ABA?

IBI stands for Intensive Behavioural Intervention.   It is not the same as ABA, but rather, it is an intervention based on the principles of ABA.

Like ABA, IBI is also based on science.  While correctly using ABA can be beneficial for everyone on the spectrum, research shows that IBI is not effective for everyone.  It is an intervention that has been demonstrated to improve skills in some children with autism, but not all.

EIBI (Early IBI) is specifically targeted for some children with autism ages two to five.  The keys to EIBI are that it is intensive (20-40 hours per week), individualized, based on the principles of ABA, and seeks to build a wide repertoire of skills in the child up to about a junior or senior kindergarten level. Examples of learnings are early social and communication skills.

Like ABA, EIBI uses data to measure a child’s progress and there are also different types of assessment tools such as the ABLLS-R (Assessment of Basic Language or Learning Skills Revised) or VB-MAPP (Verbal Behaviour Milestone Assessment and Placement Program), I know – more acronyms – to guide which skills are being taught to the child.  EIBI is available in Ontario through government funded Autism Intervention Providers such as Kinark or may also be purchased privately by families.

So now you know the similarities and differences between ABA and IBI.  If you are still unclear, perhaps it might help to remember this:

All IBI is ABA but not all ABA is IBI.
If you would like to learn more about ABA and EIBI, please feel free to contact Kinark at www.kinark.on.ca.