Reviewed by Ruth Connolly, Senior Clinical Psychologist, SCJMS, Moore Abbey, Monasterevan, Co. Kildare.


When this book landed on my desk I saw the claims on the back cover that the book ‘demystifies’ the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis and I began reading with anticipation. This book is long overdue. If there is an area within modern psychological science that requires and warrants demystification, without doubt, it is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). To some it is still old fashioned ‘behaviour modification’, to others it is a teaching approach used with toddlers who have been diagnosed with autism. It has been described as an approach where ‘they find out what you like best and make you work for it’. ABA is discussed in the media, ruled on in the courts, commented on by the Minister for Education, and advocated for by parents. Yet, there still remains an air of mystery and confusion regarding what constitutes Behaviour Analysis and how it is applied.

Albert Kearney sets out to clarify issues. In a book of just over 100 pages he presents the ‘ABCs of ABA’. The book is intended to serve as an introduction to the science for parents, teachers and paraprofessionals.

There is an emphasis on avoiding the terminology of ABA that often serves as a barrier to the understanding of behavioural concepts. Kearney covers the principles of ABA and moves on to discuss the application of basic behavioural principles to real life problems.

Chapters One to Five provide a succinct and accessible summary of the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis. The three-term contingency is dissected and presented in a readable and useful way. Behavioural terminology is translated into everyday language with practical examples provided for technical definitions. This is the best overview of ABA that I have encountered to date. I can see how parents of children with developmental disabilities and autism would welcome such an objective and clear presentation of the science of behavioural analysis when they are presented with treatment or teaching options for their children. Kearney rarely quotes research evidence and makes no attempt to ‘sell’ ABA to the reader—his sole mission is to help the reader understand. And he succeeds.

Chapters Six to Nine attempt to ‘bring it all together’ by elucidating the process of functional behavioural assessment and the methodologies of behaviour change. The applications of Behaviour Analysis discussed are wide ranging and include social skills training, discrete trial training, social stories, guided practice, precision teaching, direct instruction, and the verbal behaviour approach to functional communication training, positive behavioural support and relaxation training. At this point any preconceived ideas that the reader may hold, about how ABA is ‘for people diagnosed with Autism’ or ‘a restrictive teaching approach’, are expertly extinguished. Kearney does a fine job summarising the breadth of applicability of behaviour change methodologies.

As a professional working within the field of developmental disabilities I welcome this book and can see how relevant it will be to my practice. It should be compulsory reading for all of us who are involved in promoting learning and positive behaviour change for people with disabilities. It is ideal as a book to recommend to parents. It will be of interest to teachers, nurses, clinicians and therapists. Behavioural Psychologists and Behaviour Therapists will welcome this book as a reference guide. Kearney has succeeded where few have before, in producing a reader-friendly, scientifically sound guide to a complex science.

UNDERSTANDING APPLIED BEHAVIOUR ANALYSIS: An introduction to ABA for parents, teachers, and other professionals by Albert J. Kearney (2008). London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, ISBN 978 1 84310 860 3.