What Does Self-Management Refer to in the Context of Applied Behavior Analysis?

Can learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) become active participants in their own behavior plans?

Yes, they can!

The concept of self-management in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy involves doing just that—applying ABA principles to create a plan that’s designed to encourage self-management and self-regulation among ASD learners.

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What is a Self-Management Plan?

The objective of a self-management plan is two-fold: to teach ASD learners (1) specific skills; and (2) the concept of self-regulation.

Self-management—largely used to help ASD learners acquire social skills—involves:

  • Identifying a goal
  • Modifying the environment to increase the likelihood that those goal can be reached
  • Maintaining a log of the behavior
  • Implementing positive reinforcement when those goals are met

But instead of an ABA practitioner overseeing the plan, the ASD learner is in charge of implementing and recording his own self-management strategies. In short, self-management is about learning independence.

That’s not to say that the ABA practitioner isn’t involved in the process. But because the ASD learner is actively involved in the process, he enjoys the power that comes along with controlling his own behavior.

How Does a Self-Management Plan Work?

A good example of self-management is a learner who does not remain seated during lunchtime. The ABA practitioner begins by identifying the goal to be met (remain seated during lunch), designing the self-management plan, and constructing an assessment log or other type of easy-to-use form for implementing the plan.

The ABA practitioner provides instruction to the student regarding what is expected (remaining seated during the lunch period), how the student will record his own progress (the child places a checkmark on the log when he achieves this goal), and how he earns the incentive (three checkmarks equals a reward).

The ABA practitioner may alter or modify the environment to help the student achieve this goal. For example, the ABA practitioner may provide the student with a small clock or stopwatch that serves as a reminder of how long he must stay in his seat. After achieving the assigned goal, the learner puts a checkmark on his log and receives an incentive or reward from the ABA practitioner after achieving a set number of checkmarks. This may include something as simple as a token, small prize, or being the leader of the line to the playground.

In many cases, the ABA practitioner initially plays a more active role in the self-management plan, such as reminding the learner of the plan or where to mark the sheet when the goal is achieved. The practitioner slowly removes this assistance as the learner becomes confident with the process. The practitioner may also provide additional incentives when the learner completes the self-management plan on his own.