ABA Treatment Philosophy

Applied Behavior Analysis

For many of its students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Hillcrest utilizes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), an evidence-based practice that has proven to have a positive effect on the lives of people with severe forms of Autism. Using ABA, staff provide individualized instruction that is integrated throughout the school and residential program. This instruction will help students learn new skills in a variety of domains including, but not limited to, education, socialization, self-care, communication, and life skills. All ABA programming is overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Skills Assessment and Development

Developing a comprehensive understanding of each individual, their strengths and challenges, and the specific influences to their difficulties is a primary and ongoing component of assessment and treatment. Through this process a thorough understanding of strengths, resources and limitations is acquired and a plan to help develop skills and resources while not overwhelming one’s resources can be initiated.

The core skills that are focused upon throughout all HEC campuses include: independent living/functional skills, academic skills, and self-monitoring skills.

Trauma Informed Care (TIC)

When the environment is very overwhelming, as is often the case when a person experiences trauma, attachment disruption, loss, domestic violence or abuse, the result can be significant impact on the development of the person’s skills and resources. Exposure to those who have experienced these events has impact on others in the community.   A trauma informed environment requires an understanding of trauma and considers its effects, at the personal, individual, and societal levels.

As trauma and loss are, at their core, violations of interpersonal connection, the HEC community focuses on developing healthy relationships with others.   Within these healthy relationships, motivation, healthy sense of self and connections to others and the community are developed. Other primary intervention approaches from the TIC philosophy include psycho-education about trauma/vicarious trauma and its effects, understanding the influence of individual trauma histories, making meaning from these difficult experiences, developing self-awareness, developing skills and resources to manage more effectively, and proactively planning for safety.

Students in the ASD program do not participate in the Trauma Informed Care treatment model unless their cognitive and communication abilities allow them to successfully participate in this talk therapy based treatment approach.   Participation in such a process would be based upon an individual student’s trauma history and their previous success or difficulties with such a process.   Participation would also be based upon the current treatment team’s assessment of the child’s ability to participate in the process.   At times, when appropriate, procedures may be modified to fit the student’s current functioning level.  

Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Support Plan Process

The goal of the assessment process is to identify the purpose or function of, or variables that maintain challenging behaviors exhibited by a student. These behaviors can place the individual and others around him /her at varying levels of risk and interfere with the acquisition of new skills.

The Behavior Analyst, Clinical assistant, or other clinical staff will initiate the process of conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment. Those trained in this process along with designees will collect information and data related to the individual that will contribute to the complete functional assessment process for that child.

See the following paragraphs for FBA and Behavior Support Plan preparation


The Behavior Support Plan is a comprehensive document designed based on the individual needs of each student. These documents are created based on the results of Functional Behavior Assessments completed at intake and are then updated regularly throughout the course of the student’s treatment based on their progress and ongoing assessment.

The 5 components that make up an effective Behavior Support Plan include:

  1. Ecological Management Arrangements- Includes environmental arrangements necessary to make challenging behaviors less likely to occur and replacement behaviors more likely to occur.
  2. Behaviors for Decrease- Includes behaviors identified by the treatment team that are interfering with the child’s ability to participate in their daily life safely and effectively.
  3. Replacement Behaviors- Includes behaviors identified by the treatment team that are socially acceptable and functionally related to his behaviors for decrease. These behaviors may also be incompatible with the behaviors targeted for decrease.
  4. Antecedent Strategies- These include function based procedures for staff to follow throughout the child’s day to help make the behaviors targeted for decrease less likely to occur.
  5. Consequential Strategies- These include the function based procedures for staff to follow when the child begins to engage in any of the behaviors targeted for decrease.

Each Hillcrest Behavior Support Plan also contains a Basic Information section for each student, including their Clinician’s name, Teacher’s name, common antecedents for maladaptive behaviors, primary communication method, and approved emergency procedures. The creation of all Behavior Support Plans is overseen by Board Certified Behavior Analysts.