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Applied Behavioral Analysis for Autism

As more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and additional research is being done to understand and evaluate treatment options, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) has emerged as one of the most valuable therapies for children. Let’s dive into what ABA is, what it does, and how it can benefit your child now and in the future.

What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

ABA is a therapy that uses positive reinforcement to help teach new skills and behaviors in various scenarios autistic children will face in life. Based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, ABA has been practiced since the 1960s and has proven effective in numerous studies.

Applied behavioral analysis focuses on the relationship between learning and behavior. Although there are other forms of treatment, only ABA has scientific evidence to back up its efficacy. This fact cannot be emphasized enough when discussing treatment options for your child.

In the most basic sense, ABA encourages children diagnosed with autism to pursue positive outcomes and avoid negative ones by applying known scientific principles, particularly positive reinforcement. In more specific terms, ABA improves a child’s social behavior by:

  • Increasing positive behaviors
  • Reducing counterproductive or maladaptive behaviors
  • Managing self-control
  • Teaching new skills
  • Transferring skills from one situation to another
  • Controlling the learning environment
 

A therapist working with a child could suggest a positive behavior, like following a basic verbal command like, “Please put away your computer.” If the child responds positively, he will receive a reward, such as praise or time outside on the playground. If the child reacts negatively, there is no reward. Over time, by reinforcing the positive behaviors, the child learns to lean into good behaviors over the bad ones.

There is no hard or fast timeline for how quickly ABA therapy will work with a child. It depends on the individual situation and how much time is dedicated to using ABA therapy. Some children will pick up the reinforcement and show improvement quicker than others.

The goal is to continue the support and treatment to show the child they can learn so that they are also encouraged to keep learning from it. In general, children benefit from ten to 40 hours per week of ABA therapy, depending on the age of child, needs of the child, and the goals / expected outcomes for treatment.

Types of Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapies

Some of the most common uses of ABA include:

  • Early intervention programs: Children younger than five benefit from early intervention for autism, which Ascend Autism offers. These sessions typically leverage one-on-one therapy between the therapist and child, reinforcing positive behaviors early on. Early intervention programs typically involve ABA sessions for a total of 20+ hours per week. 
  • Early start Denver model: Typically, this type of ABA therapy focuses on play and joint activities. It tends to works best for children ages 12 to 48 months and focuses on cognitive, language, and social skills. Ascend Autism provides ABA therapy with a focus on NET principles. 
  • Natural environment teaching: NET incorporates learning in the child’s natural environment rather than a structured teaching environment. This type of ABA promotes skill generalization and focuses on the child’s motivation.
  • Discrete trial training: This type of ABA  focuses on one, smaller task at a time, providing a reward for completing each task until the overall task is complete. Ascend Autism incorporates aspects of discrete trial training (DTT) when appropriate, but does not focus exclusively on DTT. 
  • Pivotal response training: Goals here include encouraging children to learn, start conversations on their own, and change their behavior before someone else asks them to. Ascend Autism provides ABA therapy with aspects of pivotal response training. 
 

Your child’s therapist will evaluate what treatment options are the best road forward. From there, they’ll work with your child and your family to ensure that there is a smooth transition between the ABA strategy used in a professional environment to how you use it at home and other settings in your child’s life.

The Benefits of ABA

When choosing a therapy and a course of action for your child, knowing the benefits of what you’re doing is essential to feeling confident in what comes next. Here are some of the benefits of applied behavioral analysis:

  • The research backs up that it works for children, especially starting it at a younger age (i.e. early intervention).
  • ABA is used to teach simple and complex skills. Unfortunately, not all treatment options work for both.
  • Positive reinforcement and celebrating wins show children they can overcome challenges and learn like those around them.
  • ABA also helps parents get directly involved in therapies that can be used at home and in other social settings.

Related Reading: Is Early Intervention ABA Enough for Autism Care?

How ABA is Used at Home and in School

Applied Behavioral Analysis at Home

There are two major environments for most children who interact with others regularly: home and school. It makes sense to examine how applied behavior analysis can be used in these contexts. In the home, some individuals with ASD are the most comfortable while others do better in a structured school environment.

Also, family members have a unique insight into the subtle ways a family member with ASD processes information or reacts to the world around them. Combining this insight with our professional guidance creates the most effective therapeutic strategies. Educating parents and caregivers in ABA through a parental services program is key in helping children learn and develop.

Applied Behavioral Analysis in School

Educators need to learn different techniques to get the outcomes they desire in school. ABA uses several methods that professionals can easily integrate into any classroom setting. For example, creating a token economy. This motivates learners by reinforcing desired behaviors and discouraging others by providing children with tokens such as stickers, buttons, marbles, a point system, or some other item assigned a value for completing an action or activity. It is an approach that encourages specific behaviors and gives children an impetus to engage with their peers in trading.

As previously mentioned, some children with ASD do well in the school setting because of the structured schedule that is provided each day. Many children benefit from a visual schedule that communicates the upcoming daily activities/events through the use of pictures and/or words.  It is a great strategy to prepare a child for changes to their typical routine.

Related reading: Home-Based vs. Center-Based ABA Therapy

How Do I Find ABA Therapy?

Autism is not something a person “grows out of” or “gets over.” Instead, people with ASD live complete and fulfilling lives with the right treatment and therapy options. While you’re considering how to find autism treatment, the number one thing to keep in mind is that starting treatment as early as possible is the best way to support your child’s diagnosis.

Here is how to find ABA therapy and autism treatment options for your child:

  1. Consult with your child’s doctor or another professional who knows your child’s needs. They may be able to suggest specific therapists or facilities that would be a good match.
  2. Check with your insurance company to see what ABA therapies and providers are covered under your plan. This will help you narrow down your options.
  3. Look for accredited programs and providers that have experience working with children with autism. Ascend Autism is happy to answer any questions or concerns you have about finding an ABA therapy provider and walk through our enrollment process if we’re a good fit.

Related Reading: Life After an Autism Diagnosis

How to Support Your Child While Finding The Right Autism Therapy Program

Here are some other things parents can do to make sure their child gets the best autism care possible:

  • Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about autism. Pay attention and participate during your child’s treatments. The more you know, the more confident you can make decisions.
  • Know your child: No one knows your son or daughter better than you. What sets them off? What calms them down? What do they enjoy or dislike? The better you can answer these questions, the better you’ll be able to address their difficulties and advocate on their behalf.
  • Accept your child: Love your little boy or girl no matter what. Celebrate their differences. Help them address their challenges. Resist the temptation to compare or think if only. Growing up is hard, no matter who you are. Every child needs unconditional love to bring out their best.

Additional Therapies for Autism

In addition to ABA therapy, there are various other options for children that providers may discuss with you, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy with an incredible array of applications, including autism. CBT is also an evidence-based therapy with a practical focus on problem-solving. Working with a therapist, people learn to identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger negative behaviors.
  • Social Skills Training (SST) addresses one of the most pressing issues among individuals with ASD – socializing. SST helps children with autism have more fulfilling social interactions, which can lead to better overall communication and deeper relationships
  • Occupational Therapy (OT) concentrates on helping people with autism master fundamental, everyday skills like eating, dressing, writing, and focusing. For older children with ASD, OT may include things that encourage independence, like cleaning, cooking, or handling money.
  • Medication is mentioned because it is a standard part of how  certain disorders are treated. On its own, autism can’t be treated or cured by medication. However, some medicines can help curb or control specific symptoms.
 

There is no one-size-fits-all therapy or treatment for autism. Each child has specific needs. Ascend Autism is focused on providing ABA therapy and support for children with autism through customized plans based on each child’s unique needs.

Let Ascend Autism Help Your Child with ABA Therapy

Ascend Autism offers early Intervention and focused ABA therapy for children. We’re here to help create a treatment plan that helps your child develop the skills they need to improve social skills, learning, and so much more. Reach out today at 877.323.8668 or use our contact form to determine if ABA is right for your child.

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