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.
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.
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.
Let Ascend Autism Help Your Child with ABA Therapy
Ascend Autism offers ABA targeted intervention 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.