As more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and additional research is being done to understand and evaluate therapy options, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) has emerged as one of the most valuable therapies for children.
Let’s dive into what ABA for autism is, what it does, and how it can benefit your child now and in the future.
What is Applied Behavioral Analysis for Autism?
ABA 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 therapy, only ABA has scientific evidence to back up its efficacy. This fact cannot be emphasized enough when discussing therapy options for your child.
How Does ABA Therapy Work?
In the most basic sense, applied behavioral analysis for autism encourages children to pursue positive outcomes and avoid negative ones by applying known scientific principles, particularly positive reinforcement.
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
ABA can incorporate a range of techniques to help children learn new skills and positive behaviors. For example, a therapist working with a child could suggest a positive behavior, like following a basic verbal command, such as, “Please put away your computer.” From there, a child reacts in one of two ways:
- If the child responds positively, they 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 positive behaviors, the child learns to lean into good behaviors over bad ones.
How Much Time is Needed for ABA Therapy?
There is no hard or fast timeline for how quickly ABA therapy will work for 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 therapy to show the child they can learn, so they are encouraged to keep learning from it.
Generally, children benefit from ten to 40 hours per week of ABA therapy, depending on the age of the child, the needs of the child, and the goals/expected outcomes for therapy.
Types of Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy Programs
The most common ABA therapy programs for autism include:
- In-Center early intervention programs: Comprehensive ABA therapy provides 20+ hours of 1:1 therapy treatment for a child in a center-based setting. This program focuses on adaptive functioning, emotional, social, communication, and cognitive skill development.
- In-Center state-funded birth to three programs: Following state-based birth to three program guidelines, Ascend Autism provides two-hour sessions each day, five days per week. These programs are best for families who may not be able to access ABA services through health insurance.
- In-Home early intervention programs: Children between the ages of 18 months and five years benefit from early intervention for autism. 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 20+ hours per week.
- In-Home targeted intervention programs: Children in targeted intervention programs typically receive ten to twenty hours per week of therapy. Therapy sessions tend to focus more on communication and social interaction, encouraging growth in social, language, and cognitive skills.
Types of ABA Techniques and Interventions
There are numerous forms and techniques that can be utilized under the broad umbrella of ABA. In addition, each technique is not mutually exclusive and there can be benefits for incorporating multiple techniques in a treatment plan. The following types of ABA interventions and techniques for autism can be used as part of ABA therapy programs:
- Early Start Denver Model: This type of ABA therapy focuses on play and joint activities. It works best for children ages 12 to 48 months and focuses on cognitive, language, and social skills.
- Natural Environment Teaching: Ascend Autism provides ABA therapy with a focus on NET principles. 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 (DTT): 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 when appropriate but does not focus exclusively on DTT.
- Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT): This approach intends to improve a child’s motivation to learn, self-manage, and initiate communication with others. These are the pivotal areas PRT focuses upon rather than broader behavioral issues. The therapy is usually initiated by the child with ASD and is play-based. In PRT, the entire family is encouraged to make lifestyle changes so the child with ASD experiences consistency across interactions.
- Verbal Behavior (VB): Sometimes called verbal behavior intervention or verbal behavior therapy, VB is concerned with improving communication and verbal skills. When a child is non-vocal, VB works to help them communicate with a clear, distinct purpose rather than merely functionally. Doing so helps children improve their vocalization as they learn to express themselves and get what they want by using language.
Your child’s therapist will evaluate what autism therapy techniques are the best road forward.
From there, they’ll work with your child and your family to ensure a smooth transition between the ABA strategy used in a professional environment and how you use it at home and in other settings in your child’s life.
Benefits of ABA for Autism
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 shows 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 therapy 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 used at home and in other social settings.
How ABA is Used at Home, at School, and at a Center
Applied Behavioral Analysis at a Center
Similar to how it is applied in schools, center-based ABA services allow for more 1:1 care with an explicit focus on ABA therapy. Ascend Autism uses a holistic and individualized approach to provide ABA therapy options for each child in our care at our center. We carefully focus our approach on behaviors, communication, social skills, and daily-living skills. Each child gets one-on-one ABA support from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) during their day with us.
Applied Behavioral Analysis in School
Educators need to learn different techniques to get the desired outcomes 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 school because of the structured schedule provided each day. Many children benefit from a visual schedule that communicates the upcoming daily activities/events through pictures and/or words. It is a great strategy to prepare a child for changes to their typical routine.
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. Some individuals with ASD are the most comfortable in the home, 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.
Let Ascend Autism Help Your Child with ABA Therapy
Ascend Autism offers early intervention and targeted ABA therapy for children. Whether you’re looking to transition to ABA services or just want to learn more, we’re here to help create a therapy plan that helps your child develop the skills they need to improve social skills, learning, and more.