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ABA Therapy For Autism–Everything You Need To Know

therapist giving child with autism high five during ABA therapy session

Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is an effective treatment for children with autism. Offered in a variety of settings, ABA therapy for autism uses a system of positive reinforcement that helps children decrease maladaptive behaviors and learn functional skills. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the beneficial therapy that equips your child to cope with autism and thrive at school, at home, and in the community.

What is ABA Therapy for Autism?

ABA is a proven and individualized therapy for children with autism. Behavior specialists observe your child, gather data, create behavior goals, and measure results.

Data-driven and evidence-based, ABA therapy is flexible and adapted to your child’s age, skills, needs, interests, and preferences. It utilizes positive reinforcement and rewards that motivate change.

Through ABA, children can learn communication, language, and social skills and improve their memory, focus, and attention. ABA therapy may also decrease problematic, self-harming, aggressive, or violent behaviors that affect learning and everyday life.

Behavior specialists can provide ABA therapy in the therapist’s office, your home, the community, or school. Your child can receive ABA therapy in a group or one-on-one setting.

Ultimately, ABA therapy for autism can help children successfully move to a mainstream educational environment. Children also learn to cope in a variety of real-world settings and incorporate ABA principles in everyday social and life situations.

How Does ABA Therapy For Autism Work?

ABA therapy is provided by a qualified and trained therapist. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) oversees the process.

The ABA process starts with observation during a functional behavior assessment. A BCBA will observe your child performing regular activities at school, at home, and in the community. This observation allows the trained professional to collect data and identify three ABCs that form the backbone of ABA therapy.

A–Antecedent describes what happens before the target behavior. This ABA aspect can be a verbal request or command, an environmental factor like light or sound, a physical object or toy, or an internal thought or feeling.

B–Behavior is your child’s response to the antecedent. Your child may exhibit an action, verbal response, or no response at all.

C–Consequences follow the behavior. A consequence might be positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise, high five, electronic device access, or playground time if your child performs the desired behavior. The consequence of inappropriate or incorrect behavior would be no action or no acknowledgment.

After observing and collecting data for several weeks and talking with you, the BCBA will create a customized ABA program. The treatment plan addresses your child’s unique needs, skills, interests, and preferences and is based on your child’s age and ability level.

The program includes a target or goal behavior or skill. This target behavior will be broken into small, measurable, and objective units that are easy for ABA staff to observe and monitor. The target behavior can become more complex as your child learns, grows and progresses.

The program could also be adjusted or changed based on the antecedent. An antecedent change may make it easier for your child to use the target behavior. The adjustment could be the removal of a trigger or a change in how the therapist, teacher, or parent makes a request of the child.

Next, a trained ABA therapist meets regularly with your child. During each session, the therapist works on the target behavior and collects data that measures and monitors your child’s progress and the therapy’s effectiveness. ABA therapy uses three training modes.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) 

This occurs in clinical or 1:1 sessions. The therapist breaks down a task into small steps, such as “pick up the spoon” instead of “use your silverware to eat.” Your child receives a positive reinforcer or reward for compliance. Tasks become more challenging as your child masters each small behavioral, social or life task.

Incidental Training 

Incidental training is DDT that occurs outside of the clinic. Your child could receive 1:1 or group ABA therapy at school or home.

Pivotal Response Training 

This happens in natural settings, such as your child’s school, playground, or home. Less structured, pivotal response training focuses more on your child’s interests and relies on your child’s motivation, self-initiation, self-management, and responsiveness. With this approach, your child learns how to implement behaviors in numerous real-world situations.

The entire ABA team will meet regularly together and with you. These meetings assess your child’s progress and identify skills that need to be developed. This information is then used to adjust the goals, teaching plan, and other details of the ABA program.

What Can Children Learn Through ABA?

For children with autism, ABA therapy provides numerous academic and real-life, everyday benefits.

  • Teaches vital communication skills
  • Advances social and adaptive living skills
  • Increases cognitive function
  • Enhances academic focus, attentiveness, and ability
  • Reduces self-injurious, aggressive, and harmful behaviors
  • Lessens tantrums
  • Improves self-care skills
  • Promotes independence

For instance, your child with autism may learn how to sit quietly in class, wait their turn on the playground, stop hitting their body when they’re upset, and wash their hands appropriately. These skills equip your child for success in school and real life.

Where Can You Find ABA Services?

You may ask your pediatrician or medical professional for a referral to an ABA therapist. Your child’s teacher, another parent, or an online search can also direct you to local ABA providers.

Specialty schools like the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism also offer ABA therapy for each student. Every child has a behavior plan with positive attention, non-contingent breaks, errorless teaching procedures, and access to preferred items. We conduct 1:1 and group therapy sessions in various school and community settings as we help your child with autism learn and grow.

ABA therapy for autism can help your child thrive in school and everyday life situations. Consider the benefits of ABA through your child’s school and/or in a clinical, community, or home setting as you decide if this therapy is right for your child.

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