Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental and neurological disorder affecting how people learn, communicate, behave, and interact with others. ASD is most commonly referenced as a “developmental disorder” because its first symptoms typically appear within the first two years of life as children begin to develop. According to the CDC, more than five million adults in the United States live with ASD.
There is a lot of information and research about autism available to read, but sometimes it is hard to know where to begin. We’ve sifted through many resources to put together this short primer on the autism spectrum and applied behavior analysis (ABA). From finding ABA providers to a quick guide on autism as a whole, we hope this serves as a valuable resource on your ABA treatment journey.
Overview of Autism
As briefly mentioned above, autism is a developmental and neurological disorder that influences how people live their daily lives. From learning skills to communicating with caregivers and friends at school and even difficulties picking up on social cues and maintaining eye contact, autism is an all-encompassing concern.
Diagnosis of Autism
For many families, an autism diagnosis is a relief. Not only does it put a name to their child’s struggles, but it also opens up a number of resources designed to help them develop fine motor skills, social skills, communication and language skills, and self-care principles so that they can live healthy and happy lives with as much independence as possible. People of all ages live with autism and thrive in diverse situations and environments throughout adulthood and an autism diagnosis gives children and their family members tangible goals to work towards. This is a welcome relief after the difficulty of the diagnosis and assessment process and allows for the creation of a treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Autism
Once you have a diagnosis in hand, there are a few steps to take. First, ask your child’s care provider for information about programs offering autism treatment. This kind of program can teach your child everything from life skills to improve their independence to social skills better enabling them to interact in a community full of supporters. And while there’s no cure for autism, some treatment methods can be incredibly effective.
Once you find the right services for your child, you can begin the evaluation process to determine what needs your child has. This includes assessing their communication skills, daily living skills, and even their fine motor skills in order to find areas where your child can most benefit from treatment. Treatment plans vary from program to program and sometimes include language acquisition, physical therapy, occupational and behavioral therapy, and even medication, especially in cases with depression, insomnia, seizures, and difficulty focusing.
Autism spectrum disorder can be treated, but only with the help of trained professionals. Let’s look at some of the types of treatments available, with an emphasis on applied behavior analysis.
Types of Treatments
Ranging from a multitude of therapies to early intervention educational and academic help, there are many types of autism treatments to consider. They can be broken down into a few different categories, although some challenges require the use of multiple approaches. The most common categories include:
ABA therapy uses elements of all of these in their interventions. This varies from person to person depending on their unique challenges and problems, but ABA seeks to link solutions from all of these categories to play to the strengths of students. No matter the age or starting ability, ABA offers many benefits in the areas of pediatrics to gerontology. Let’s take a closer look at some of these areas and how ABA supports behavior changes and improvement.
Behavioral treatment approaches emphasize using reward techniques to change behavior. The goal is to understand triggers and consequences to address problem behaviors without causing undue distress or negative side effects. ABA therapy is the most widely used and accepted behavioral treatment in schools and treatment clinics, with many supporters among healthcare professionals. ABA discourages problem behaviors and encourages desired behaviors using consistent reinforcement via rewards and consequences. Progress can be tracked and measured as students learn additional skills and have a chance to practice their new behavior in a safe environment without any risk.
ABA uses developmental treatment approaches to emphasize both broad skill gain, including interconnected developmental abilities impacting different areas of life, and specific developmental skills like physical skills or language skills. Developmental approaches are critical to behavioral treatment approaches and the two often go hand-in-hand. The most important and most common developmental treatment used for people on the autism spectrum is speech and language therapy, which seeks to improve understanding of communication skills via a variety of mediums. From using pictures, gestures, signs, and even electronic communication devices, speech therapy is prevalent in ABA therapy treatment programs to support healthy relationship building.
Two other common developmental therapies for ASD include occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Social treatment approaches are used by ABA to improve a range of social skills. These encompass appropriate touch principles, managing aggression, being aware of reactions and emotions, and improving social cues so that children can successfully build relationships and interact with other kids. Some social treatment methods involve the support of parents, family members, and peers. The overall goal here is to help students learn social practices via relationship development intervention.
Finally, we come to psychological treatment methods. ABA therapy often utilizes elements of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) to help students with ASD cope with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. CBT focuses on the link between feelings, behaviors, and thoughts in order to change the type of thoughts the student is having about a particular situation. By changing how they think about the situation, students are able to change their reaction to the situation.
Keep an eye out for additional disorders as your child ages. Autism often exists along with ADHD and OCD, to name just a few. If you notice new or evolving symptoms, such as stress or irritability, make sure to reach out to your pediatrician or other care provider for further evaluation.
If you’re looking for more information about ABA therapy and how it can help your loved one, reach out to our experienced staff! We’re always happy to help.