As one of the most common treatment options for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a trusted learning method that helps people of all ages, but primarily children, with autism to thrive and learn positive behaviors. This particular type of autism intervention is typically initiated by parents or the child’s doctor and consists of a variety of activities designed to provide children and their families with the tools and support necessary to meet their needs and goals.
ABA works in a number of different ways and can treat a wide variety of challenges faced by a person with autism as well as their family. It provides both the student and their loved ones the education they need to promote the development of healthy family ties.
In this article, we’ll focus primarily on autistic children, but keep in mind that ABA has been shown to help adults and adolescents to a certain degree, too. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the approaches that ABA therapists take to create a healthy environment for their students and promote positive change in their lives.
What is ABA therapy?
Autism treatment usually requires a combination of speech and language therapy, behavioral therapy, social therapy, medication, and occupational therapy to treat successfully.
Language and speech therapy help autistic children develop social and communication skills. This includes the ability to understand language as well as using those newfound language skills to express their feelings and thoughts. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps students develop and strengthen everyday life skills such as brushing their teeth and dressing themselves. Medications are sometimes used to lower the severity of autism symptoms, including challenges like repetitive behaviors, hyperactivity, and anxiety. Finally, social skills training forms an important part of autism treatment, too, as it allows children to build relationships and interact positively with others.
ABA therapy combines aspects of all of them to create a multi-disciplinary therapy foundation that can help make a real difference in children’s lives. From teaching students about the right foods and vitamins to eat to fostering independence, life skills, balanced emotions, and trusting relationships with caregivers, ABA therapy has the potential to have a huge positive impact on children.
ABA therapy is the most commonly used form of autism-centered behavioral therapy. It focuses on teaching students how to effectively learn, interact, and communicate with those around them while minimizing undesirable behavior such as irritability (when it is beyond the norm) and stress during social interactions.
What are the different types of autism treatments available?
The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) notes the following treatment categories:
- Behavioral management therapy
- Early intervention
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Occupational therapy
- School-based and educational therapies
- Nutritional therapy
- Medication treatments
- Joint attention therapy
- ABA therapy
While the above is not an exhaustive list of treatments used to help children with autism spectrum disorder, this is a good introduction to the field. There are many different forms of treatment, each with its own teachers and responses to your child’s specific situation. Of these, however, there is one that stands out thanks to the sheer range of behaviors and issues it can treat.
One of the strengths of ABA therapy is the highly customizable aspect of the approach. Students struggling with aggression issues at school, for example, will receive therapy tailored to that specific behavioral issue. If your loved one struggles with finding motivation as they attempt to treat their disorders, that is something else the provider can take into account. The best thing about ABA is that it is not a one-size-fits-all intervention option. On the contrary, it is a highly variable approach that takes many factors into account your child’s diet and the link between their behavioral struggles and their food, their age, the situations they most need help with, any medicines they take, as well as any propensities toward depression and notes from your child’s pediatrics care team. Different techniques can be used to adapt treatment to any of the above factors and more.
What are the side effects of autism treatments?
Now that you know how ABA therapy treatments are crafted, you might be wondering if there are any side effects of autism treatments. The answer here is that it varies quite a bit from one treatment method to the next. Patients with special medication considerations such as seizures might experience side effects from the medicine used for treatment, including the following examples:
- Increased appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Weight gain
- Drowsiness or tiredness
The signs listed above are not the only potential indications that your child is experiencing side effects from their treatment, but they are some of the most common.
When it comes to ABA therapy, specifically, it is important to pick your child’s provider well. As a parent or caregiver, it is your responsibility to sift through the community of qualified professionals and learn more about the way they teach, their experience, and the quality of their care. Sometimes providers use techniques such as physical punishment that outweigh the benefits ABA therapy has to offer and can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.
Note that while the above issues don’t occur in every child, whether they have Asperger’s Syndrome or something else entirely, you should be on the lookout for them anyway. Keep an eye on your child’s interests and their willingness to engage in play. Request regular evaluations to see how your child works with the provider and what materials are used in the educational setting in question. Look out for new issues such as sleep disorders, an increased state of stress, and distress at the thought of therapy.
Picking the right provider can help protect your child from harm and the negative outcomes of a poor program.
How do I choose the right autism treatment for my child?
Finding the right autism treatment for your child largely depends on the specific symptoms they have as well as the approach the therapist uses in the room. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the therapies the professional plans to use as well as about your main goal. Talk to your physician and do some research into ABA therapies and the potential problems these interventions can cause. Find a provider who answers your questions concisely and, once the therapy process is underway, addresses any issues promptly.
By taking the time to learn more about the resources and information available to you and your loved one, you can locate the services that are tailored to their needs. That is how you choose the right ABA provider. The right provider, in turn, can carefully assess your child, determine the area (or areas) where they could use the most help, and determine the settings and tactics most likely to help them.