Overview of ABA Therapy
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy especially effective for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Based on the science of behavior and learning, ABA helps us understand where behaviors stem from. More specifically, we learn how behavior works, how learning works, and how someone’s environment can impact their behavior.
ABA therapists work primarily with children (although teens and adults can also benefit) to establish routines and provide intervention when behavior spirals. Some of the most common benefits include:
- Increased communication and language skills
- Improved focus, attention span, social skills, academic performance, and memory
- Reduced problem behaviors
Since the 1960s, behavior analysis has been widely used as a treatment option for children with autism and other developmental disorders. From healthier lifestyles to improved social skills and even learning new languages, data has shown that ABA is an effective method to improve communication skills, education, life skills, and a sense of community.
ABA therapy is taught in a number of different environments. From public centers with many programs to private centers with only a few kinds of therapy, behavioral therapy is one of the premier treatment therapies for individuals with autism.
Types of ABA Therapy
“ABA therapy” is something of an umbrella term. It refers to multiple approaches with their own distinct providers. Some of the most common include:
- Discrete Trial Training (DDT)
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
- Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI)
- Focused ABA Therapy
- Comprehensive ABA Therapy
- Natural Environment Training
Each of these therapies has different purposes, but all of them can help achieve the same outcome: autism patients with stronger relationships with family, improved self-regulation, enhanced conversation skills, and a better command of emotions and reactions. This allows students to better interact with peers, deal with issues carefully and calmly, and find success in school.
Benefits of ABA Therapy
There are many ways ABA assessment can help individuals with ASD improve their social development. Some of the most important benefits include:
- Improved social skills
- More confident group interactions
- Better attention
- Stronger focus
These are not the only examples, of course. Other important benefits include self-care needs. ABA can teach children how to practice proper hygiene, brush their teeth, prepare food, and take care of their health. Setting and sticking with plans to meet a goal is yet another example of ABA improving the quality of life of learners.
Who Can Benefit from ABA Therapy
Many people can benefit from ABA therapy! Children are the most common ABA students, but they are not the only ones who benefit from therapy sessions. Teens can also learn strategies to regulate their emotions and face challenges calmly. Their group interaction abilities might also improve, allowing them to pursue their interests even when they involve in interacting with multiple people at once. In some cases, an adult who is up to the task of analyzing their behavior and processing their responses can also benefit from an ABA therapy session.
Family members and caregivers can also benefit from behavioral therapy. By learning the procedures involved in regulating emotions as well as tips for giving appropriate responses to problem behavior and staging effective interventions, families become one of the most important resources in a patient’s life. Parents can help their child meet their learning goals and succeed in school, as well as maintain progress as they age.
ABA Therapy Techniques
There are a few different ABA therapy methods used by behavior analysts. One of the most common of them is positive reinforcement.
ABA uses positive reinforcement to support desirable behavior while overcoming less desirable behaviors. “Good” behavior is often followed by a reward – something valuable to the student. Over time, students associate the reward with positive behavior and gradually learn to incorporate it into their lives.
In addition to positive reinforcement, behavior analysts use antecedents and consequences to minimize problem behaviors.
Antecedents occur before the behavior and involve things like organizing papers for the day (which helps avoid frustration later on). You can keep “ABC” in mind to help learn about interventions occurring before problem behaviors.
- A: An antecedent that leads to problematic behavior (B)
- B: Behavior that inevitably leads to a consequence (C)
- C: Consequences of the behavior
Don’t worry – you don’t have to be a behavior analyst to understand the antecedent ABCs. Let’s look at an example.
Your child is hungry. When your child doesn’t have food to eat, problem behavior will be triggered. The antecedent ABCs, then, would look like this:
- A: Your child is hungry.
- B: Eating a sandwich (B)-
- C: Lowers your child’s hunger.
In the example above, the consequence is a good one.
Consequences occur after the behavior. This kind of intervention helps interrupt problem behavior before it becomes a problem.
Applying ABA Therapy Principles
There are four principles of behavior analysis:
- Behaviors are shaped by their environment.
- Behaviors can be made stronger or weaker by their consequences.
- Behavior changes are stronger with positive consequences.
- Behaviors should be reinforced for lasting change.
All of these principles are used by a behavior analyst when forming an intervention plan, but they can also be applied during a learner’s daily life. Let’s say you are your child’s caregiver and you both live with other family members. Certain behaviors can be triggered or strengthened by chaotic environments, so the goal of principle one is to have everyone behave as calmly as possible. This can be done by boosting their understanding of the way loud sounds impact their loved ones.
ABA Therapy Goals
ABA therapy’s most common goals are to enhance language and communication skills, improve social and age-appropriate skills, improve skills necessary for success in school, and reduce incidents of inappropriate behavior.
We’ve covered this quite thoroughly in other sections, but understanding them is the first step to helping your child excel.
ABA Therapy and Autism
In conclusion, ABA therapy is an important treatment approach for people with autism. By presenting them with tasks of varying difficulty, ABA can help them learn to play with others and even how to share toys.
ABA Therapy and Other Conditions
ABA therapy can also help with the symptoms of other conditions beyond autism. People living with anxiety and depression, for example, can sometimes improve their quality of life with ABA therapy. In some situations, a behavioral therapy program can result in excellent long-term outcomes too, for people of a variety of ages. ABA therapies can also be effective treatments for:
- Panic disorder
Research has shown that an ABA approach is often the best treatment method for people struggling with certain mental disorders, even beyond those listed above.
Finding an ABA Therapist
There are many potential students looking for a behavioral therapy practitioner, but there are relatively few experts actively practicing. It might be difficult to find a teacher in your area, for instance, especially one who is willing to give you answers and share concerns about your child’s progress. The good news is that you can find clinicians who practice in your state; it just takes time.
One of the best places to find an ABA provider is to visit the “Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s” (BACBs) website and look for board-certified behavior analysts (BCBA) accepting clients in your area. You can also ask your doctor or pediatrician for advice during the location process. Don’t forget to look at the analyst’s rate! Sometimes the cost can be covered by insurance or Medicaid, so reach out to your provider.
Where can I find more information about ABA therapy?
You can find more information about ABA therapy at Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/). They have a variety of tools for parents and even a guide or article or two. If you have more questions or concerns about ABA, Autism Speaks is a great next stop.