Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one of the most recommended therapies used to assist children with autism adjust behaviors and acquire new skills that help them flourish in their natural environment.
Experts point to its strong evidence base for effectiveness. For example- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that “ABA has become widely accepted among healthcare professionals and used in many schools and treatment clinics.”
They also observe that ABA encourages “positive” behaviors while discouraging negative ones in a way that can be monitored, tracked, and measured for each child.
ABA therapy has been demonstrated to produce positive results in clinical studies. A meta-analysis of 29 studies found that ABA therapy significantly improved intellectual abilities. It was also moderately to very effective at improving communication skills, expressive-language skills, receptive-language skills, adaptive behavior, and socialization.
Each child has their ABA curriculum and goals set according to their individualized needs, but ABA therapy typically has some common general goals, including:
- Developing critical communication and language skills
- Reducing aggression and disruptive behaviors
- Facilitating integration of the child into peer learning and playgroups
- Improving performance in the academic setting
- Encouraging independence in self-care tasks such as dressing, eating, and hygiene
Results may vary, but the tailoring of each program helps increase the chances that both caregivers and the child will see measurable positive improvements over time.
What Can ABA Therapy Help With For Children On The Spectrum?
The most important quality of ABA in terms of proven effectiveness is that it is evidence-based. Evaluations of ABA trials repeatedly show marked differences in abilities and behaviors compared to control groups.
One study utilizing an early intensive behavioral treatment (EIBT) form of ABA yielded results that included significantly higher learning capacity (IQ) scores and adaptive behavior scores. Additionally, of the 21 subjects in the EIBT group, six were able to fully integrate into a typical education program, compared to just 1 of 21 in the control group.
Perhaps more importantly, “evidence-based” can apply to individual ABA programs. This is because ABA therapy recommends setting goals and tracking progress individually, leveraging both subjective and objective observations to determine what is working and what has yet to yield the desired results. In other words, evidence from the child’s natural daily interactions fuels the program’s structure and goals.
A focus on observation and individualization ensures that a child’s caregiver support network can consider the child’s needs and not just the desired outcome. In children with ASD, many “problem” behaviors are simply manifestations of a non-neurotypical way of expression, communication, or environmental interaction.
Rather than focus on the undesired behavior itself exclusively, therapists and caregivers examine the need that the behavior seeks to meet and guides them toward an alternative way to meet that need. Or, in situations where a child’s needs are stemming from an unhealthy instinct – such as a desire to continue playing rather than to eat regular meals – a system of positive reinforcement is created to encourage the child to adopt more beneficial behaviors and routines.
“Strategies based on ABA take a planned approach to changing what comes before and after a behavior to teach new skills and decrease challenging behaviors,” explains West Virginia’s Birth to Three program, which is funded by the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources.
The key to finding success in an ABA program is to get specific. Parents and caregivers are asked: What are our goals? And what is the best way to measure progress towards those goals? Then, an individualized program can be developed that prioritizes understanding of the behavior’s provenance and how positive reinforcement can help encourage alternative behaviors.
Our goal is to take each child to their maximum potential by calculating a “catch up” trajectory that directly correlates with the intensity of their ABA therapy. Depending on where each child is once they meet with our staff, we curate a specialized ABA therapy schedule that will get them achieving goals, alongside their peers, alongside their peers, as quickly as possible. The goal is to encourage behaviors that can help the child thrive, including obtaining independence and interacting with peer groups in healthy ways – without having to sacrifice individualized forms of expression.
What Markers of an ABA Program Should I Look for To Increase the Chances of Positive Progress?
What ABA therapy can help with varies, so it’s important to pick a program that is flexible. It should utilize many standardized practices,and it should not follow a universal protocol. Further, many therapeutic providers will customize their approach to ABA to seek results they consider a priority.
This customization can mean that some therapeutic providers end up better equipped than others to offer an ABA program that meets the client’s needs. In more extreme cases, some ABA providers may be engaging in practices that are counterproductive or even harmful to the child. It’s key to help families identify a program that is more likely to yield desired results in a way that is comfortable to the child and caregivers.
Signs of an effective ABA Therapy program:
- Comprehensive and curated intervention that addresses every skill domain;
- Use of several behavior analytic procedures to build new habits and reduce problem behaviors that diminish skill acquisition and functioning;
- Supervision and oversight by one or more technicians or clinicians with advanced knowledge and training in ABA and experience with young children with autism;
- Depending on typical developmental patterns to steer selection of goals;
- Caregivers and parents are trained by behavior analysts to serve as active co-therapists;
- Therapies that are one-to-one in the beginning, transitioning to group format as warranted;
- Intervention that starts in homes or treatment centers but is also available in other environments, with gradual transitions to regular schools when children develop the skills required;
- Intervention that is designed and arranged to provide a minimum of 20–30 hours per week with more hours of intervention provided throughout waking hours informally, year round;
- Intensive early intervention beginning in the preschool years and continuing for at least 2 years.
The BCBA practitioner emphasizes that the key for any successful ABA program is to find what is the function of the problem behavior because behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
What Can Expect When I Enroll My Child in an ABA Program?
Your expectations are part of the program creation process at Therapeutic Pathways.
We will help you define your goals and get specific with what you consider a positive marker of progress. Then, your child will begin interacting with therapists to lay the groundwork for specific exercises and therapies to be explored.
As time goes on, observations from the child’s natural environment will guide which therapies are to be used and which behavior centers will be emphasized during treatment. Thus, the program continually evolves alongside your child’s progress.
What can ABA therapy help with? Pretty much everything you are concerned about. The primary goal of every ABA program is to help a child thrive in every sense. They should generally be happier, more engaged academically, and better adapted to their natural environment.
Progress is not automatic, and goals are revised continuously to match the current knowledge in light of the child’s past performance. In this way, caregivers and clinicians can collaborate to develop a program that represents the best practices for the given moment and circumstances in the child’s life.
Find out more about how ABA therapy can have a transformative effect on your child’s life when you read more about our evidence-based autism treatment.