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What is ABA therapy for autism?

Before proceeding to treatment, many caregivers want to know: what is ABA therapy for autism? ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a science-backed, intensive approach to improving social behavior among children with autism. It’s the most common therapy for autism in the United States, and its main goals are to develop new skills, refine learned skills, and reduce problem behaviors.

Through ABA therapy, children learn which behaviors are appropriate for which situation by breaking down desirable behaviors into steps. Children are rewarded as they complete each step.

At Therapeutic Pathways, our Board Certified clinical staff develop specific, achievable goals for each child. Our registered behavior technicians work directly with each child, helping them meet their individualized goals. Before therapy begins, we meet with each child’s parents to discuss a treatment plan based on their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.

Because every child with autism has different interests and abilities, we tailor individual goals to appropriately challenge the child without making him or her feel discouraged. Some of the skills that we help children develop through ABA therapy for autism include:

  • Social skills
  • Communication and conversing
  • Motor skills
  • Self-help skills (personal hygiene, etc.)
  • Daily living skills (money management, punctuality, etc.)
  • Pre-academic skills

History of ABA

The practice of ABA therapy originated in the 1960s. Researchers and behavior analysts at the University of Kansas performed studies on how behavior principles could be applied to help neurotypical children and individuals with autism improve their social skills. This work was expanded at UCLA to long-term studies with larger groups of children with autism and across a broader range of skills. Behavioral principles of reward and consequences are based on previous decades of intensive research.

These researchers were not concerned with what caused symptoms of autism or why children with autism acted the way they did. Instead, they focused on how behavior could be objectively measured and changed using a scientific method.

That is, these scientists directly observed behavior, then measured and manipulated the environment to decrease inappropriate or dangerous behavior and increase appropriate and functional behavior in children with autism.

Modern ABA therapy builds upon the principles that were discovered decades ago. This field is now expanding beyond observable behavior (eye contact, social interaction, etc.) to include thoughts and emotions. Of course, as the field expands, intensive research continues to pinpoint the most effective procedures and practices. No method is introduced without years of research and development. At Therapeutic Pathways, we only use science-backed, research-driven techniques.

How ABA Works

Because ABA sessions are individualized for each child, the following may not describe the exact same treatment plan your child receives. At Therapeutic Pathways, our therapy is rooted in applied behavior analysis with a focus on making sessions enjoyable for each child.

Our sessions help children anticipate and respond to any number of situations outside the therapeutic setting. Most ABA therapy sessions involve two types of training. These are called Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural Environment Training (NET).

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

DTT is a method of teaching that starts with an instruction presented to the child by the therapist.  Following this instruction, the child engages in the correct behavior or is assisted by the therapist to engage in the behavior.  During the initial teaching, the child may be rewarded for correct behavior assisted by his or her therapist.  As learning progresses, the child is rewarded for independently engaging in the instructed behavior.

DTT often includes the process of breaking a task down into separate steps called a “task analysis.” For example, if your child has difficulty writing letters, one of our Board Certified clinicians will break down this difficulty and pinpoint the individual steps that may be causing the problem.

For example, your child may have trouble gripping the pencil correctly. A therapist will teach this step independently and make sure your child has mastered that ability before moving on to the next step of writing the letter.

Natural Environment Training (NET)

NET builds upon the skills learned in DTT. This therapy takes the skills that a child learns in DTT and helps them apply it to real-life situations when they need to interact with others.

For example, suppose that your child is learning the alphabet. A therapist may teach the child the letter “B” and the “bah” sound, and provide reinforcement when the child succeeds in recognizing and saying the letter. The therapist may help the child associate the letter “B” with a favorite toy, such as a ball. This step would be considered DTT.

Then, the therapist may apply the skill more naturally by playing with a ball, asking the child to point to the ball, or practicing the “bah” sound when the therapist shows them the ball.

ABA Therapy for Autism

At Therapeutic Pathways, our priority is to teach your child the skills that will help them lead full, satisfying lives. We do so through the evidence-based practice of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. We work closely with you and your child and collect data from each therapy session to assist with your child’s development.

We use only the most recent, science-backed methods at Therapeutic Pathways, where we have helped thousands of children succeed. For more information, call Therapeutic Pathways at (209) 422-3280.