As a parent of a child with autism, choosing the right therapy for your child can be overwhelming. It’s natural to be hesitant about whether applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is right for your child.
If you’ve already done some research yourself, you’ll find that ABA therapy is a treatment approach that is entirely objective and evidence-based. It’s a practice that is designed to collect scientific, measurable evidence on clients’ significant behaviors and how they are affected by the environment.
It is true that in the past, the ABA therapy method has faced its fair share of controversy. This can lead many parents to question: does it actually work? And, most importantly -- will it work for my child?
Medical research conducted in 2022 shows that modern approaches to ABA therapy have proven to be very successful for people with autism.
With affirmation by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the U.S. Surgeon General, it has been nationally acknowledged as a credible evidence-based therapy.
Several studies report the resounding positive effects that applied behavior analysis has on people with autism.
In 2011, a review examined 27 studies across a wide range of publications and found that children who received ABA therapy exhibited improvements in language, adaptive behavior, cognitive ability, as well as social skills. Not only that, but the children also showed lower levels of aggression and anxiety that cause dangerous behaviors like the destruction of property, self-harm, and inflicting harm on others.
Behavior analysis-based therapies have provided such outstanding results that in 2012, a publication stated that every child on the autism spectrum should receive at least 25 hours of comprehensive intervention a week. Having consistent therapy such as this will drastically help develop verbal and nonverbal communication skills, social skills, and maladaptive behaviors.
When determining the effectiveness of ABA therapy based on age range, studies have found that the earlier you start, the better. In a 2012 study, 48 toddlers received six months of ABA therapy, all starting at around two years old. The study found that there were significant improvements in their communication and cognitive skills as well as a decrease in the severity of their autism symptoms.
To attain the most optimal results, most research suggests starting early and making ABA therapy a long-term, intensive treatment. ABA therapy is effective and provides benefits and results for your child and family.
The key purpose behind ABA Therapy is to be able to assess, identify and understand maladaptive behavior patterns in order to make changes using “discrete trial training.”
Discrete trial training, also known as “the ABCs of behavior” is the foundational core of every ABA therapy session and consists of the antecedent, the behavior, and the consequence.
During these trials, your child learns positive behaviors and unlearns problematic behaviors through a three-step process: first, the antecedent, or prompt (i.e. “touch the color red”); second, the behavior itself (i.e. child touches red); and third, the consequence, or result (i.e. positive reinforcement).
This is a recommended process approved by medical professionals and is a direct result of countless studies that have been adjusted and refined over time.
Some of the outcomes this approach aims to achieve include:
This allows your child to understand and learn what “to do” rather than just what “to stop doing.” It replaces undesirable behaviors with desirable behaviors by providing positive reinforcement when they perform the desired behaviors.
When the child has an incorrect response, the therapist withholds from any positive reinforcement and instead uses a stronger prompt, such as gestures, or hand-over-hand until they give the appropriate response.
People with autism will inevitably have undesirable responses to certain external stimuli. With ABA therapy, your child learns procedures to self-control and self-monitor their own behavior using coping mechanisms taught to them by their therapist.
Additionally, your child will develop the skills to use the behaviors taught by their therapist on other members of the household, as well as in public spaces where they are surrounded by new environments and people.
In many cases, children with autism can unintentionally get rewarded for undesirable behaviors. Even though giving them what they want may seem like a quick way to end a certain behavior, the long-term effects are much more harmful.
This will only make it even harder for your child to unlearn the behavior, as they’ve gotten positive reinforcement for it in the past. ABA therapy works to stop this recurring behavior by withholding reinforcement and reinforcing the replacement desirable behavior.
In ABA therapy, there are programs that help develop and improve your child’s social, academic and self-help skills.
When it comes to social skills, the main focus is to teach your child to communicate effectively. Many children with autism struggle to communicate what they want or need, which can cause them to exhibit more extreme behaviors like yelling, hitting, or even self-harm.
ABA therapy teaches your child ways that they can communicate without becoming frustrated and upset, which will drastically improve how they socialize with others.
Some programs will further develop your child’s academic abilities. They’ll teach identification skills, cognitive skills, writing, mathematics, and more. As for self-help, your child learns the essential activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, eating, and basic hygiene.
These are all critical skills necessary for your child to live a healthier, more independent, and fulfilling life.
Many children with autism struggle with focusing on specific tasks, especially if it is something that is out of their routine or not of interest to them. This is mainly because they can become easily fixated on certain sensory stimuli that they either enjoy or are distracted by.
In ABA therapy, therapists work to improve their focus using several different techniques, while also balancing it with enough time to enjoy high-sensory activities and crafts. They will learn when it’s time to “work” and when it’s time to play to better comply with requests, commands, and tasks.
People with autism are unique and amazing individuals, and they deserve to have just as much freedom and opportunity as the rest of us.
ABA Therapy helps children develop new skills and target areas where they have deficits. Furthermore, ABA therapy provides you with the tools you need to be the best advocate that you can be for your child, and is the best way to prepare them to be their own best advocates. This shapes them into individuals who can continue to have a quality life.