The time after a child receives a diagnosis can be filled with uncertainties as there are a number of decisions that the family needs to make to pick the proper course of action. Early intervention is the key in all special education that can bring about significant long term progress. The ABA program for autism has been the standard procedure for treatment with a number of variants and modifications to it over the years. Continue reading for all you need to know about applied behavioral analysis, how it works and how it can help your child.
What Is ABA Therapy?
ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis, and it is the most commonly used treatment for children with autism. The approach of ABA is based on behaviorist theories according to which desired behaviors can be taught to a person using a system of rewards and consequences. The ABA teaching programs use positive reinforcement to improve communication, social skills and learning skills in children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental conditions. While the demonstrable success of the method has made it a gold standard for autism treatment, some view it as being disrespectful and dehumanizing. However, the method of using rewards and consequences to condition behavior is as old as civilization itself and ABA has a successful track record of increasing helpful behaviors and decreasing the harmful ones.
Benefits of ABA Therapy for Kids
Here are the ABA benefits for kids:
- A child’s early experiences have a significant influence on brain development therefore therapy that starts as early as possible can greatly improve success in life and school. It is seen that children who begin ABA before the age of five years gain significant adaptive and cognitive skills than those who begin after five.
- Learning basic skills such as communication, self-care and social skills improves greatly compared to other methods.
- ABA therapists will work closely with children and understand how the child learns, why certain behaviors occur, and where the need for improvement is before developing activities and rewards to teach them.
- ABA has proved to greatly improve academic performance by helping with focus, memory and IQ. It has also shown to improve non-verbal communication, language skills and the ability to speak.
- ABA results in a substantial decrease in problem behaviors, especially in children prone to self-harm and wandering.
How Does It Work?
The ABA therapy for autism is tailored for your child’s specific needs and involves these phases:
1. Consultation and Assessment
At first, the therapists analyze your child in a consultation step called functional behavior assessment (FBA). They will inquire about the child’s abilities, strengths and challenges and interact with your child and observe their communication, behavior and life skills. They may even observe your child in school and come up with strategies that need to be integrated at home.
2. Development of Plan
The initial consultation helps the therapist make a formal plan for your child’s treatment. This would involve interventions that are unique to your child’s personal needs and ultimately aimed at treatment goals. The goals normally relate to decreasing problem behavior such as self-injury, tantrums, building life skills or improving communications.
3. Parent/Caregiver Training
It is also essential to train the caregivers, parents and teachers in practices that reinforce the desired behaviors outside of therapy. You will be taught methods that help work that goes into therapy and also reduce counterproductive behaviors such as giving in to tantrums.
4. Evaluation and Change
The therapists will try to figure out causes to problem behaviors and work with your child to improve or change them. The approach might even be changed during the course of the therapy depending on how your child responds and performs. Frequent monitoring and evaluation will help the therapist understand what works and what needs to change.
What Can Children Learn Through ABA?
The ABA programs involve these common learning outcomes:
1. Receptive Language Skills
This is basically how well your child can understand language and responds to what they are asked to do. Examples include give me the yellow car, touch your nose or open the book to page ten, etc.
2. Expressive Language Skills
ABA helps with spoken language skills. Your child will be able to imitate sounds, words or sentences. They will also learn to say the names of objects, animals and other things.
3. Social Language Skills
Social language skills show how well your child can interact with others using language. Some examples include asking a simple question, asking for someone to play with them or sharing items with a friend.
4. Self Help Skills
Self-help skills will enable your child to use the toilet independently. It also includes eating and drinking and dressing independently.
5. Academic Skills
This one involves how well your child can participate in classroom activities. They should be able to wait for their turn in a group activity, develop requesting skills and transition from one activity to another.
6. Decrease Challenging Behavior
Challenging behaviors make it hard for your child to socialize, they involve biting, kicking, shouting, throwing and ignoring instructions. The ABA treatment helps strengthen appropriate behaviors that make them socially acceptable.
How Much Does It Cost?
ABA costs can vary depending on who provides the therapy, your child’s personal needs and the type of services being offered. Typically the hourly cost from a board-certified therapist can cost around $120 while those who aren’t certified will offer at lower costs. However, it is recommended to work with a certified therapist or a team who works under them.
40 hours a week of therapy is what is recommended by some experts, but practically they work with children for 10-20 hours only. The hours depend on the specific child’s needs. Assuming your child needs 10 hours a week of therapy at $120, it would cost $1200 a week. Improvements in many children can be seen in a matter of months while some may take as long as 3 years.
How Do I Find a Therapist?
The need of every child with ASD is different and a tailored intervention is the best approach for all. With that being said, not all therapists operate in the same way. Here is how you can find a therapist:
1. Enquire in the circles
An ABA therapist has to be a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has a degree in psychology or behavior analysis and has passed the certification exam to get a license. You could enquire with your child’s pediatrician or those in special education for a recommendation.
2. Is the treatment tailored for my child?
Find out if the therapist tailors the intervention to the needs of your child for the treatment to be effective. It is better when the treatment is planned around your child’s interests to keep them engaged.
3. Do they use punishment?
Harsh punishment is almost never used by ABA therapists these days. However, it’s essential that you enquire about punishments and if they are used.
4. Do they discourage stimming?
Stimming is widely debated in ABA lately and a good therapist would not discourage this behavior. Stimming is a way for your child to deal with stress by self-soothing.
5. Do they encourage developing new skills and behaviors?
The focus of the therapy should be to develop independence and confidence and behaviors that support it. It shouldn’t focus on getting rid of anything other than the harmful behaviors.
6. Who handles the therapy sessions?
It is recommended that the therapy sessions are conducted by a (BCBA) licensed therapist. If not, the RBT technicians who conduct the sessions bust be supervised by the BCBA.
7. What other therapies are incorporated?
A good therapist would include speech and occupational therapy along with incorporating what your child is interested in such as colors, animals and music.
8. Can I be present during therapy sessions?
It’s essential the therapist requests your presence in the beginning while they are still building a rapport with the child.
1. Can ABA Therapy Be Done at Home?
Yes, in fact, some children respond very well to ABA therapy when at home due to the familiarity and the comfort of their normal surroundings. It is easier for them to learn basic skills such as using the bathroom and getting dressed.
2. Are There Any Misconceptions Regarding ABA Therapy?
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about ABA:
- “ABA is experimental”. Incorrect! ABA has shown to work for over 30 years now and it is the only approach recommended by the US Surgeon General.
- “ABA doesn’t work with older children”. ABA can be applied with children of any age and like all treatments, they take longer the older they are.
- “ABA relies too much on food rewards”. Food is one of the many rewards used in ABA. While many children are motivated by food, the therapy can be tailored to use other rewards too.
- “With ABA, children are told NO all the time”. Incorrect! ABA makes use of positive reinforcement and the program is built on the success of the positive reinforcements.
- “ABA is a new therapy”. ABA has been used successfully since the 1970s while principles of applied behavior analysis have been around since the 1950s.
- “ABA therapy requires a 40-hour per week treatment plan”. ABA uses a highly personalized approach, therefore the required time depends varies with each child.
3. What’s The Controversy About ABA Therapy?
The controversy around applied behavior analysis therapy has to do with how the treatment was given in the earlier days. It involved 40 hours a week of desk-time dedicated to completing tasks and the emphasis was on making the children “normal”. Punishment was often used to control unwanted behaviors. ABA has undergone major changes where unwanted behaviors are usually ignored rather than punished for and the focus of the treatment is to help children live an independent fulfilling life. It has also changed focus from “fixing” the children to embracing neurodiversity.
4. When Is the Best Time for My Child to Start ABA Therapy?
The earlier the better is the consensus. It is seen that children who start as early as 2 years see the best improvements and are indistinguishable from the neurotypical peers.
5. Is There a Need for Formal Autism Diagnosis for My Child to Get This Treatment?
A formal diagnosis not required for the treatment, however it is needed to get coverage from insurance.
ABA is a scientifically proven method for treating children with Autism. Early intervention greatly helps improve communication and other developmental skills while reducing harmful behaviors. It is important to remember that ABA is one of the many available treatments for Autism and it may not work with some children.