What is ABA Therapy?
Has your child recently been diagnosed with Autism? Are you wondering what treatments are available to help them acquire new skills that enhance their quality of life and give them access to new experiences with their peers?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a commonly used therapeutic intervention that focuses on helping people with various developmental disabilities, including Autism, gain new skills and reduce any unsafe behaviors that might put themselves or others in harm’s way. ABA therapy is considered by many clinicians to be the gold standard of care for helping learners acquire these new skills. This therapy has been used to assist a wide variety of individuals meet their goals in life.
You are probably wondering “What is ABA therapy and how can it help my child?”
ABA therapy can be understandably confusing to parents. ABA interventions often look and sound different for each child. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) works with a team of Registered Behavior Therapists (RBTs) and collaborates with other therapies (e.g., Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy) to identify the person’s existing strengths and determine age-appropriate skills to teach, developing a personalized treatment plan for your child.
History of Applied Behavior Analysis & Autism
- F. Skinner (1961) wrote a book entitled “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching” where he discussed how monitoring the “contingencies of reinforcement” (i.e., the environmental conditions under which a person is able to access attention, preferred items/activities, escape/avoid non-preferred situations, etc.) forms how a person will use behavior to get what they want. Behavior changes due to the person’s environment stay in place as long as the environment stays the same. BCBAs look for these environmental triggers and attempt to help individuals learn the skills they need to access their wants and needs in a way others can understand. They also help others in the person’s life learn how to identify triggers and help the individual use their new skills across new situations, too. As individuals learn that their new skills are more helpful to them, they are more likely to continue using these skills instead of resorting to unsafe behaviors to have their preferences acknowledged.
Skinner believed that all behaviors serve a function. BCBAs help families identify the “function” of the individual’s behaviors so that they can better help their child live independently. The individual’s learning strengths are used to teach them new behaviors. For example, a child who is very good at memorizing images might be taught new skills using this learning strength. The individual’s motivation to get what they want, AKA the “function”, is used to reinforce their new skills. This increases the likelihood that the person will want to continue using these new skills, since they were able to “get what they wanted last time.”
Types of ABA Strategies & ABA Interventions
ABA therapist may use specific strategies or interventions with your child that include:
- Naturalistic Environment Teaching (NET): This therapy technique uses the child’s environment to embed programmed learning opportunities from their personalized goals. Often, the focus is on having the individual contact reinforcement from natural sources that are already in the child’s environment.
- Incidental Teaching: This method of teaching uses the child’s existing motivation to help them learn new skills that are needed for them to engage in everyday experiences as independently as possible.
- Functional Communication Training: This intervention identifies the ‘function’ of behavior and teaches the child new ways to communicate their wants/needs to others age-appropriately.
- Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention: These intensive one-on-one sessions for kids under 5 help build the necessary prerequisite skills that they need to successfully transition to school.
Benefits of ABA Therapy
How might you and your child benefit from ABA therapy?
- Children can learn skills to improve their quality of life and reduce or eliminate the need for them to engage in unsafe behaviors.
- Parents can learn ways to reduce the likelihood that their child will behave unsafely at home or in the community.
- Routine and complex skills can be taught in the environment that they normally occur, making these skills more likely to ‘stick’ and generalize to new situations.
- Functional communication, social, self-care, and coping skills are the main skill areas that ABA covers, but any part of a person’s skill set or routine life experiences can be modified to ensure the child is able to engage with experiences other kids their age enjoy.
- Progress is shown on a graph that your BCBA can go over with you; incremental changes add up to huge leaps!
NTSOC is excited to provide ABA therapy services to families with children or young adults with special needs! If you think that ABA therapy might help your family, contact us to learn more about our intensive individualized approaches.
Dixon, D.R., Vogel, T., Tarbox, J. (2012). A Brief History of Functional Analysis and Applied Behavior Analysis. In: Matson, J. (eds) Functional Assessment for Challenging Behaviors. Autism and Child Psychopathology Series. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3037-7_2
Skinner, B. F. (1961). The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching. In B. F. Skinner, Cumulative record (pp. 145–157). Appleton-Century-Crofts. https://doi.org/10.1037/11324-010
Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18(8), 503-515. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0045185