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What is ABA Therapy?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy is a science which applies the principles of learning and behavior to create socially significant change in behavior to help kiddos be as independent as possible. ABA Therapy is backed by many decades of research and is constantly evolving. It can be applied in any setting to reinforce helpful behaviors while discouraging harmful behaviors, and is highly effective with helping various populations of people–Including those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
In ABA Therapy, specific goals are added to the child’s /learner’s plan to continually improve his or her independence with critical skills and daily functioning. Complex skills are broken down into small steps until targeted goals are achieved. Some of the primary goals in ABA Therapy are related to increasing independence with skills such as communicating wants and needs, increasing expressive and receptive language skills, social skills, daily living skills, (e.g. potty-training, toothbrushing, eating dressing, etc.), and other essential skills!
What can you expect?
Positive Effects of ABA Therapy for Autism:
ABA Therapy’s goal is to improve a kiddo’s life by teaching them socially significant behaviors: desired skills, or undesired behaviors, targeted during ABA Therapy. Socially Significant Behaviors will improve the learner’s quality of life in some capacity and have long-term positive effects. Social significance can be determined by factors such as age, whether the child will be able to access reinforcement in their natural environment by engaging in these behaviors, caregiver needs––The list goes on!
- For example, a 2-year-old who cannot yet communicate their basic wants and needs (e.g., asking for food, drink, etc.) would find no use for learning colors at this stage. To that child, learning to ask for specific needs is a socially significant behavior, and learning to identify colors would be a meaningful skill to target at a later time.
It is the duty of the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) to identify and prioritize socially significant behavior goals in collaboration with the child’s caregivers. In an effective and successful center-based ABA Therapy program, the learner acquires these skills in therapy and can generalize and use the skills outside of the therapy setting, thus gaining independence.
Every child is unique. Allowing them to express themselves in whatever manner they prefer is the goal of ABA Therapy. However, some behaviors can be harmful to the child or those around them. These are considered “problem behaviors.” When addressing problem behaviors in ABA Therapy, it is important to understand why these behaviors are occurring. In other words, we must first determine the function of the behavior (sensory, escape, attention, or access to tangibles.)
When we think of problem behaviors, we must ask ourselves these three questions:
- Is this behavior a safety concern to the child or others around them?
- Does this behavior prevent the child from living a least restrictive life?
- Does this behavior prevent the child from acquiring new skills?
If the answer is “yes” to at least one of these questions, then the behavior is considered a “problem behavior.” It’s important to note that problem behaviors cannot be decreased without teaching and increasing the use of a functionally equivalent behavior. These replacement behaviors should always be individualized for each kiddo to make sure their functional needs are being met.
Oftentimes, parents of children with ASD express a variety of concerns in relation to peer interaction. These concerns include that their child has either no interest in their same-age peers, or expresses interest but is unable to initiate or sustain peer interactions.
So, how do we begin to teach something as complex and vague as peer interactions? They can be looked at as an umbrella term which encompasses many other sub-skills. Some of these may include sharing, taking turns, initiating greetings, engaging in cooperative play, making a request of a peer, and holding a conversation with a peer, among many other skills! Oftentimes, prerequisite skills need to be developed before peer interactions can be tackled. These prerequisite skills might include eye contact, parallel play, following directions, and tolerating sharing and taking turns. When assessing social skills, ABA Therapy measures observable and countable social behaviors, and defines the behaviors in specific terms which can be measured to ensure progress towards goals. Above all else, social interactions can vary significantly based on the child, so even peer interaction goals need to be very individualized to each child’s needs.
So Is ABA Therapy Right for Your Child?
As a parent searching for options for your child’s care, you’ve likely come across many options that tout themselves as your best path forward. The more straight-forward answer is that while we have complete faith in the positive impact center-based ABA Therapy can produce for every child and their family, the best way to find out if it’s the right fit for you is to take the next step and schedule an assessment with a BCBA. These assessments help identify strengths and goals for your child, and are the first step in determining the ABA program for autism that will suit you and your kiddos best. If you are interested in scheduling an assessment, we encourage you to reach out to our Care Team. But if you’re not sure if you are ready, no worries! We have plenty of resources and information for you to learn more about ABA Therapy!