A 2018 CDC report has found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 1 out of every 44 children in the United States.
Selecting the correct form of therapy will significantly affect the progress in treating a person with ASD. You can sift through various therapy options, but applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the most well-studied and widely used type of behavior intervention.
This article provides an overview of ABA and its role in autism behavior therapy. We’ll also discuss the benefits of ABA therapy treatment and the key considerations for starting an ABA program.
Overview of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied behavior analysis is an evidence-based therapy for people with developmental disabilities, such as autism.
The history of ABA can be traced back to the 1960s. For his first research project, Dr. Ivar Lovaas worked with a 9-year-old child with echolalia. It turned out to be a success. Within a year, Dr. Lovaas taught the child 50 new words with the help of positive reinforcements. He continued to work with other research subjects and reported impressive results.
Because of these successes, nowadays, therapists focus on positive reinforcement to help the person achieve a fulfilling and self-sufficient life living with ASD instead of trying to cure the condition.
Key Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence
To understand better how this type of autism behavior therapy works, we must discuss its main principles: antecedent (A), behavior (B), and consequence (C).
Environmental behaviors such as As and Cs significantly affect a person’s behavior. The A is what happens before a B, and the C is what occurs after the B. See the example below.
Here’s an example of the ABC model in action:
Antecedent: A student is working on a math assignment at their desk.
Behavior: The student begins to fidget and look around the classroom.
Consequence: The teacher comes over and reprimands the student for not focusing on their work.
In this scenario, the A is the math assignment, the B is the student fidgeting and looking around the classroom, and the C is the teacher’s reprimand.
By analyzing the ABCs of this behavior, a behavior analyst can determine that the student is struggling with the math assignment and is looking for a way to escape or avoid the task. Fidgeting and looking around the classroom is a form of avoidance behavior. Additionally, the consequence of the teacher’s reprimand will likely make the behavior less likely to occur in the future.
Based on this analysis, the behavior analyst can develop a strategy to help the student better understand the math assignment or provide support to help them stay on task. By changing the antecedent (providing additional support) or modifying the consequence (providing positive reinforcement for staying on task), the behavior analyst can help the student develop more positive and effective behaviors.
How ABA therapy is used in the treatment of Autism
Autism behavior therapy, specifically ABA therapy, effectively improves a wide range of skills for individuals with autism, including communication, socialization, and problem-solving skills. Here are some ways in which ABA therapy can help with each of these areas:
Applied behavior analysis therapy can help individuals with autism develop communication skills by breaking down the learning process into smaller, more manageable steps. Applied behavior analysis therapists use various techniques, such as discrete trial training, to help individuals with autism learn new words, phrases, and social communication skills.
This is done by teaching individuals with autism how to interact with others in various settings. It can involve teaching them how to initiate and respond to social interactions, understand nonverbal cues, and navigate social situations positively and appropriately. Applied behavior analysis therapists can also help individuals with autism develop the ability to share their interests and engage in cooperative play with others.
By teaching them how to reason through various circumstances and make decisions systematically and logically, ABA therapy can assist people with autism in developing their problem-solving abilities. This can involve teaching them how to recognize a problem, come up with various solutions, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, and select the best course of action.
Techniques and Methods Used in Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy
Applied behavior analysis therapy uses a variety of evidence-based techniques and methods to teach new skills and behaviors, including:
- Positive Reinforcement: Applied behavior analysis therapy focuses on rewarding desired behaviors to increase frequency rather than punishing undesired behaviors. Reinforcement can be applied in the form of tangible rewards, such as toys or stickers, or social rewards, such as praise or attention.
- Shaping: This technique emphasizes making successive approximations to encourage tolerance towards slightly challenging tasks. As the individual learns each component, they are gradually taught to combine them to complete the entire behavior.
- Modeling: Modeling involves demonstrating a behavior or skill for the individual to imitate. This can be particularly effective for individuals who learn best through observation and imitation.
- Prompting: It involves providing a cue or hint to help the individual learn a new behavior or skill. Prompts can be physical, such as guiding the individual’s hand to perform a task, or verbal, such as providing a verbal cue or instruction.
- Pivotal Response Training: Instead of focusing on a specific behavior, pivotal response training (PRT) focuses on the pivotal areas of child development. It typically consists of a play-based approach and natural reinforcement. This method allows for vast improvements across critical areas such as social, communication, behavior, and learning skills.
- Picture Exchange Communication System: This technique provides an effective communication system without speech. People who find speaking challenging can instead take advantage of pictures or drawings to relay what they want to say.
Applied behavior analysis therapists can work with families at home, in schools, and in community settings to develop individualized behavior plans that target specific skills and behaviors. By teaching classroom routines, social skills, and other essential skills, ABA therapy can help individuals with autism practice social skills in real-life settings and reach their full potential.
Benefits of Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy for Individuals with Autism
Applied behavior analysis therapy advocates share that the benefits of this form of treatment include the following:
- Applied behavior analysis therapy is beneficial in assisting autistic individuals in learning new abilities, such as being more communicative and responding to social cues better.
- Parents, family members, and caregivers can also help in the child’s treatment progress. They receive training to assist the child if a learning opportunity arises in a different environment.
- Applied behavior analysis therapy treatment allows the person to learn simple and more elaborate and beneficial skills gradually.
- It provides people with ASD to eliminate and improve behaviors so that they can live with fulfillment and independence.
Any Evidence That It Works?
There are more than 20 studies that show that PRT contributes to the improvement of communication skills of children with ASD. Adults with autism also share positive outcomes based on this study. These fully suggest that in-depth and consistent participation in ABA therapy treatment yields positive results.
Choosing Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy for Your Child with Autism
Finding an ABA therapist can be an overwhelming process for families with children with autism. Choosing a qualified and experienced therapist who can work with your child effectively is essential. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when selecting an ABA therapist
Important Factors To Consider
- Qualifications: Look for therapists with a degree in behavior analysis or a related field. They should also be certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. This certification ensures that the therapist has met the necessary training and education requirements to work as an ABA therapist.
- Experience: Consider the therapist’s experience working with children with autism. Ask for references and reviews from other families who have worked with the therapist. A therapist with more experience is likely better to understand the unique needs of children with autism and be more effective in their approach.
- Insurance Coverage: Applied behavior analysis therapy can be expensive, so it’s important to check with your insurance provider to see if they cover the cost of treatment. If your insurance does cover ABA therapy, find out which therapists are in-network and covered by your plan.
Steps to Maximize Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy for Children with Autism
Once you’ve chosen an ABA therapist, here are some tips to make the most of your child’s therapy:
- Be involved. Work closely with your therapist to ensure your child’s needs are met. Ask questions, provide feedback, and communicate regularly with the therapist to ensure you’re on the same page.
- Set goals. Work with your therapist to set specific goals for your child. These goals should be realistic, measurable, and achievable. Make sure that your child’s progress is being tracked and evaluated regularly.
- Practice at home. Applied behavior analysis therapy is most effective when incorporated into your child’s daily routine. Practice the skills your child is learning in therapy at home, and provide positive reinforcement for good behavior.
- Be patient. Applied behavior analysis therapy is a long-term process, and progress may sometimes be slow. Be patient and stay committed to the process. Celebrate your child’s successes and work with your therapist to address any challenges or setbacks.
Behavior interventions can significantly improve the treatment of a person with ASD. There are many types of autism behavioral therapy, with ABA as the most widely accepted and clinically proven treatment.
We’ve discussed what ABA therapy is, its integration into autism behavior therapy, the benefits that come with it, and the main factors you have to consider when getting started with an ABA therapy program.
Overall, ABA therapy can help people with autism, but working with a qualified professional is equally important. Get in touch with us and learn more about how we can help you or your loved one with ABA therapy.