Are you looking for a way to encourage and support a loved one with autism? Isn’t it time there was a gentle therapy that helped to promote positive behaviors? Now there is, with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) which is used to help children with autism and developmental disorders since the 1960s. This method has been studied and implemented successfully for decades and has helped patients gain new skills and live a healthier and more independent lifestyle.

If you’re interested in learning more about what ABA therapy is and what it can do for you or your loved one, keep reading below as we discuss, in-depth, the therapy methods, techniques, supporting scientific evidence, and more.

What Is ABA Therapy?

child and therapists

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is the world's leading developmental deficiencies improvement therapy for those affected with autism. It has been endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General as it is a recommended therapy to help improve the lives of children with autism. This therapy centers on human behavior and works to increase positive behaviors and minimize negative ones.

It's said to help your child reach its full potential in both the social and mental realms. This treatment method uses many techniques for understanding and contributing to alter behaviors. It can be changed to fit each individual's needs and performed in many locations.

Positive Reinforcement

positive reinforcement

One of the primary strategies used in ABA therapy is the use of positive reinforcement. It may seem overly simplistic, but over time, reinforcing positive behavior with something of value to the person can genuinely encourage a change. However, you must first understand your child, loved one, or the individual you are working with values.

Often, therapists can help you determine a child's goal behavior, so that each time a positive behavior you wish to continue occurs, you reward the child with praise, a new toy, a book, access to the playground, or whatever he or she values. Rewards are an easy way to make a meaningful behavioral change.

Motives and Consequences

therapist and child

An essential part of ABA therapy is working to understand behavior. Instead of worrying or getting upset over undesirable behaviors, take a step back and think about the “A-B-Cs” of understanding behavior. Those “A-B-Cs” are:

Antecedent

child laughing

An antecedent is an event or reasoning that occurs right before another event. With ABA therapy, we refer to the antecedent as the thing that occurs right before a behavior. This doesn’t have to be a positive or negative behavior, it’s merely to help us understand what motivates a certain feeling. Antecedents can take the form of thoughts or they can directly come from the environment or another person.

Behavior

behavior therapy

What occurs after the antecedent is the behavior or our “B” in our “A-B-Cs” of understanding behavior. The behavior that comes because of the antecedent, as we discussed above,  can be positive, negative, or even neutral. The individual's response and even the lack thereof can tell us a lot. Responses can range anywhere from an action to a verbal response and more.

Consequence

kids with their therapists

The concept of consequence can be a difficult one for both children and parents alike, especially when you add autism into the mix. Consequences occurs after the antecedent and the following behavior. Just as behavior is, consequences can be both positive and negative. The critical thing to remember about consequences is that it doesn’t require action.

You can also see positive reinforcement as no reaction at all for there was no need to correct any behavior or responses. However, if you’re looking to change a behavioral response with ABA therapy, it’s imperative for the individual to understand that with negative behavior comes negative consequences.

ABA Therapy: What It Is and What It Can Do for You

kid in yellow shirt undergoing therapy

ABA therapy programs are available around the nation; however, not every program will be right for your loved one's needs. It’s imperative to do thorough research on each program and understand that ABA therapy doesn’t have a set regime or exercises to perform. It's truly individualized to help with each patient's unique needs and behavioral triggers.

It is the goal of ABA therapy programs to help provide the user with the skills they need to become more independent and successful in their day-to-day life. Trained behavior analysts design and oversee the program to ensure individualized treatment goals and preferences. It is not uncommon for these programs to encourage family involvement and set family style goals within the therapy. Some examples of treatment goals include:

  • Improved social skills
  • Motor functions and skills
  • Learning and academics
  • Communication and language

Each session includes an instruction plan that breaks down each skill into an easily digestible step. Steps can be as simple as imitating sounds to carrying a successful conversation. The BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) and the therapists collect detailed data each session to help determine the patients progress.

ABA Therapy Techniques

therapeutic techniques

There are several techniques used in performing ABA therapy. Many techniques are directed by the instructor, BCBA, or therapist and others can even be directed from the autistic individual themselves. It is common for parents, guardians, and caregivers alike to receive proper training in order to best work with and support the autistic individual undergoing therapy.

A great way to continue your ABA therapy outside therapy sessions is by allowing the autistic individual to practice their skills each day, in many environments. For example, if the individual is working on greeting people, we may encourage family members, teachers, and even extended loved ones to help practice. Having more support around the autistic individual helps to further reinforce that with positive behavior comes positive results.

Supporting Evidence

Supporting Evidence

As we mentioned previously, ABA therapy is backed by the United States Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association, and the therapy is considered an evidence-based treatment. Being “evidence-based” means that the ABA therapy method passed scientific tests that intend to test the program's usefulness, quality, and overall effectiveness. More than 20 studies have been released suggesting that with prolonged therapy, between 25 to 40 hours a week for roughly 1 to 3 years, children with autism can significantly improve these skills:

  • Language development
  • Intellectual functions
  • Social skills
  • Daily life skills

In studies with conducted with adults, the results show similar benefits.


Where to Find ABA Services?

It’s important to find the right ABA provider and therapists who not only work best for your family but for your lifestyle as well. Many forms of private health insurance are required to cover ABA services. For example, Medicaid requires coverage if your doctor considers the therapy medically necessary for anyone under 21 years of age. To gain access to an ABA therapy program, we suggest you follow the following steps:

  • Speak with a doctor about this kind of therapy
  • Make sure your primary or supplemental, insurance covers the cost
  • Find an Applied Behavior Analysis provider based on your location
  • Call the provider and request more information
  • There are also a plethora of support groups online available where a wide range of individuals from across the globe can come to discuss their experiences with various therapy programs. If you’re struggling to find an ABA therapy program near you, it may help to reach out online or ask your child’s teachers or counselors if they have any resources for you.


    What Questions to Ask

    Once you’ve found an Applied Behavior Analysis provider that is covered by your insurance and close to your home, it’s time to ask more questions. Don’t be afraid to come with a list of questions or call and inquire. You won’t be the first person to do so, and you won't be the last. To ensure that this provider is the right fit for your family and needs, it’s important to ask them questions you may have. Always trust your instincts and keep an eye out for any red flags.

    When you've found the perfect Applied Behavior Analysis provider, you'll undoubtedly have lots of questions specific to your situation. However, there are definitely some basics you need to cover with them so you can rest easy knowing you or your child or loved one is in capable, qualified hands. Some examples of questions ask a potential ABA provider are:

  • How many, certified, BCBAs are on staff?
  • How many behavioral therapists can we expect to work with?
  • Will therapy sessions require our entire family be present?
  • What data do you consider determining progress?
  • Is there a waiting list to get into the program?
  • Will the BCBAs and therapists work together?
  • What does a typical session look like?
  • How do you handle safety concerns?
  • How do you handle allergy and health-related concerns?
  • Are we able to conduct therapy sessions at home?
  • Final Thoughts

    Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is a wonderful therapy option for men, women, and children suffering from autism. With a certified BCBA and therapist, you can help your child, loved one, or patient toward living a more independent and prosperous life. Speak to your doctor today to see if ABA therapy is right for your circumstances.

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