What is ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy is a type of therapy that is based on the science of behavior and learning. It is most often used to address the symptoms and behaviors of people, notably children, with autism. It is a highly flexible form of therapy that can be tailored to the individual patient and adapted as the support and therapy needs of this person changes over time.
ABA therapy is also designed to function as a form of early intervention and can be helpful in treating autism in the youngest of patients, even children under the age of five. ABA therapy sessions can be held at home, in school or in a mental health environment. It can also continue for as long as the patient needs therapy services.
Mental health professionals called Board Certified Behavior Analysts, or BCBAs, design ABA therapy sessions for patients. BCBAs may hand off the responsibility of heading up ABA therapy sessions to other mental health professionals called Registered Behavior Technicians, or RBTs. Together, BCBAs and RBTs ensure each ABA therapy patient receives tailored services and meets the outlined behavioral and symptom goals in a timely manner.
The goals of ABA therapy will be reviewed regularly, and the therapists in charge of patient plans may adapt them as the support services of patients change. ABA therapy can continue well into adulthood for people with autism who need continued support. Patients who meet behavioral goals and milestones faster may be able to end ABA therapy before they reach adulthood.
The Principles of ABA Therapy
The underlying principles of ABA therapy focus on identifying the facts behind the way a person with autism behaves and communicates in a certain manner. They help therapists understand better what kinds of services the patient needs and what kinds of behaviors or symptoms need to be modified or changed entirely.
Along with revealing how people with autism act, ABA therapy also helps identify how they act in certain environments. For example, an ABA therapist may need to learn why a child with autism can act calm at home yet violent or unpredictable at school or elsewhere in public.
This type of therapy likewise helps therapists and parents understand better how children with autism learn. A child with autism may not be able to learn in the same manner as a child who does not have autism. He or she may not adapt well to classroom settings where lectures and worksheets are the primary tools used in teaching.
Instead, the child with autism may need to utilize hands-on learning with toys or visuals to grasp concepts better. The ABA therapy he or she is enrolled in can identify what methods are best to help this child learn and what types of individual learning plans may be needed in school.
The overall principles of ABA therapy are designed to improve:
- Social skills
They also are designed to decrease problem behaviors and enhance communication and language skills.
ABA Therapy Techniques
In ABA therapy, therapists use a variety of techniques to effectively treat patients with autism. These techniques are tailored to the specific needs of each individual and are used to help them learn and improve their social and communication skills, as well as manage their behavior. Some of the commonly used techniques in ABA therapy include positive reinforcement, shaping, chaining, prompting, and fading. These techniques are evidence-based and have been proven to be effective in improving the quality of life of individuals with autism.
Error Correction Teaching
Error correction teaching is a key component of ABA therapy. It involves using visual, verbal, or physical cues to help the patient obtain the desired response or answer. Error correction teaching is particularly useful for patients with autism who have difficulty understanding and learning new concepts. The goal of this technique is to correct errors as they occur, and to help the patient learn from their mistakes. This helps to build the patient's confidence and self-esteem, and helps them to become more independent in their daily lives.
Visual modeling is another commonly used technique in ABA therapy. It involves teaching the patient to watch and mimic the desired behavior as the therapist demonstrates it. This technique is particularly useful for patients with autism who have difficulty understanding and following verbal instructions. By using visual cues and demonstrations, the patient is better able to understand and learn the desired behavior. This helps to build their communication and social skills, and allows them to become more independent in their daily lives.
Caregiver Facilitated Intervention
Caregiver facilitated intervention is an important aspect of ABA therapy. It involves parents or caregivers using ABA therapy methods at home or school with their children with autism. This allows the patient to receive consistent treatment and support, which can improve their overall quality of life. Caregiver facilitated intervention can include activities such as play-based learning, social skills training, and behavior management techniques.
Behavioral Assessment and Analysis
Behavioral assessment and analysis is a critical part of ABA therapy. This involves routinely reassessing and observing behaviors to adjust ABA treatment plans. The therapist will track the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed to ensure that the patient is making progress and meeting their goals. This helps to ensure that the patient is receiving the most effective treatment possible and is making the most progress in their therapy.
Guidance and Correction
Guidance and correction is an important part of ABA therapy. It involves using positive and negative reinforcement to teach and ensure consistent desired behaviors. This technique is particularly useful for patients with autism who have difficulty understanding social cues and expectations. The therapist will use guidance and correction to teach the patient how to behave in different situations, such as at home or in the community. This helps to build the patient's social and communication skills, and allows them to become more independent in their daily lives.
Physical activity in ABA therapy has proven effective in reducing anxiety and improving mood. Exercise also helps children with autism feel more relaxed and receptive to learning.
Other Methods Used During ABA Therapy
Other methods used during ABA therapy can include:
- Behavior reduction
- Stimulus generalization
- Structured teaching
- Escape training
- Reinforcement of alternative behavior
The techniques used during ABA therapy can vary from patient to patient. They may also be adapted over time as the therapy and support services of patients evolve.
ABA therapists will consult with a patient's parents, teachers, caregivers and healthcare team members before deciding what techniques to use. The goal is to teach desired behaviors and reduce symptoms or behaviors that are not conducive to productive and meaningful everyday living.
How to Choose the Right ABA Therapy Techniques for Your Child
Parents may have a variety of questions when they first enroll and take their child with autism to ABA therapy sessions. They ultimately want to know what ABA therapy techniques are best to use during sessions and what ones will achieve the most thorough results in improving their child's behaviors and symptoms.
ABA therapists may tell parents that no single answer exists for that question. The ABA therapy techniques used in the first few sessions may need to give way to other techniques in a matter of weeks or months as their child progresses through ABA therapy.
During this progress, ABA therapists will remain in constant contact with the child's teachers, caregivers and medical professionals to report what milestones are being met and what behaviors still need to be addressed. Parents will also be included in these consultations and encouraged to give feedback on what results they have witnessed in their child and what results they still want to see take place.
Together with the ABA therapist who are in charge of the child's treatment plan, parents can identify what techniques may work best right away and what ones may need to considered later. They can learn what each technique involves, what ones might garner the best results for their child and what ones should not be attempted based on the behaviors and cognitive abilities of their child with autism.
The Benefits of ABA Therapy Techniques
ABA therapy techniques offer a variety of benefits to the children who undergo them, as well as the parents, caretakers and teachers. They help identify how and why a child with autism acts the way he or she does and what behaviors need to be managed or overcome so the child can live a productive and meaningful everyday life.
ABA therapy techniques are also beneficial in that they can be adapted and tailored to each individual client. A child with autism may first start out being exposed to ABA therapy techniques like modeling or errorless training.
These techniques do not utilize language or speaking but instead focus on teaching through demonstrations or mimicking of the desired behaviors. They are effective in getting the child's attention and teaching him or her how to act without relying solely on getting that child to verbalize or speak what he or she needs or wants.
As the child progresses through ABA therapy, he or she may then be exposed to other techniques, such as positive reinforcement or scripting, which can involve the use of language and communication more than other skills. Each technique used may be designed to move the child closer and closer to the ultimate goal of learning, mastering and repeating identified desired behaviors.
ABA therapy techniques also give caretakers, parents and teachers resources they can use to teach and help manage the behavior of children with autism. Traditional methods of disciplining and teaching may be of no use because of these children's cognitive and behavioral limitations. Instead, their parents, caregivers and teachers can use ABA therapy techniques to obtain the same desired behaviors.
Tips for Implementing ABA Therapy Techniques at Home
Parents and caretakers might marvel at the progress their children with autism make during therapy sessions with their ABA therapists. They want to ensure their children can continue this progress at home and not regress back into behaviors that have been identified as problematic or not desirable.
Still, parents and caregivers may need some help utilizing the effective ABA therapy techniques at home. They want their children with autism to view them as partners in their therapy by implementing the same techniques that are used during ABA sessions.
ABA therapists often work closely with parents and caretakers to ensure they know how to use the same therapeutic techniques effectively at home. Parents are encouraged to pay close attention to and ask questions about the techniques during these consultations. They should also demonstrate their ability to use them before leaving the ABA therapy environment and using the methods at home.
They should also be consistent with how they use the ABA therapy techniques, even when they get frustrated and feel like their children may not be responding in the same way during ABA therapy sessions. For example, if parents use negative reinforcement to dissuade targeted behaviors, they should be consistent in how they address the behaviors and in what manner they encourage the desired behaviors. If they are not consistent or carry out the techniques in the same manner as demonstrated by the ABA therapist, they could confuse their children and cause behavior regressions rather than progress.
ABA therapists rely on a variety of ABA therapy techniques to learn about, identify and address behaviors in children with autism. These techniques can range from the use of language and positive reinforcement to teach desired behaviors to using body language and demonstrations to show how a child should act or indicate what he or she wants.
ABA therapy techniques can be highly effective in addressing symptoms and behaviors associated with autism in children. They can teach children how to behave and how to communicate effectively their wants and needs without devolving into tantrums and violence.
These techniques can also be effectively replicated in environments away from the mental health setting where therapy sessions take place. Parents, caretakers and teachers can work with ABA therapists to learn how to utilize the best ABA therapy methods to reinforce desired behaviors and teach children with autism how to function in the everyday world.
Parents, caretakers and teachers, along with medical professionals, are integral contributors to ABA therapy plans. ABA therapists will meet with them regularly to tailor therapy plans for patients. They will also adapt what techniques to use, what ones to discontinue and what ones to eliminate entirely based on patient's cognitive, physical and behavioral limitations.