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When To Start & Stop ABA Therapy For Your Child

Should ABA therapy continue forever? If not, how long should you continue treatment for? Read on to find out.

When To Start ABA Therapy

The best time to start ABA therapy is early and between the ages of 2 and 6.

When To Stop ABA Therapy

According to ABA therapy professionals, ABA therapy should be stopped when:

  • When the child has completed 2-3 years of intensive therapy followed by 2-3 more years in a focused approach.
  • When the primary objectives of the therapy have been reached.
  • When the child doesn’t show the most common symptoms of autism.
  • When progress has been slow or halted over weeks or months.

Many parents or caretakers initiate ABA therapy for their children in early childhood or when their children are in elementary school. This early intervention can ease the most challenging symptoms and behaviors associated with autism and allow children to learn to manage triggers like loud noises that can make everyday life more challenging to endure.

Parenting is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, but it can also be one of the most challenging.

Parents and caretakers may wonder when ABA therapy should cease. They might question if it is needed after their children master skills and achieve milestones successfully. They might also wonder if it is appropriate to continue after their children reach adulthood.

There is no single uniform answer for these questions. The amount of ABA therapy each individual child with autism needs is based on how well he or she meets set goals and milestones during sessions.

Some children need short term ABA therapy and can stop after just a few years. Others may need continued ABA therapy throughout childhood and well into adulthood to support their development.

How Long Should a Child Attend ABA Therapy?

The amount of time a child should attend ABA therapy can depend on a variety of factors. No single answer exists to answer this question for parents or caretakers of children with autism. The answer derives from how well a child fares in ABA therapy and whether or not the therapy actually works for him or her.

ABA therapy is designed to help children with autism achieve certain goals and milestones that are needed to live independently or semi-independently. They may learn how to brush their hair and teeth, for example. They may also learn how to sit quietly in a classroom setting or follow a short series of instructions to adapt to being in school on a full-time basis.

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, therapy is considered to be a gold standard of treatment for people with autism.

The amount of time it takes children with autism to reach milestones and satisfy outlined goals in ABA therapy will determine, in part, how long they need to attend it. If they master goals quickly and retain what they have learned satisfactorily, they may be able to stop ABA therapy in a matter of months or years.

They may also need to stop ABA therapy if it proves too challenging or stressful for them. They may not learn what they need to and become more triggered and resistant if ABA therapy is too difficult for them to endure.

How Long Does ABA Therapy Take to Complete?

The length of time it takes children with autism to complete ABA therapy can vary. Some children can complete their ABA therapy in just a few years, if not months. Other children may need years' worth of ABA therapy and continue to need services well into their adult years.

How long each child will remain in ABA therapy will depend on the individual goals set out for him or when these services begin. The ABA therapists working with the child will first meet with the child's parents or caretakers and agree on what goals and milestones need to be achieved. They will also identify what triggers and behaviors need to be managed or overcome so the child can learn to function independently or semi-independently as he or she approaches adulthood.

The therapists and parents or caretakers will continue to meet and evaluate how successfully the child is meeting and maintaining results from ABA therapy. If they can agree the child is faring well and retaining what he or she learns, they may decide to end ABA therapy. If the child struggles with achieving goals and retaining behaviors, they may decide to continue ABA therapy for several more months or years.

Should ABA Therapy Be Stopped Gradually or Abruptly?

Most ABA therapists agree that ABA therapy should be stopped gradually for most clients who fare well in it. As long as the ABA therapy is not triggering or causing violent or disruptive behavior in clients, it may be better to approach the end of it through a progressive weaning from it rather than ending it suddenly and without sufficient explanation for the child taking part in it.

Most ABA therapists agree that ABA therapy should be stopped gradually for most clients who fare well in it.

The progressive ending of ABA therapy will involve supportive transitioning for both the child with autism and his or her parents or caretakers. This transition will include:

  • Parent or caretaker training
  • Teacher training
  • In-depth reviews of the child's data
  • In-depth reviews of the child's ongoing goals and transition plan

The ABA therapists in charge of a child's therapy may also recommend parent or caretakers transition to what is called a consultation model before ending therapy entirely. This consultation model can make the process of ending therapy less traumatic and disruptive for the child and allow parents or caretakers to monitor his or her behaviors and symptoms after therapy ends. It can also let parents or caretakers know when ABA therapy may need to be initiated again.

Does ABA Therapy Work Long Term?

Scientific research shows that ABA therapy can work effectively on a long term basis for many children with autism. It proves to be a valuable resource in helping children with this condition achieve realistic goals and overcome behaviors and symptoms that may otherwise prevent them from living productively and integrating as well as possible into everyday life.

The success of ABA therapy can depend on how well each individual child adapts to it. Some children with autism find the therapy too challenging to endure and instead regress or adopt unproductive behaviors that merit ABA therapy ending before any milestones or goals are met.

Scientific research shows that ABA therapy can work effectively on a long term basis for many children with autism.

Many children with this condition fare well in ABA therapy and learn vital behaviors they need to live more independently. Parents, caretakers and teachers likewise learn valuable information they need to support their children's progress and results from ABA therapy,

Evidence likewise shows many ABA therapy clients remain in school successfully and avoid having to drop out or stop going because they cannot adapt to functioning in classroom settings. They also retain behaviors that are needed to work part or full-time jobs outside of the home and live either semi or entirely independently of their parents or caretakers.

When Should ABA Not Be Stopped?

A variety of indicators can help parents, caretakers and therapist recognize when ABA therapy for children with autism should not be stopped. Some of these include:

  • Children needing direct instruction for learning in a natural environment
  • Parents, caretakers and teachers not being able to control problem behaviors without the intervention of a BCBA
  • Parents, caretakers and teachers not being able to implement behavior or teaching plans effectively
  • Children not benefiting from different educational environments
  • Children not meeting goals in ABA therapy effectively and in a timely manner
  • Children cannot adapt to or implement new behaviors in new environments with little to no teaching
  • Lack of new skills emerging spontaneously without direct teaching or intervention

These indicators highlight the need for ABA therapy to continue for children with autism. Parents, caretakers and teachers of children with autism likewise may need therapy to continue so they can better care for and manage behaviors at home or in a classroom setting.

Determining whether or not these indicators exist or how well they are being met or overcome requires ABA therapists and parents or caretakers to meet regularly. They should review the therapy plan in place and make adjustments as needed to ensure ABA therapy can conclude when it is appropriate and safe.

After Stopping ABA Therapy

After stopping ABA therapy for their children with autism, it is important for parents and caretakers to make use of resources and support services as needed that are available to them in their communities and schools. They also should ensure they have the support of family members and people in their homes to reinforce the behaviors and goals their children with autism mastered in ABA therapy.

Parents and caretakers are encouraged to monitor whether or not ABA therapy services may be warranted at any point in the future. For example, if their children with autism show significant difficulties in adapting to drastic changes, such as moving to a new house or relocating to a new neighborhood or city, they may need to consider starting up ABA therapy services again for their children.

If children with autism regress in their behaviors, encounter new triggers when out in everyday life or fail to maintain goals met in therapy, parents and caretakers may also need to restart ABA therapy. ABA therapy may need to remain an intermittent part of their children's lives, particularly if the support needs of their children change as they approach adulthood. 



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