Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior.


What is ABA Therapy?

ABA Therapy applies our understanding how behavior works in real situations 

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the art of learning and behavior. It is considered a medically essential treatment for children with autism. ABA therapy can be performed at home, at school, out in the community, or a psych clinic. Autism is a developmental disorder that displays challenges with communication and social interaction. Those with autism may experience frustration having two-way conversations and shared interests with family or friends.  

ABA therapy helps us understand how behavior works, how behavior is affected by the environment, and how effective learning takes place. ABA is a flexible customizable treatment that teaches useful everyday skills, and can be adapted to meeting to needs of each unique person. The goal of any ABA therapy program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the today and in the future. 


How Does ABA Therapy Work for Autistic Children?

The ABA Therapy Process & Strategies 

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association.  The average age for children to be diagnosed with autism is around 4 years old. But, children as young as 18 months can show signs that parents can recognize. Those who typically diagnose children with autism usually include clinical psychologists, neurologists, and developmental pediatricians. After being diagnosed a BCBA designs a customized program to each learner’s skill, need, interests, and preferences. 

 How does treatment work? Through play, a behavior analyst uses ABA therapy helps children with autism learn social skills. Tasks include teaching the child to play next to a friend, and then with a friend, and then to share, and eventually talk in conversations. Therapists or a BCBA could use rewards to encourage a child to develop communication, language, and other useful skills. 

Types of ABA Approaches 

Therapists may use 5 different approaches to enforce ABA, including: 

Discrete trial approach: Lovaas’s technique breaks down lessons into simple tasks rewarded after successfully engaging a cue-and-response structure. 

Naturalistic approach: This type of teaching allows a child to set their own learning pace throughout the day based on the context of their regular routines. 

Critical response training: This child-directed teaching improves motivation, response to more than one situation, social setting structure, and self-regulation. 

Reward economy: This approach rewards or removes a reward based on predefined behaviors. Also called condition reinforcers, tokens are similar to actual-world currency exchange. 

Contingent observation: The last learning approach is used in a group of peers. After showing a child that their behavior is unacceptable, the child is instructed to observe their peers performing a task successfully. 


Benefits of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is often used to help autistic children cope with negative or harmful behaviors. The first step in therapy is identifying the unsafe behavior, learning about what triggers those responses, and teach safer positive approach.  It is important to keep in mind that ABA therapy should focus on the needs that the autistic child is trying to meet and teach ways to have those needs met safely.    

Supporters of ABA therapy cite the following benefits: 

Helps develop behavioral skills: Studies have shown that ABA therapy is beneficial in helping autistic children learn skills. For example, one study found that the Early Start Denver Model helped children improve in IQ and behavior. It also decreased the severity of their autism diagnosis. 

Can be used to teach simple and complicated skills: For example, ABA can be used to reward children for brushing their teeth correctly or for sharing their toys with friends. 

Gives parents a game plan for teaching children at home: ABA helps to give parents a guide for teaching and a way to track progress. For example, it can help parents teach language by breaking it down into syllables rather than full words. 

Shows that autistic kids are capable of learning: ABA helps to give autistic children a chance to show that they are capable of learning and modifying behaviors.  


Is ABA Therapy Right for my Child?

Your child’s therapist will use their observations from the first consultation to create a precise plan for therapy. This plan should align with your child’s particular needs and include concrete treatment goals. ABA therapists try to uncover causes of certain behaviors to help your child change or improve them. During therapy sessions, your child’s therapist may modify their approach based on how your child responds to certain interventions.  Here at Psych4U, our approach is providing individualized evidence-based interventions for children with Autism. Psych4U provides services that include an evaluation, a plan of care, and medication if needed.   

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