More Questions And Answers About Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is a good chance that you will be considering – or evaluating – Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. This is the third of three question and answer sessions with Lauren - who was featured here last December - who offers us the combined perspective of  a mother of a child with ASD and a professional who works with children with ASD. Click here to see the first post that describes ABA; click here to see the second post which gives an example of ABA.

Does it help all kids or just some?

ABA can be used with anyone with or without disabilities at any age. It is often used for kids diagnosed with ASD (see http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/applied-behavior-analysis-aba). No other method I’ve researched has been shown to have the same ability to develop someone’s true potential as ABA.  Goals vary from person to person and depend on age, interests, and ability.  It’s important to keep your goals simple, measurable, realistic and easy to follow.  In a perfect world, ABA for children with ASD needs to be practiced 40 hours a week with a therapist and continued with family and friends 24/7.  Discrete trials are used primarily for students in the beginning to learn new concepts within a controlled setting.  After they master the goals, then the other ABA techniques are used to generalize the new concepts in different environments and with different people.

I believe ABA principles such as positive reinforcement should be practiced all the time.  I always reinforce the positive and redirect the negative behaviors with my children or my students. It’s important to remain even toned and only show lots of emotion when a positive behavior is exhibited – try not to yell or get upset at a negative behavior.  This could incite the child and even make them want you to do it again.  Negative attention is still providing attention and for a child wanting attention.  Also, what could be acquired quickly by one student may take a long time with another student.  Always think what’s best for the child’s ability.

Is it hard to do?

The ABA Therapist should make the objectives very clear and manageable. If you don’t follow the directions exactly as written, then the student or teacher may not understand the target behavior. If you are using ABA to change behavior in a more natural setting, it’s important to remain consistent with the therapist’s directions.  In that sense it is very demanding and frustrating since a behavior that you are trying to change may being reinforced by another family member.  Also, be aware of the student’s likes and  interests.   They are constantly changing. So, using a reinforcer that works with one person won’t always work on another.

Are there other approaches to consider?

When my son was first diagnosed, I thought he should be put with lots of typical children so he could learn by imitating appropriate behavior.   However, children with ASD are lacking prerequisite skills to know how to learn.  If you can place a child with ASD in a typical classroom with an aide, you cannot teach the child the skills needed to sit, attend, and understand his environment.  If you place them in an individualized program where the ABA therapist teaches appropriate behaviors prior to age of 5, the student will hopefully have developed the prerequisite skills to be able to join a typical classroom one day. Sure, there are lots of other approaches out there, but ABA is a scientifically proven method that works with kids diagnosed with ASD and can have a substantial impact on their development.

Symbol of autism awareness via Shutterstock.com

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