In-Home vs. Center-Based ABA Therapy

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

October 18, 2022

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy is a behavioral approach to treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA therapy can be successful when provided at home or at an autism therapy center. In-home and center-based ABA therapy each has unique benefits that can influence which one is right for your family.

What Does In-Home ABA Therapy Look Like?

If you choose in-home ABA therapy, the ABA therapist will come to you. 

ABA therapy will take place in a designated area of your home. The space you choose for therapy doesn’t have to be very big and can even have another purpose (like an office). The space should have easy access to your child’s favorite toys and activities to use during the session. 

The ABA therapist will work one-on-one with your child to develop an individualized treatment plan specially suited to their unique needs. 

The home environment is ideal for learning independent living skills, since they are learning these skills in the place they will be using them most often. Some examples of skills your child might learn during an ABA therapy session include:

  • Brushing their teeth
  • Getting dressed
  • Potty training
  • Bathing
  • Cleaning up 
  • Shopping 

Members of the household do not have to be quiet during an ABA therapy session because the ABA therapist will work with your child to keep them on task and avoid getting distracted. Parents and family members are allowed to watch and are often encouraged to participate in therapy.

What Does Center-Based ABA Therapy Look Like?

If you participate in center-based ABA therapy, your child will travel to an autism therapy center to receive ABA therapy services, which are available in many communities. 

An ABA therapist will work one-on-one with your child to teach new skills using the center’s facilities. Most centers have a structured environment with designated areas set up for different purposes and age groups. 

Center-based ABA therapy will also include opportunities for caregiver education and participation, as well as socialization with other children.

What Are the Benefits of In-Home vs. Center-Based ABA Therapy?

A family may choose either in-home or center-based ABA therapy for different reasons. 

 Four Benefits of In-Home ABA Therapy

There are several benefits of in-home ABA therapy

  1. Convenience

When ABA therapy is conducted in your home, you do not need to change your schedule to fit the therapy session. You can also save the time and money you might spend on a commute to an autism center. 

When your participation isn’t needed in the session, you can take the time to get things done or take a break. 

  1. Eliminates Transitions

Many children with autism have difficulty with transitions, such as getting ready, transportation, and going to a new place. Conducting ABA therapy sessions at home eliminates the need to overcome this barrier to getting treatment. 

  1. Familiarity

New environments can be challenging for many children with autism. Conducting ABA therapy at home lets the child learn in a safe space. Additionally, the therapist can observe behaviors in a more natural environment. This helps the therapist create a treatment plan well suited to the child’s individual needs.  

It may be easier for children to learn self-care skills in the same place they will be using them. For example, a child can learn potty training skills using their own toilet and bathroom. 

When appropriate, the treatment plan will also include strategies to generalize skills learned at home to other locations. This way, the child is able to perform skills in other locations and not just the home. 

  1. Opportunities for Family Involvement

Providing ABA therapy at home naturally provides more opportunities for parental and other family involvement and education. When parents are able to continue ABA therapy techniques outside of therapy sessions, there may be a greater improvement in outcomes. Parent-implemented interventions through parent training are listed as an evidence-based practice by the National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice. 

The therapist can meet with the family regularly for updates or education since they are coming to the home for sessions. Most parents interviewed about their experiences with in-home ABA therapy report a positive impact on their family life. 

Benefits of Center-Based ABA Therapy

Center-based ABA therapy programs tend to be a more structured environment. Therapists can create an environment to suit the session's needs and reduce distractions. 

Establishing a routine of going to a different location for therapy each day can help children prepare for going to school. There may also be more opportunities for social interaction with other children at the therapy center. 

Some studies have found that children who receive treatment in a center-based program have a higher rate of learning. However, it may be difficult to generalize the skills to locations outside of the treatment center. If a child learns a skill—like how to brush their teeth—at the center, they may not be able to perform the same skill at home. 

How to Choose the Best Option for You

ABA therapy will be most effective when it fits the needs of your child and your family. It is also important to start therapy as soon as possible. Early intervention for autism is more likely to be effective. It is often possible to start in-home therapy sooner than center-based ABA therapy, which can have long wait lists. 

No matter which option you choose, make sure you choose a provider with properly credentialed ABA therapists.

Conclusion

ABA therapy is flexible and should fit your needs. You should choose the option that best fits your child’s and your family’s needs.

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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