What is ABA therapy?
ABA therapy is based on the science of learning and behavior. This method applies knowledge of how behavior works in real situations to increase helpful behaviors and decrease harmful ones.
Goals for ABA therapy
Treatment goals will change based on age and ability level. Some common purposes of ABA therapy include:
- Language and communication
- Learning and academic skills
- Social skills
- Motor skills
How does ABA therapy work?
ABA is a flexible approach that involves many different techniques for understanding and changing a behavior.
Positive reinforcement is a key feature of ABA therapy. Desired behaviors are rewarded with something the child values, such as praise or toys. By continuing to reward desired behaviors, the child is more likely to continue the positive behavior change.
Antecedent, behavior, consequence
“ABC” is another important part of ABA therapy:
- Antecedent is what happens right before the behavior. It may come from the environment (like a toy, light, or sound), from a person (like a command or request), or internally (a thought or feeling).
- Behavior is the response to the antecedent. A behavior can be an action, verbal response, or a lack of response.
- Consequence is what comes after the behavior. The consequence for the desired behavior is a reward. The consequence for incorrect or inappropriate behavior is usually no response.
Teaching styles of ABA for autism
There are several different ABA therapy approaches. The therapy type should be selected based on the strengths and needs of each individual child.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
DTT was one of the first interventions developed for ASD. It is based on mastering a skill through practice. In one-on-one instruction, the child is taught a behavior that is broken down into small or “discrete” steps. The child is guided through each step and rewarded when they perform the task correctly, while incorrect responses are ignored. The tasks are repeated in what is known as a drill.
Teaching a child about colors using DTT might look like the trainer teaching one color at a time and then asking the child to point to that color. For example, after teaching blue, the trainer will ask the child to point to blue. If the child correctly identifies blue, the trainer will give a reward. If the child is incorrect, the trainer may repeat the question or give a prompt.
Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
PRT is a naturalistic, loosely structured intervention that relies on naturally occurring teaching opportunities and consequences. This method focuses on “pivotal” areas of the child’s development rather than just one specific behavior. The four pivotal areas that PRT focuses on are:
- Child self-initiation
- Responsiveness to multiple cues
This method takes place outside of a clinical or classroom setting, so everyone in the child’s life is encouraged to use PRT methods.
Teaching a child about colors using PRT might look like asking a child who is already playing with building blocks to choose a blue block. If the child correctly identifies the blue block, the trainer will give the child the block to continue building. In this case, the trainer can be anyone in the child’s life and not just a teacher.
Pros of ABA therapy for autism
The benefits of ABA therapy for autism are proven by science and real-world observation.
Improved social skills
ABA therapies systematically teach social skills that individuals with autism may have a harder time learning such as:
- Identifying social cues
- Appropriate play
- Following directions
- Eye contact
- Identifying emotions
When children learn these social skills, they have more opportunities to make friends and play.
Promotes better parenting
Parents and caregivers are empowered to actively engage in their child’s ABA therapy. Parents who are involved in ABA therapy can have improved relationships with their children by building rapport during therapy and by the child’s improved social skills.
Surveys show that most parents feel positive about the effect of ABA therapy on their children and on their lives.
Improved ability to gain and generalize skills
Generalization is the ability to use a new skill in a different situation and with different people. A skill is considered generalized when it can be completed even when the conditions change.
The flexibility of ABA therapy can help individuals with autism to generalize skills more effectively.
Enhanced independent living skills
The systematic approach to teaching works well for learning self-care skills like:
- Brushing hair
- Brushing teeth
- Getting dressed
- Using the toilet
- Sleeping through the night
Increased life satisfaction
The skills children learn with ABA therapy help them to become more independent adults with meaningful relationships, leading to greater life satisfaction.
Flexible therapy location
ABA therapy can take place in a home-based setting or a center-based setting. Using multiple locations can help with generalization and be more convenient for the family.
ABA is proven to work
ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the American Psychological Association. Evidence-based means using research-based treatments tailored by an experienced therapist to meet individual needs.
Receiving ABA therapy
Who provides ABA therapy?
ABA therapy is provided by a number of professionals, including caregivers, therapists, and registered behavior technicians (RBT), as well as a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) who trains and supervises other therapists. A BCBA will meet the following requirements:
- Master’s or Ph.D. in psychology or behavior analysis
- National certification exam
- State license (some states)
Where is ABA therapy provided?
Depending on the needs of the individual child, ABA therapy can be provided in many different settings, including:
ABA therapy is an effective treatment for individuals with autism. ABA can help children with autism to live more fulfilling and independent lives.
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.