What is ABA Therapy Used For?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with other pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors area observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to as at [email protected]

Who needs ABA therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What Does ABA Therapy Look Like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA).  In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior.  The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child.  The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved.  The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA.  The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures.  Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training.  Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process.  The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it.   If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

Using Graphic Organizers to Help Individuals Living with ASD in Classrooms and Other Settings

A graphic organizer is a visual support that provides visual representation of facts and concepts within the organized framework. Graphic organizers arrange key terms to show their relationship to one another, providing abstract of implicit information in a concrete, visual manner. They are particularly useful with content area material that occurs in K – 12 curricula. Graphic organizers are effective for a variety of reasons: they can be used before, during, or after students read a selection wither as an answer organizer of a measure of concept attainment. Graphic organizers also allow processing times for students as they can reflect on the written material at his or her own pace.

Additionally, abstract information is presented in a visual, concrete manner that is often more easily understood than a verbal presentation of the material alone.  One type of graphic organizer is a “thematic map.”  The focal point of the thematic map is the key word or concept enclosed in a geometric figure such as a circle or a square and if necessary, in a pictorial representation of the word or concepts. Lines and arrows connect this shape to the other shapes and words or information related to the central concepts are written on the connecting lines or in other shapes. As the map expands, the words become more specific and detailed.

The student may neither understand the concept of main idea, and/or not understand when the teacher is giving cues to students for salient information. For example, when the teacher repeats an item or changes voice tone, the information is important and typical students naturally pick this up. As with other areas, some students in the ASD spectrum do not pick up on these cues naturally and therefore need guidance. The teacher can assist the students by providing the following: (1) a complete outline that contains the main points in the lecture, (2) allowing students to follow the lecture, (3) while freeing them from any note-taking, (4) or the teacher may provide a skeletal outline that contains only the main point. Students may use this format to fill in pertinent details delivered through the direct verbal cues.  Verbal cues such as “this is the first main point” or “be sure to include…” assist the students in identifying which points are important. Subtle verbal cues also provide cues regarding importance such as “during the 1900’s…” “did you include that in your outline?” Or “make sure to remember the names.” The note-taking level of students on the spectrum then must be considered when selecting the appropriate type of assistance to be provided to the student.

How is ABA Therapy Effective?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically backed, highly individualized treatment method which can be effective in many ways. The ways in which ABA can be effective depend on several factors including but not limited to the individual needs of the learner, frequency of treatment, specific interventions, and the environment in which services are implemented. While it can be said that one of the ultimate goals of ABA is to help individuals achieve their goals and improve the lives of individuals and their families, there are specific ways in which ABA therapy can be effective.

One of the ways in which ABA therapy is effective is through the identification and treatment of challenging behaviors. Effective ABA programs will identify challenging and undesirable behaviors at the onset of services. The function, or purpose of the challenging behavior(s) will be identified and a comprehensive behavior intervention plan will be established. An effective behavior intervention plan should include researched backed principles to reduce the unwanted behavior and should also include replacement behaviors. Replacement behaviors are behaviors that achieve the same result as the challenging behavior but are considered to be socially appropriate, easy to engage in, and generally speaking, more desirable than the challenging behavior. For example, if it is determined that a learner engages in aggressive behaviors to escape a difficult task, replacement behaviors which will be taught may include requesting a break, or asking for help. Hence, one of the ways in which ABA therapy is effective is through the assessment and treatment of undesirable behaviors.

Another way in which ABA therapy is effective is through the identification and targeting of skill development goals. ABA therapy will typically address skill deficits across several domains. These domains will vary and depend on the individual needs of the learner. For example, skill development goals may be targeted to address deficits in communication, self-help skills, motor skills, social skills, or play skills. Again, the specific skill development goals that are chosen by the family and ABA team will vary based on the current clinical needs of the learner. Ultimately, the goal of skill development programs is to improve the learner’s quality of life and promote more independence.

It is important to note that ABA therapy does not start and end with the learner. High quality ABA programs will involve family members, caregivers, and other stakeholders in the child’s environment. One of the goals of ABA programs is to transfer knowledge of the techniques and strategies that are used in the program to other individuals in the child’s life. This is usually achieved through parent and caregiver training sessions. In these training sessions, a Behavior Analyst or qualified Supervisor will instruct the parent or caregiver on various techniques that are shown to be effective in the ABA program. This is usually accomplished through verbal instruction, role play, modeling, and demonstrations of the techniques by the parent/caregiver while feedback is provided. Hence, the transfer of knowledge from the ABA provider to caregivers in the child’s life is another way in which ABA therapy is effective.

We hope this post has provided some information on ways in which ABA therapy is effective. Remember – ABA therapy is a scientific, dynamic, and highly individualized approach that can improve a person’s quality of life in many ways!

Using Assignment Notebooks to Help Individuals with Autism in Classrooms and Other Settings

An effective organizational strategy for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, especially those who are older and possess the prerequisite reading, writing, and organizational skills is an assignment notebook. All academic tasks and their due dates are listed in the notebook and the student will take it to school and home every school day. The most effective support would include a sample of how each assignment should look. Ideally, it should also contain examples of completed items (math equations, definitions, filled out problems, etc.) as these would function as visual examples of the correctly completed assignment. Although, simplified assignment books are certainly acceptable and can be effective depending on the particular student. The classroom teacher would need to check the notebook at school to make certain all information and expectations are included. At home, the parents or caregivers monitor the notebook to make sure the student has successfully completed all necessary assignments or activities to the level expected of them. A signature section for each day can provide an additional layer of thoroughness. This can include a signature section for the parent who monitors the assignment book and/or the student who completes the assignments. Essentially, these assignment books function as a visual checklist to help students stay organized and on-task. These are pretty standard in schools, yet it is imperative they are used to help students with ASD succeed.

As with most strategies for students on the spectrum, the specific skills required to effectively use an assignment book will need to be taught or should already be in the student’s repertoire. In addition, motivation needs to be taken into consideration. The teacher or support staff may need to provide additional reinforcement when the naturally occurring contingencies (i.e., assignment completion) are not sufficient. For example, if a student completes all daily assignments within a specified time frame, let’s say, homework that was assigned Monday through Thursday, then on Friday, they may receive access to a special activity or item. Another way to help students “buy-in” to the idea of assignment books is to individualize assignment books so that they include items, characters, colors, or designs that are preferable to the student. Students can customize their assignment books to increase the book’s value and help boost motivation.

We hope that you find the use of assignment books as a helpful organizational tool to promote homework and academic task completion!

How is Applied Behavior Analysis Different From Psychology?

The answer to this question is that while many people have historically viewed behavior analysis as a branch of psychology, the two disciplines take fundamentally different and antithetical perspectives to account for variability in human behavior.

In general, Behavior Analysis does not concern itself with mental states or inner thoughts when it comes to describing why we behave the way we do. Rather than focusing on “the mind,” behavior analysts look at behaviors, or in other words, what we do, as a consequence of things that happened previously. Simply put, we will repeat things when the consequences are pleasant and we will stop doing things when the consequences are unpleasant. Behavior analysis, as it suggests, focuses on treating behavioral problems from a purely behavioral perspective/lens. Functional analysis, gathering of data to establish trends, and then a subsequent intervention program or plan that utilizes various forms of operant learning are then applied.

Psychology focuses on the mind. Psychology as a discipline largely hypothesizes internal explanations (personality traits, mediating forces and other structures in the brain, etc.) explain differences in human behavior. Psychology looks to explain behavioral variability by appealing to internal causes that are typically seen as inside the mind (e.g., mood states, personality traits, hypothesized structures such as ego and/or drive states)

In short, the difference can be stated as follows: In the ENVIRONMENT (Behavior Analysis) versus inside the MIND (Psychology).

Can Autism Spectrum Disorders Get Worse?

A better way to rephrase this is “can the symptoms that define an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis get worse?” Rephrasing the question this way makes us focus more on the specific difficulties that we can develop sound treatment for. Can ASD get worse? The answer is yes, but it also can get better.

For families that are just now starting their ABA-based services at home and/or in a school setting, it is crucial to identify what these symptoms or difficulties are exactly. Upon identifying, assessing, planning and implementing proper treatment programs, these symptoms can be either directly or indirectly addressed by the ABA services. With proper guidance of a BCBA, a sound comprehensive treatment plan may facilitate gains over a targeted amount of time.

That is not to say that once goals are met, “autism is cured.” No. What it means is that the ABA services that addressed the initial or more recent difficulties have been effective as the goals for that period of services have been met. How long that period of services is varies from one child to another. Some children may just need six to 12 months of ABA-based services while some children may need the services for a more extended period of time. Be the services for a short or an extended period of time, a crucial aspect of the services is to guarantee that parents/caregivers are given proper training in order for the family to maintain and continue to generalize their child’s learned skills from the services in the absence of the ABA team. Equally important are the parents’/caregiver’s ability to generalize their own skills when presented with similar situations that their child may face in the near future and again, in the absence of an ABA team.

As with any symptom, left untreated it will get worse. It is important then for families who have not yet received any prior ABA-based services to seek the services in order to get difficulties under some control. Families that previously received ABA-based services who find themselves unable to effectively address their now older child to seek once again ABA services in order for them to address their child’s more current needs.

Using Time Warnings To Help Students With Autism

Now is the time? Kid and clock: preschool child preparing for the school

Giving students warnings about time remaining in an activity can provide a helpful frame of reference. Time limit warnings should be paired with an auditory or visual cue, such as a bell or card. Towards the end of the work activity, the teacher should verbalize, ‘five minutes left, ‘two minutes left’. For students requiring additional support, the verbal que can be paired with the gestural pointing to the timer and manually signing ‘finished’ using sign language. When preparing students for the end of an activity that has a natural ending point, such as a game or a timed-test, the teacher should alert students that a transition is approaching by making such a statement as, ‘only a few more cards and the game is over’. Finally, time warnings or making transitional cards as part of the student’s routine can also help students with autism develop the capacity to be flexible for change. Additionally, teaching students to put away materials in the completion of an activity can function as a natural queue that one activity is ending, and that another is beginning. For example, the teacher can say, ‘once you finish that problem, you can begin to get ready for recess. All of these simple, yet very effective support strategies are easy to use, and help both students and teachers during everyday classroom activities.

Who Can Provide ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is typically provided by Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), and paraprofessionals.

A BCBA is a person who has met the educational and professional training requirements established by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. A BCBA will typically hold a Master’s degree in Psychology, Child Development, or a related field. Some BCBAs may also hold a doctoral degree in one of these fields and are referred to as BCBA-Ds (doctorate level BCBAs). The primary duties of BCBAs include: conducting clinical assessments, establishing skill based and behavior goals, updating and modifying treatment goals, conducting parent and caregiver trainings, supervising Registered Behavior Technicians and BCaBAs, ensuring the ABA program is implemented correctly and effectively, and writing progress reports required by funding sources.

A BCaBA (assistant Behavior Analyst) works under the supervision and direction of a BCBA and has similar duties as a BCBA. A BCaBA is also certified by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board and has met the necessary training and education requirements. A BCaBA will typically hold Bachelor’s degree in the field of Psychology, Child Development, or related field.

As stated by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, an RBT is a person who practices under the close, ongoing supervision of a BCBA, BCaBA, or BCBA-D. The Registered Behavior Technician is primarily responsible for the direct implementation of ABA services. This is the person who is typically working 1:1 with an individual in designated treatment settings (home, school, clinic, etc.) RBTs must be over 18 years old, possess at least a high school diploma, go through a designated training program, and pass other eligibility requirements. RBTs do not conduct assessments or create treatment programs, however they implement the treatment program designed by a Behavior Analyst and collect data on progress.

Other professionals such as Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Clinical Social Workers may also provide ABA therapy in some instances. However, the majority of ABA services are provided by Behavior Analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians. Other paraprofessionals, including individuals pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in Psychology and related fields and/or pursuing certification by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, may also provide ABA therapy under the Supervision of Behavior Analysts.