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Autism Feeding Issues

Meal times and feeding can be a hurdle in the life of a family with a child who has autism. There can be difficulties with eating due to different textures, smells, sounds, food allergies, aversions, or a lack of interest. However, there are many strategies to help children with autism overcome the hurdle and have an enjoyable meal experience.

Autism Feeding Issues

Autism and Food Sensitivity

Children with autism have an increased likelihood of possessing food sensitivities. Both food allergies and food intolerances are common in children with autism. These children are twice as likely to have some type of food sensitivity. These food sensitivities are common due to immune issues as well as differences in their digestive tracts, especially in regard to carbohydrates.

Children with autism can have food allergies. These are similar to the rest of their peers in that food causes a reaction within the body and can be life-threatening.

Food sensitivities can cause

  • gastrointestinal pain,
  • nausea,
  • gut issues, or
  • hives.

However, not all children with autism can vocalize this discomfort and it may lead to behavioral outbursts. They may become more upset or stressed during meal times, have meltdowns, or attempt to avoid food altogether.

Additionally, children with autism may experience food intolerances. This is not the same as allergies as there is no life-threatening aspect. However, it can still cause the same or similar behavior outburst. Two common food intolerances in children with autism are gluten and casein (a dairy protein).

Food intolerances can cause

  • stomach pain,
  • diarrhea or
  • constipation.

It can be helpful to take a child with autism to an allergy specialist and one that specializes in working with autism. They will be able to determine any food allergies or food intolerances to avoid during meal times. This can make the whole process go smoothly and rule out one possibility of a child avoiding food.

Autism Feeding Issues

What to do if your child with autism won’t eat?

The first step in determining a plan towards diet expansion for your child with autism who won’t eat is to see which problem category they fall into.

Feeding problems or “picky eating”– Some children with autism only eat less than 20 foods and do not include all the food groups. Once they eliminate a food or a group, they will not eat from it again. Determining if your child falls into this category as early as possible is necessary to help them get feeding intervention from a feeding specialist or occupational therapist.

Medical – Sometimes eating can cause a child with autism discomfort or pain. Some possible issues can be reflux, constipation, GI issues, or respiratory involvement. Finding a pediatrician that specializes in working with children with autism is vital in order to get the issues resolved or managed.

Oral motor – Eating involves the coordination of the lips, tongue, jaw, and facial muscles before swallowing. Oftentimes, this process is learned young. However, children with autism can have a breakdown in this learning process due to structural abnormalities. Getting help from a speech-language pathologist can help in strengthening and using these muscles to aid in eating.

How do you teach a child with autism to feed themselves?

Before a child with autism can feed themselves, it is important to establish a routine with the child so they become more comfortable. Try to eat at the same place and same time every day that way it establishes a sense of routine for the child. They know when the family sits down at the table, it is their indicator that eating a meal will be involved as well as the expectations during that time.

  • Begin with the basics. Start off with the child eating foods they already know and love to help them ease into the situation
  • Remove stressors or other sensory aversions before starting meal time. Sometimes smells or unusual sounds can be deterrents to a child with autism at meal time.
  • Support a child’s posture while eating. Oftentimes children with autism have poor trunk and core stability so they may lean or wiggle in their seats. Putting cushions, towels, or a stool can help children sit more comfortably at the table or eating space.
  • Get foods out of the packaging. Sometimes children only think they like a specific brand of food. Taking food out of packages eliminates the questioning if it came from a certain brand. Putting food into clear containers as soon as they are brought home and helping to introduce new brands of similar foods.
  • Avoid focusing on food and your child’s behavior. If during meal time, the family is talking and eating there is less pressure on the child to eat and they can go at their own pace without worrying about being watched or eating quickly.

Leafwing Center can work with you to design a plan for autism feeding issues that you may be facing with your child. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels. ABA therapists are trained to address the behavior. If you are concerned about the health and wellness of your child then you need to contact your physician.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism Feeding Issues

Meal times and feeding can be a hurdle in the life of a family with a child who has autism. There can be difficulties with eating due to different textures, smells, sounds, food allergies, aversions, or a lack of interest. However, there are many strategies to help children with autism overcome the hurdle and have an enjoyable meal experience.

Autism Feeding Issues

Autism and Food Sensitivity

Children with autism have an increased likelihood of possessing food sensitivities. Both food allergies and food intolerances are common in children with autism. These children are twice as likely to have some type of food sensitivity. These food sensitivities are common due to immune issues as well as differences in their digestive tracts, especially in regard to carbohydrates.

Children with autism can have food allergies. These are similar to the rest of their peers in that food causes a reaction within the body and can be life-threatening.

Food sensitivities can cause

  • gastrointestinal pain,
  • nausea,
  • gut issues, or
  • hives.

However, not all children with autism can vocalize this discomfort and it may lead to behavioral outbursts. They may become more upset or stressed during meal times, have meltdowns, or attempt to avoid food altogether.

Additionally, children with autism may experience food intolerances. This is not the same as allergies as there is no life-threatening aspect. However, it can still cause the same or similar behavior outburst. Two common food intolerances in children with autism are gluten and casein (a dairy protein).

Food intolerances can cause

  • stomach pain,
  • diarrhea or
  • constipation.

It can be helpful to take a child with autism to an allergy specialist and one that specializes in working with autism. They will be able to determine any food allergies or food intolerances to avoid during meal times. This can make the whole process go smoothly and rule out one possibility of a child avoiding food.

Autism Feeding Issues

What to do if your child with autism won’t eat?

The first step in determining a plan towards diet expansion for your child with autism who won’t eat is to see which problem category they fall into.

Feeding problems or “picky eating”– Some children with autism only eat less than 20 foods and do not include all the food groups. Once they eliminate a food or a group, they will not eat from it again. Determining if your child falls into this category as early as possible is necessary to help them get feeding intervention from a feeding specialist or occupational therapist.

Medical – Sometimes eating can cause a child with autism discomfort or pain. Some possible issues can be reflux, constipation, GI issues, or respiratory involvement. Finding a pediatrician that specializes in working with children with autism is vital in order to get the issues resolved or managed.

Oral motor – Eating involves the coordination of the lips, tongue, jaw, and facial muscles before swallowing. Oftentimes, this process is learned young. However, children with autism can have a breakdown in this learning process due to structural abnormalities. Getting help from a speech-language pathologist can help in strengthening and using these muscles to aid in eating.

How do you teach a child with autism to feed themselves?

Before a child with autism can feed themselves, it is important to establish a routine with the child so they become more comfortable. Try to eat at the same place and same time every day that way it establishes a sense of routine for the child. They know when the family sits down at the table, it is their indicator that eating a meal will be involved as well as the expectations during that time.

  • Begin with the basics. Start off with the child eating foods they already know and love to help them ease into the situation
  • Remove stressors or other sensory aversions before starting meal time. Sometimes smells or unusual sounds can be deterrents to a child with autism at meal time.
  • Support a child’s posture while eating. Oftentimes children with autism have poor trunk and core stability so they may lean or wiggle in their seats. Putting cushions, towels, or a stool can help children sit more comfortably at the table or eating space.
  • Get foods out of the packaging. Sometimes children only think they like a specific brand of food. Taking food out of packages eliminates the questioning if it came from a certain brand. Putting food into clear containers as soon as they are brought home and helping to introduce new brands of similar foods.
  • Avoid focusing on food and your child’s behavior. If during meal time, the family is talking and eating there is less pressure on the child to eat and they can go at their own pace without worrying about being watched or eating quickly.

Leafwing Center can work with you to design a plan for autism feeding issues that you may be facing with your child. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels. ABA therapists are trained to address the behavior. If you are concerned about the health and wellness of your child then you need to contact your physician.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Strategies to use for the park with your child with autism

There are some simple strategies to use when going to the park with your child with autism. Going to the park can turn into a nightmare quickly if the child with autism starts to feel overwhelmed or surprised. Many parents don’t take the necessary steps to help minimize the meltdowns of children with autism and run into barriers when taking their children out into the community.

Strategies to Help You Go to the Park with Your Child with Autism

Challenges for children with autism at the park

The park is one place where children typically enjoy their freedom and thrive, which can be a nice relief for many parents. Although, for parents of children with autism, this can be a stressful situation for many reasons.

  • Children with autism may not have the social skills to play with other children and they may not interact in ways that are socially appropriate.
  • Some children might have the tendency to run or wander away (elope).
  • Other children may have difficulties with transitions and therefore, leaving the park is always a struggle for the parent of a child with autism, more so than that of a parent of a typically developing child.

Nevertheless, there are some strategies for parents of children with autism to practice to help relieve some of these stressors and make the park a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

How parents can prepare children with autism for the park

The key to going to the park is to plan and prepare ahead of time. Give lots of warnings to help minimize the meltdowns. Predictability allows the child to feel more secure. When they feel uncomfortable and out of control is when the meltdown is triggered.

Tips on how to prepare:

  • Let the child have a say. Ask them what they would like to try first at the park.
  • Share the schedule. Let them know what to expect. If transitions are difficult, let your child know from the time of arrival how much time he or she will have at the park. Have a visual countdown (e.g., boxes that are crossed off every 5 minutes) until it is time to leave. If your child prefers electronics and timers, start a timer on a phone or electronic device instead.
  • Stick to the schedule. Prepare to leave. Have an exit strategy. Provide reminders when time is almost up, so your child is not “surprised” when it is time to transition. When time is up, it helps to have something positive that your child can look forward to after the park (e.g., frozen yogurt, pick up brother, dinner, or treat in the car).
  • Start small. Try not to overload them by having them try everything at the park. Take one thing like the swings and show them how you use the swing.
  • Bring identification. If your child tends to wander or run away you might want to consider having identification. You might tell yourself that you will be close by, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Facilitate the play. Consider sparking interest in your child for other people, activities, toys, and conversations by pointing these out in his or her environment: “Wow, those kids are going down the slide really fast, that looks fun!” or “That boy has a really cool race car, maybe you can ask to see it?” These are minimally intrusive ways to promote engagement with surrounding people, objects, and activities.
  • Prepare a To-Go bag with calming tools.
    • Sunglasses
    • A wide-brimmed hat
    • Fidget toys
    • Stuffed toy
    • Chewing gum
    • Weighted blanket
    • Bottled water and healthy snacks

With repeated exposure and positive interactions with people and activities at the park, your child’s positive engagement at the park may be reinforced over time. In other words, it may get stronger, and more frequent, and trips to the park can turn into something he looks forward to.

Strategies to Help You Go to the Park with Your Child with Autism

How ABA therapy can help with your park experience

Kids learn through play. ABA therapy can build the skills children need to play by incorporating naturalistic teaching. We want them to experience a park setting in a safe environment and how to use the equipment at their own pace.

ABA therapy can help with:

  • Taking turns
  • Use equipment appropriately
  • Following directions

We hope that these strategies may help relieve some of the stress associated with going to parks and both you and your child can enjoy and have fun!
Don’t stress yourself out if your child does not enjoy being at the park. It is fine. It may not be a good fit. Don’t push the issue. Find something else that your child feels comfortable participating in that offers sensory-friendly activities like museums, theme parks, or movie theaters. Just make sure they are having fun during their playtime.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Strategies for autism in the classroom

Each student with autism is unique therefore each student will have unique needs in the classroom. However, there are many strategies and basic principles of effective instruction that can be implemented for students with autism within the classroom. Many of these strategies provide structure and teach a variety of skills across content areas of the natural and traditional classroom setting. These include:

  • Strategies for Success
  • Ways autism impacts learning
  • Strategies for autism classroom set-up
  • Sensory activities for autism in the classroom

Strategies for autism in the classroom

Autism in the classroom: strategies for success

  • Assignment Notebooks
  • A Routine
  • Classroom Environment
  • Communication

Students with autism can thrive in the classroom with a few strategies for success. One of the ways is with an assignment notebook. An assignment notebook is an easy way to have a visual for students to be able to know and understand what is expected of them and what is coming up next in class.

Another strategy is through a routine. A routine makes a great strategy for success for autism in the classroom. Routines are necessary for all students but particularly those with autism. A routine allows for consistency and for a student to know what is coming next. Change is bound to happen at school once in a while with substitute teachers, fire drills, etc. Change can be difficult and a barrier in the classroom for students with autism so keeping things the same most of the time will lead to success in the classroom setting.

The classroom environment itself is also a strategy for success for students with autism. Structure and predictability facilitate the student’s understanding of the environment, which can help decrease worry or agitation the student might have. This is really important for students with autism who tend to react negatively or really have a difficult time with changes and unsent uncertainty in their environment. These types of students are often overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. Therefore, an overload of sensory at once can be very stressful and cause a negative reaction within the classroom. By limiting loud noises, certain light frequencies, textures, and control of temperature, the classroom can become a great place for a student with autism to learn and be successful.

The last key to strategies for success for autism in the classroom is communication. As with routines, clear communication is important to all students but a significant necessity for students with autism. Keeping directions clear and simple prevents any confusion from occurring and allows students with autism to process instructions easily. Students with autism oftentimes do not understand common phrases or figurative language so communicating in a direct manner with short tasks allows for the student to process and complete the task in a timely manner.

Classroom setup for students with autism

Ways Autism impacts Learning in the classroom

One of the main strategies for a classroom setup for students with autism is to label materials and spaces. Setting up the classroom a certain way can increase a student with autism’s ability to be successful in the classroom setting. We can help students understand expectations, and in general, make sense of their entire environment. Researchers have defined environmental support as “aspects of the environment, other than interactions with people, which affect the learning that takes place”.

Predictability and sameness are significant factors throughout students’ daily lives. One way to address these elements in the classroom is with “Environmental Supports”.

Examples of environmental support

  • Labels
  • Boundary settings
  • Visual schedules
  • Behavioral-based education tools
  • Activity completion signals
  • Choice boards

Students with autism can get overwhelmed easily or become overstimulated. Have a designated calm down area. When the instances occur, it is easier on everyone if there is a designated area for the student to go to aid in their self-regulation. The space should be quiet and include items they may use to help calm down and re-focus themselves.

All of these environmental support strategies are a simple yet effective way to help a student respond appropriately in their day-to-day activities throughout their school day. Environmental support can be effectively utilized across all environments and all settings to help support individuals with ASD. Additionally, environmental support has been shown to increase student independence, and help stimulate language.

Sensory activity strategies

Sensory activities strategies for students with autism to help with focusing in the classroom

Sensory activity strategies for students with autism can help to minimize the feeling of being overstimulated. However, there are activities within the classroom setting that can help students still experience sensory and learn while doing so. Targeted sensory activities can aid a student with autism in the classroom to stay grounded and focused as well as fulfill their need for movement.

Some sensory activities can include:

  • Stamping on Paper
  • Slime Play
  • Fidget Toys
  • Using shaving cream for letters or math
  • Rhythm instruments
  • Finger painting
  • Playdough

Students with autism may struggle with these types of play. The goal is to figure out the unique needs of each unique student with autism. Some types of sensory experiences are calming and successful for one student, but may be extremely overstimulating for another. However, once the best sensory play is found for a student it can really open the door and decrease some of the challenges to learning. Sensory activities can improve social skills, hand-eye coordination, as well as fine motor skills. It can also help to challenge a student’s brain that they typically do not use and be a key to being successful in the classroom setting.

Again, we want to emphasize that each student is unique and the strategies used need to reflect their unique needs.

Other Related Articles:

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

How is Applied Behavior Analysis Different From Psychology?

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

Applied Behavior Analysis vs. Psychology

The main difference of Applied Behavior Analysis to Psychology

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.

ABA therapy is used to help improve social and behavioral skills. The program consist of lessons that are broken down into their simplest forms like:

  • Forward Chaining
  • Modeling
  • Picture Exchange Communication System
  • Reinforcement Systems

ABA therapy is widely used for children who are on the spectrum to help them to develop some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair. These methods can easily be carried over to different settings like home, school, and social services.

ABA therapy differentiates from Psychology with whole family involvement

It is important to note that ABA therapy does not start and end with the learner. Highly effective 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.

The main difference of Psychology to Applied Behavior Analysis

The main difference of Psychology to Applied Behavior Analysis

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).

Psychology can be in an involuntary setting like juvenile justice in lieu of a punishment or assessment of treatment. A psychologist can be seen in learning settings like schools and other educational institutions. The treatment focuses on the person and their background. This type of treatment is research-based to improve the lives of children and families.

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

Applied Behavior Analysis and Psychology similarities

Even though Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) focuses on behavior and Psychology focuses on the mind of the individual, there are some similarities. They both have a firm commitment and a deep desire to help other people. They both need to have excellent listening abilities and strong communication skills. These two professions must be empathetic, friendly, and reliable because of their interactions with children as well as adults. Their end result is to identify problems and develop solutions.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Traveling with your child with autism

Traveling with your child with autism anytime soon? Does it involve a long car ride? It’s time to start planning how to keep your child busy and how to make the long drive as enjoyable as it can be. Some children with autism may do really well on car rides as it provides them with time to do enjoyable things such as looking out the window and watching the trees and other cars go by. Some may enjoy listening to the music in the car, or even sleeping throughout the trip! Other children may not do so well and parents may run into troubles such as crying, screaming, kicking seats, and even trying to get out of seat belts. Regardless of how easy or how difficult your car rides are, some of the below strategies may assist with making the ride a bit more enjoyable.

Traveling with your child with autism

Preparation before traveling with your child with autism

We all prepare in some fashion before taking a trip and it is no different when traveling with your child with autism. The unknown can be scary. Prepare your child for the trip.

What to discuss with your child with autism before the road trip

  1. Talk with your child about the purpose of the trip.
  2. Talk about where you are going. You might create social stories to present this information more clearly with visuals. Remember, any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest.
  3. How long it will take, and the stops along the way. Use schedules, maps, and even photo albums to help understand where you are going and whom you will see.
  4. Make it clear why you’re taking this trip together.

Keep it positive as something to look forward to. Prepare a snack bag as well as a toy bag ahead of time so you have food when your child is hungry and toys when your child is bored. Toys such as drawing boards, electronics (iPad or similar device) on which the child can play games or watch movies, travel games such as perfection, and books may work well to keep your child occupied.

What to bring on the trip

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Flushable wipes
  • Extra batteries and chargers
  • Changes of clothing in case of accidents
  • Plastic bags
  • Medicine for nausea or other physical ailments
  • Extra headphones

Traveling with your child with autism: Safety Tips

Before you leave your driveway remember to switch on the child lock so that the rear door cannot be opened from the inside. If your child is someone who tries to get out of the seat belt, then you may consider getting covers or locks for the buckles in the backseat. Also, make sure that the child’s car seat is installed correctly. You can also make the car seat more comfortable for the long car ride by adding more padding under the seat cover.

Traveling with your child with autism

Strategies to use throughout traveling with your child with autism

Remember to be realistic. Your child may need to take some regular breaks and be able to get out of the car to stretch or run around. Look for signs that your child may be anxious, such as body language, and take pit stops as needed. Take extra time if needed and break the trip up if possible. Plan to spend the night in a hotel, or take the scenic route and turn it into a mini-vacation where your family can enjoy a few sights along the way.

Planning out the mileage of the trip and dividing that mileage up into small chunks can be very helpful. If you are driving 300 miles, break this up into 10 chunks of 30 miles (or even 20 chunks of 5 miles, depending on how often your child may need positive reinforcement for good behavior). Every 30 miles that your child behaves well (define this for your child such as sitting nicely, no screaming, and no kicking) he or she is allowed to pull a prize out of a prize bag that you have prepared ahead of time with treats, small toys, and special items that your child will enjoy. Children with autism often dislike uncertainty and that uncertainty often creates overwhelm and behavior problems. To avoid this, draw out squares on a piece of paper so he knows how many squares are left until you arrive at your destination. Possibly make the halfway point a very large prize, if he or she earns it.

Trying to rush travel can lead to more stress and increases the chances for something to go wrong or for you to forget something. Take some deep breaths, relax, and listen to some soft music to help you unwind, especially if you get caught in a traffic jam. The theme is to plan ahead so you and your family can be prepared for the long trek ahead.

Have fun and Bon Voyage!

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Grocery shopping with your child with autism

Grocery shopping with your child with autism can be quite stressful for parents. A grocery store is a place that can be a sensory overload for your child who is autistic; the bright lights pulsating overhead, low-grade music, people, kids, and carts milling around, water sprayers misting the vegetables, and the coupon dispensers with their blinking red lights waving coupons at eye level just to name a few. Your approach to the shopping experience can make a world of difference for you and your child with autism. It will require some preparation from you to enhance the shopping experience for your child who is autistic. Some simple Grocery Shopping Preparation tips will help to relieve the stress that comes with shopping with your child with autism. However, depending on how you choose to look at it, this routine life skill can also be a wonderful learning experience if parents take the time to follow a few simple strategies.

Grocery shopping with your child with autism

Preparation before your grocery shopping with your child with autism

Before the shopping experience begins, it may be beneficial to state what is expected from your child. Provide clear rules and expectations for the shopping trip.

Suggestions for teaching three crucial parts of a grocery store visit:

  1. Safe walking to and from the car;
  2. Quiet in the car;
  3. Appropriate conduct in the store.

If this is your child’s first time to the grocery store and they are prone to meltdowns, then start small. Allow your child with autism to bring a small toy for comfort. Set a time of how long it will take.

Make a list of items in the order that you walk through the store, either drawn-out, printed out, or cut out from advertisements that your child can keep track of during the shopping trip. Keep in mind that it is hard to backtrack through the grocery store if you have forgotten an item with a child who is autistic. These can be items they prefer and would be interested in tracking and finding. Ask your child to cross out the items or put the picture in an envelope when you both find the item, signifying one step closer to being done with the shopping experience. Another option would be give your child a shortened list without all the items you need to get on it. A simple trick is to save the last item on your list to correlate to your child’s last item on their list so that they can directly relate that the grocery shopping trip is done when they cross out the last item on the list.

More and more grocery stores are trying out what is called ‘Quiet Hour’ which is a more autism-friendly atmosphere for individuals who need fewer distractions and sensory overload. Check out in your area if there are any participating.

Dad and son at the grocery store

Techniques to use while grocery shopping with your child with autism

Get your child involved in the shopping experience by allowing them to push the cart, select and put the items in the cart, place contents on the conveyor belt, and stay near the cashier until the groceries are bagged. Make the shopping experience fun.

Furthermore, use the experience to teach language skills. Grab a green and a red apple and ask your child to identify which one is red. Grab a big and a small can of tomatoes and ask your child to identify which one is bigger. Ask your child to label items that you grab from the shelves, especially preferable items. Based on how advanced your child’s speech is, tailor what you ask of them to their level.

Don’t forget, it is important to provide continuous positive feedback for when your child is participating in the shopping experience. Try not to draw attention to behavior that is not appropriate at the grocery store. This can be accomplished by providing a reward at the end of the shopping experience. When your child with autism masters the basic skills of shopping, reward them by having one of their favorite food items on the list and allowing them to pick it up. For example, if your child loves Hershey candy bars, then put them as the last item on the list and keep reminding them that good behavior then will allow them to have their favorite item. Keeping their “eyes on the prize” encourages them to stay motivated, attentive, and happy.

Have a backup enjoyable activity that your child can engage in while you are completing the remaining part of the shopping trip that is not on their list. A small coloring book, games on your phone, a squishy toy, or some music through headphones may work to keep them engaged.
Lastly, if your child has difficulties walking through an entire shopping experience, allow your child to catch a ride on the shopping cart only if they have walked and helped for a certain amount of time, or when all of their grocery lists are completed. If you base it on time, be sure to have a visual chart (e.g., have 5 boxes, each representing 2 minutes) or timer for them to know how much time they have left of walking.

Assess the grocery shopping with your child with autism experience

Remember to take your child often to the grocery store. Taking them to the grocery store once or twice each week is now part of their routine and something they expect and even look forward to.

Don’t be discouraged based on one trip to the grocery store with your child on the spectrum. Not all trips to the grocery store end in triumph and when things don’t go so well, tell yourself that success emerges from routine and persistence. Trying again (and again and again) is an important part of the learning process for your child with autism. It is important to learn life skills that they will need to know how to do later in life.

We all have good days and bad days and that holds true to our children. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you see your child starts to take simple steps toward a positive grocery shopping experience as long as you don’t put limits on your time and expectations of your child with autism.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism communication strategies

Autism communication strategies are techniques that help your autistic child develop their language and communication skills. Language impairment in communication is one of the main diagnostic criteria for a child with autism, specifically a delay in or total lack of spoken language. Many children may have difficulties not only expressing themselves but also understanding what other people say. Adults may think that the child is just ignoring them but in reality, the child may not understand what the adult is saying. Imagine going to a foreign country with people speaking a language that you do not understand and having no means of figuring out what the people are saying. If someone says, “Hey you, come here” in their language, would you respond? If you don’t understand what they are saying you probably would not respond. This is how your child might be feeling.

Let Leafwing professionals educate you and your child to develop the language skills that will help guide your child to reach their full potential.

Autism communication strategies

Interventions to improve communication with autistic children

A Speech Therapist or Pathologist is the lead professional in the assessment of an individual’s understanding and use of language and can provide information about you or your child’s level of language development. They can also provide support planning for intervention, and advise of which strategies can be the best use to support the development of communicative skills.

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that can improve social, communication, and learning skills through reinforcement strategies. Many experts consider ABA to be the gold-standard treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental conditions.

ABA therapy programs are effective in treating children with autism because they create very structured environments where conditions are optimized for learning. Over time, these very structured environments are systematically changed so that the environment mimics what a child could expect if and when they are placed in the classroom.

Autism communication strategies: Visual supports

Visual supports are concrete cues that help communicate and build language skills. This can incorporate the use of symbols, photos, written words, and objects to help children with autism to learn and understand language, process information, and communicate.
We take for granted the different ways we communicate daily which include:

    • Language: The way we represent information – what words mean and how we put them together.
      • Receptive – refers to how your child understands language.
      • Expressive – refers to how your child uses words to express himself/herself.
    • Speech: A verbal means of communicating – using sounds to make words.
    • Non-verbal methods: gesture, facial, expression, eye contact, etc.
    • Pragmatics: The way in which individuals use language in social situations. It includes following the ‘unspoken’ rules of conversations, for example, taking turns.

Many children on the autism spectrum respond well to visual information. Visual information can be processed and referred to over time, whereas spoken communication is instant and disappears quickly.

Visuals can involve communication books or boards that use images and/or words on cards to help the individual learn the word and its meaning. The child can point to the image when they want to communicate. For example, if the child is thirsty, they can point to an image of a glass of water. As the child learns more symbols and words, they can use them to create sentences and to answer questions. Others can also use the images to communicate with the child. This is known as the Picture Exchange Communication System and can be used in the development of intentional and functional communication.

Another autism communication support tool is known as a visual or picture schedule. This helps individuals learn the steps of a routine, like getting ready for bed. A series of pictures show the steps in order and over time they learn each step.

Furthermore, visual schedules can be used to show a person on the spectrum what is happening next or show when there is a change in routine. As people on the spectrum generally don’t like change, this can help them prepare for a change and cope with it more easily. This enables the language surrounding change to be more easily understood and allows individuals to refer back to schedules throughout the task and throughout their day.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
Autism communication strategies: Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), helps individuals who cannot talk or are very hard to understand. AAC means all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking. People of all ages can use AAC if they have trouble with speech or language skills. This provides another way to help them communicate other than verbally. AAC includes:

  • Sign language
  • Gestures
  • Pictures, photos, objects, or videos
  • Written words
  • Computers, tablets, or other electronic devices

AAC can help children with autism and can even assist with developing spoken communication. A lot of people wonder if using AAC will stop someone from talking or will slow down language development. This is not true—research shows that AAC can actually help with these concerns! People who use AAC can also learn how to read and write.

Speech generation devices either play pre-recorded words via a switch or button or sound out text that is typed into them. Using the previous example, a child who is hungry can press the ‘food’ picture button and the device will say, ‘I want to eat.’
While these tools can be used to replace speech, they can also be used to help a child develop speech. They do this by helping the child to recognize sound patterns and can be used with visual aids to build language skills.

These systems can also help children learn words as they begin to associate the sound and picture with each other. They also help by slowing down communication, giving the child more time to process the information and avoid becoming overloaded.

Autism communication strategies: Guidelines for nonverbal autistic children

No matter where your child falls on the spectrum for autism, they have the ability to communicate in some manner. Here are some simple guidelines to consider when trying to help your child to communicate with you as well as with others.

  • Encourage play and social interaction. All children learn through play, and that includes learning the language. Interactive play provides a delightful chance for you and your child to communicate. Play games that your child enjoys. Incorporate playful activities that promote social interaction. For example singing, reciting nursery rhymes, and gentle roughhousing. During your interactions, crouch down close to your child so your voice and face are closer to them, increasing the chance of them looking at you.
  • Imitate each other. Copying your child’s sounds and play behaviors will encourage more vocalizing and interaction. It also encourages your child to copy you and take turns. Make sure you imitate how your child is playing – so long as it’s a positive behavior. For example, when your child rolls a car across the floor, then you too roll a car across the floor. If they crash the car, you crash your car too. Be sure not to imitate inappropriate behavior like throwing the car!
  • Focus on nonverbal communication. Gestures and eye contact can build a foundation for language. Encourage your child by modeling and responding to these behaviors. Exaggerate your gestures. Use both your body and your voice when communicating – for example, by extending your hand to point when you say “look” and nodding your head when you say “yes.” Use gestures that are easy for your child to copy. Examples include clapping, opening hands, reaching out arms, etc. Respond to your child’s gestures: When they look at or point to a toy, hand it to them or take the cue for you to play with it. Similarly, point to a toy you want before picking it up.
  • Give time for your child to talk. It’s natural for us to want to fill in the missing words when a child doesn’t quickly respond. It is important to give your child lots of opportunities to communicate, even if they are not talking. When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for several seconds while looking at them enthusiastically. Watch for any sound or body movement and respond promptly. The promptness of your response helps your child feel the power of communication.
  • Simplify your language. Be literal and obvious in your choice of language. Say exactly what you mean. Speak in short phrases, such as “roll ball” or “throw ball.” You can increase the number of words in a phrase one your child’s vocabulary increases.
  • Follow your child’s interests. Rather than interrupting your child’s focus, follow along with words. Use simple words about what your child is doing. By talking about what engages your child, you’ll help them learn the associated vocabulary.
  • Consider assistive devices and visual supports. Assistive technologies and visual supports can do more than take the place of speech. They can foster its development. Examples include devices and apps with pictures that your child touches to produce words. On a simpler level, visual supports can include pictures and groups of pictures that your child can use to indicate requests and thoughts.

Remember, the more concise and simpler the instruction, the more successful the child will be. It is important to note that the simplicity or complexity of language used should be based on the child’s language repertoire at that particular time. Over time, and with success, simple and concise instructions will be elaborated and more language will be part of their communication.

Autism puzzle
Autism communication strategies: how ABA therapy can help

ABA therapy is effective 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.

As behavior analysts, it is our responsibility to only administer ABA-based treatment programs that have been proven to be effective given a specific difficulty. This is called evidence based practices. The specifics of a treatment program will vary from one person to another, but the foundations of treatment programs are the same. A foundation derived from sound, empirically proven methods repeatedly implemented in the applied setting over time.

Listen to:

The Advantages of Applied Behavior Analysis (Podcast Episode)

 

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism and Communication Difficulties

Autism and communication difficulties go hand in hand. A failure to develop language is one of the earliest signs of autism. The ability to identify the distinct signature of this deficit in very young children has become increasingly important, given that the presence of speech before five years of age is the strongest predictor for better outcomes in autism.

ABA therapy programs are effective in treating children with autism because they create very structured environments where conditions are optimized for learning. Over time, these very structured environments are systematically changed so that the environment mimics what a child could expect if and when they are placed in the classroom.

Let Leafwing professionals educate you and your child to develop the language skills that will help guide your child to reach their full potential.

Autism and Communication Difficulties

Signs of autism and communication difficulties

For the child with ASD, these developmental processes appear to be hijacked taking the form of impaired or delayed language abilities at a very early age.

Some language skills including articulation, vocabulary, and grammar appear to be relatively preserved. In contrast, the difficulties that appear as robotic and abstract use of language are clearly evident. Language impairment varies with age and developmental level. The child with ASD typically uses words to regulate his or her environment to demand or protest. They’re less likely to communicate for social reasons, like sharing information.

Ways Autistic Children Communicate:

  • mimic or repeat other people’s words or phrases, or words they’ve heard on TV, YouTube or videos. They repeat these words without meaning or in an unusual tone of voice.
  • use made-up words
  • say the same word over and over
  • confuse pronouns, referring to themselves as ‘you’ and the person they’re talking to as ‘I’.

They also often have difficulty knowing when and how to communicate with people in socially appropriate ways. For example, they might not make eye contact or let another person take a turn in a conversation.

Ways ABA programs help autistic children with their communication difficulties

Most ABA programs will teach a child using simple and concise language at the beginning stages of the program. For example, if the goal is to teach a child to imitate a ‘clap’ the teacher would simply say, “Do this” or “Copy me” while demonstrating the action. The instruction would be limited to as few words as possible (in this example, two words and then a demonstration of the action). The teacher would refrain from using a longer instruction that contains more words such as, “okay, now I’m going to do something and I want you to watch me and then copy me after I’m done. Are you ready?” For a child who has difficulty understanding language, this instruction is laden with words that are unnecessary to complete the instruction and probably will include many words that the child does not presently know.

Approaches used by ABA programs:

  1. Create a reason to use language
  2. Through play
  3. Model the language
  4. Build the child’s language skill
  5. Reward the child for language use

Techniques used with autism and communication difficulties:

  • Use short sentences – for example, ‘Shirt on. Hat on’.
  • Use less mature language – for example, ‘Playdough is yucky in your mouth’. Point to your mouth.
  • Exaggerate tone of voice – for example, ‘Ouch, that water is VERY hot.’
  • Encourage and prompt the child to fill the gap when it’s the child’s turn in a conversation – for example, ‘Look at that dog. What color is the dog?’
  • Ask questions that need a reply from the child – for example, ‘Do you want a sausage?’ If you know the child’s answer is yes, you can teach the child to nod their head in reply by modeling this for the child.
  • Give the child enough time to understand and respond to questions.
  • Practice communicating with the child on topics or things they’re interested in.

Over time, many autistic children can build on these beginnings and learn to use language in more typical ways.

Autism learner

How are language difficulties in autistic children treated?

When working with an ABA program they will have a speech-language specialist perform a comprehensive evaluation on the child. The speech-language pathologist is a health professional trained to treat individuals with voice, speech, and language disorders. Furthermore, they address social, play, cognitive skills, and feeding and swallowing challenges as well. The speech-language pathologist will design an appropriate treatment program to prevent further developmental delays. In addition, the speech-language pathologist might make a referral for a hearing test to make sure the child’s hearing is normal.

Teaching children with ASD to improve their communication skills is essential for helping them reach their full potential. There are many different approaches, but the best treatment program begins early, during the preschool years, and is tailored to the child’s age and interests. It should address both the child’s behavior and communication skills and offer regular reinforcement of positive actions. Most children with ASD respond well to highly structured, specialized programs. Parents or primary caregivers, as well as other family members, should be involved in the treatment program so that it becomes part of the child’s daily life.

Speech therapy might include:

  • interacting through talking and playing, and using books, pictures other objects as part of language intervention to help stimulate language development
  • modeling correct sounds and syllables for a child during age-appropriate play to teach the child how to make certain sounds
  • providing strategies and homework for the child and parent on how to do speech therapy at home

Autism and communication difficulties: other means of communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) means all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking. People of all ages can use AAC if they have trouble with speech or language skills. This provides another way to help them communicate other than verbally. AAC can include sign language, gestures, pictures, computer tablets, and other electronic devices.

A lot of people wonder if using AAC will stop someone from talking or will slow down language development. This is not true—research shows that AAC can actually help with these concerns! People who use AAC can also learn how to read and write.

Main key points to autism and communication difficulties

In the initial stages of an ABA program, the more concise and simpler the instruction, the more successful the child will be. It is important to note that the simplicity or complexity of language used should be based on the child’s language repertoire at the time of assessment. Over time, and with success, simple and concise instructions will be elaborated and more language will be incorporated into the instruction.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism and bedtime routine

Design a bedtime routine that can be a win-win situation for your autistic child and yourself. Bedtime can be one of those nightly events which many parents love or hate or both! It means that peace and quiet are soon ahead, but it also can mean that a huge struggle is about to proceed. Many children with autism have difficulties either transitioning to bed, falling asleep, or even staying asleep all night long. Any of these difficulties can increase stress and tension in your home. Keep in mind that no single suggestion will be for all children but getting the right amount of sleep will allow your child to perform better academically, encourage the development of motor skills, and allow them to maintain a better mindset. Not to mention, it’ll help you get a fuller night of rest, too!


a child sleeping

Bedtime routine for children with autism

The first step to a healthy sleep starts with the daily routine. Be consistent. By creating a visual schedule, it helps to remind your child what they should be doing and what is to come. Take pictures of all events (e.g., dinner time at the table, bath time, reading books, and the child in bed), laminate the pictures and a piece of construction paper, and Velcro each picture either horizontally or vertically on the paper. When each event is completed, you can guide your child to take off the picture and point to the next event which helps them to actively check off their tasks.

Praise your child for successfully completing steps in their bedtime routine. Descriptive praise is when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like. For example, ‘I like the way you’ve found a spot for everything in your room’. This helps your child understand exactly what it is that they’ve done well. It’s also more genuine than non-specific praise like ‘You’re a good boy’. For younger children, you could use a reward chart.

A typical daily routine for better sleep

It is important for the daily routine to be consistent with time and order. Make sure your child wakes up every morning at the same time. They eat breakfast at the same time. Whatever the routine, keep it consistent so the child learns what to expect. A routine helps signal the body.

Morning routine

  • Wake up at 7 am
  • Brush teeth
  • Take a shower
  • Get dressed
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed
  • Eat breakfast

Afternoon routine

  • Eat lunch at 12 pm
  • Exercise for 1 hour
  • Plan activity

Evening routine

  • Eat dinner at 6 pm
  • Watch TV
  • Play a board game with the family
  • Read a few books to quiet down

Bedtime routine

  • Put on pajamas
  • Brush teeth
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Dim the lights
  • Put on the white noise machine
  • Give a massage
  • Go to bed

Remember there are triggers that might enhance alertness during bedtime like caffeine. Caffeine can stay active in our body for up to 12 hours. Monitor caffeine intake as well sugar consumption in foods. Watching TV, videos, or playing on the computer, especially if the shows or games are scary or violent, can lead to kids with autism having more trouble sleeping.

Problems sleeping happen more often in autistic children who have restricted and repetitive behaviors (lining up toys, rocking, hand-flapping), anxiety, or sensory problems and can lead to having trouble paying attention, feeling restless, getting angry, and throwing tantrums.


girl-sleeping

Autism and the successful bedtime routine

It can’t be stressed enough, to stick to a routine. Make bedtime routine no more than 20 to 30 minutes. The bedtime routine should be calming like reading a book, singing a song, or a massage. You know your child best. What is calming for one child may be stimulating for another. Design an area that encourages sleep. Make sure to only use your child’s bed for sleep. Keep the temperature in the room less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t leave lamps or overhead lights on overnight. Nightlights can be used to provide some light. Using a white noise machine will help your child from being disturbed by noise around them.

If your child has a hard time falling asleep, or wakes up in the middle of the night, first consider if they take naps during the day. You may want to reduce these naps so your child is more tired at night time. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, be sure to keep the sleeping environment calm and do not allow him or her to play games or leave their room. This may take many sleepless nights by the parents but it will pay off in the end. It is important that your child learn the skill of falling asleep without a parent present. All children and adults wake briefly during the night but quickly put themselves back to sleep by reestablishing associations used at bedtime. So if your child needs a parent present to fall asleep at bedtime, he might need a parent to help him fall back asleep during the normal awakenings.

The time you invest in putting a sleep routine for your autistic child now will save you many, many hours in the long run and you won’t have to do it forever. Once patterns are established, you will be able to reclaim a large part of your evening for yourself.

Autism and bedtime routines: other considerations

It is important to address medical or psychiatric issues that potentially interfere with sleep. Your child’s medications might need adjustment if they affect his sleep. If your child suffers from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, sleep walking, sleep terrors, restless legs syndrome, they may need a referral to a sleep specialist. Some children with persistent insomnia will need further behavioral or pharmacological treatment to improve their sleep.

Children and Adults with autism tend to have signs of insomnia: It takes them an average of 11-15 minutes longer than most people to fall asleep. Many wake up frequently during the night. Some adults and children with autism have sleep apnea as well, a condition that could potentially cause them to stop breathing several times during the night.

Let Leafwing Center help with the daily routine for your autistic child, so you can have a successful bedtime routine. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism and Motivation in Children

Autism and motivation in children can be a challenging combination. Motivation can be difficult for many people. Plenty of us struggle to exercise regularly or eat well. This is true even though these lifestyle changes could likely make a large difference in our health and consequently, our quality of life. Motivating children with autism also requires empathy and patience.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not always motivated to master basic tasks or life skills in the same ways as neurotypical children. Autism and motivation in children can seem incompatible. Or, perhaps your child is highly motivated to hyper-focus on certain tasks, just not the tasks you’d like them to choose. Motivating children with autism can be a struggle until you identify the specific factors that inspire your child.

Motivation

Each child with ASD may be motivated by different:

  • activities
  • enviroments
  • people
  • rewards
  • perceptions

It is important to spend time learning what is motivating to your autistic child. Then you can practice applying this information to help your child grow in their own motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation and Autism

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) we sometimes discuss motivation by categorizing it in two ways—intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that would be described as coming from within a person. That is, you do something because you like it.
For example, the prima ballerina rehearses 8 hours a day because she wants to be able to perform exceptionally. Autism and motivation in children can show up as an inner drive to accomplish a task or observe an activity. Your child may love cars and they are highly, internally motivated to sit by a window and watch traffic drive by or play with their own toy cars for hours.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand refers to motivation that comes from others or our environment. For example, some employees in a manufacturing company may show up to work on time to avoid getting in trouble with the boss. Children with ASD may be motivated to put away toys with the reward of their favorite snack or TV show.

Behavior is affected by many influences. Autism and motivation both influence behavior. By observing patterns in your child’s choices, you can learn the best ways to encourage them to grow and learn new habits.

Autism and Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational mechanisms apply to children living with ASD. Many children with autism are not interested in doing all of the things that we would like them to do. Motivating children with ASD to accomplish tasks or master skills is frequently different from motivating neurotypical children.

Some of our children on the spectrum may choose to engage in repetitive play or ignore others. Autism and motivation in children may look like your child only engaging in things that they find interesting. When this free time is interrupted, or when they are asked to move their attention to something or someone else, they may suddenly appear unmotivated to learn or disinterested. In some cases, other challenging behaviors can occur if we follow-through with our demands.

Factors that influence autism and motivation can be observed in your child. If you find your child happily engaging in an activity, take note of the type of activity and the environment. Certain types of play, food or stimuli may be preferred. For example your child may really enjoy playing with marbles. It may be helpful to ask the following questions to determine what is motivating children with autism. Does your child:

  • Suddenly stop enjoying or engaging with this activity if there is noise or music in the background?
  • Enjoy this activity more when they have different paths and features for the marbles to follow?
  • Like to play with marbles independently of peers, or do they enjoy others joining them?

Environmental inputs can influence children with ASD so strongly that motivation is impacted. An autistic child’s sensitivities are key factors in determining how autism and motivation should be approached to achieve the most effective outcomes.


Positive

Motivating Autistic Children: Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation Techniques

Without motivation, the learning process may be significantly slowed down or made to feel impossible. For this reason, every effort is made to increase a child’s motivation to learn at every stage of an ABA program. Ample time is spent finding out what things a child likes. Therapists will use reinforcer surveying or reinforcer sampling to determine the things that will motivate your autistic child long enough to learn. It is also important to learn what is not motivating to your child, so that you can avoid those challenges.

Motivation in an intensive Applied Behavior Analysis program may initially take the form of something extrinsic, such as being rewarded with their favorite foods, candies, or activities. Frequently, verbal praise and high-fives or anything that a child may find enjoyable can be used for positive reinforcement.

However, it is hoped that over time, this motivation will transition from extrinsic to intrinsic such that a child will engage in learning for personal joy and accomplishment. For example, a child may be motivated to build a block house because they are looking forward to feeling happy with the completed structure. To lead to this intrinsic motivation, rewards like candy or other foods can be systematically reduced while more internal, natural rewards take their place.


Motivational words

Motivating Children With Autism

Motivating children with autism is a multiple step process.

  1. Identify what your child enjoys on their own or is already intrinsically motivated to engage with or accomplish.
  2. Select rewards and positive reinforcements for your child to use as extrinsic motivation.
  3. Gradually, reduce the extrinsic rewards as you notice your child learning a positive habit or experiencing more positive feelings about accomplishing activities.
  4. Communicate with your child about the changes they are experiencing. Motivating children with autism gains momentum as your child feels supported and acknowledges their own positive progress.

Using extrinsic rewards is a common concern that others may have when considering an ABA therapy. However, professionals leading ABA programs plan ahead and strive to transition from extrinsic into more intrinsic forms of reinforcers over time. The use of transitional positive reinforcements, or extrinsic rewards, is an important factor in a child’s program that creates more positive associations with new behaviors.
If you are struggling to identify what motivates your autistic child or you would like to see changes in what motivates your child, it may be a good time to reach out to a trained professional. You can get help evaluating the influences of autism and motivation in your child. An ABA professional can also create a program tailored to your child to help them make progress towards motivational goals.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

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 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 are 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 us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From 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.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?