This depends on the needs of the learner, family preference, and the approach used by an ABA agency or individual provider. However, generally speaking, ABA therapists work in the places where services are needed. These typically include four different environments: home, school, clinic, and community. The home setting is one of the most common places where ABA therapists work. This is where a child and his family spend much of their time and is typically the child’s natural environment. Many of the toys, instructional tools, household items, familiar people, and preferred activities are within immediate access in the home setting. This can be beneficial to learning. For example, let’s say we are teaching a child to wash his hands. In the early stages, teaching a child to wash his hands in his own bathroom sink can promote effective learning – the sink is familiar, it is accessible, and the environment can be modified easily to make the task easier (stepping stool, moving soap/towels around, etc.) However, it is also imperative that once the child learns to wash his hands in his own sink, that he acquires the ability to generalize that skill to other settings and people. This is referred to as generalization across stimuli, environments, and people. We will explore the topic of generalization in depth in a separate post.
The school setting is another very common place where ABA therapists work. Typically, the ABA therapist is part of the child’s IEP team and plays an integral role in facilitating the child’s behavioral, social, communication, and play goals (among others). Sometimes these staff members are referred to as 1:1 aides or IEP assistants.
Some ABA providers will offer ABA services in the clinic setting. These are structured environments that have access to a variety of instructional and play materials where various skills can be targeted. Not all ABA agencies provide in-clinic sessions, so it is recommended to check with the providers with whom you are seeking services.
The community setting is also a very important place for ABA therapists to provide their services. These can include trips to the grocery store, mall, park, play dates, ice cream shops, etc. Community outings are a great way to facilitate generalization (skills the child has learned in home or school sessions that can be applied out in the community) and to work on novel goals that cannot be targeted in the home or school setting. Community goals may include creating a short list of needed items and helping a parent retrieve them at a store or initiating play or a conversation with a peer at a park. One of the great things about ABA is that each program is highly individualized to meet the needs of the learner, therefore ABA therapists can work where the services are needed the most.