Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has been used to positively impact lives for decades. In the late 1980s, it was empirically validated by Dr. Ivar Lovaas as effective in teaching skills to children with the diagnosis of autism.
ABA utilizes the principles of the science to positively reinforce behaviors that the team (parents, BCBA, SLP, and the child, if possible) determines should increase (appropriate communication, self-management, social skills, etc.) and withdraw positive reinforcement from behaviors that the team determines should not increase (crying to get items, hitting to avoid tasks, etc.) while teaching across multiple skill domains.
Goals are based on the deficits associated with autism. The DSM-V is used—along with the diagnostic assessments from your physician and the parent interview—to map out short-term and long-term goals.
Behavior change is a process. Based on the history of reinforcement, behavior change may be relatively fast, it may take months, or sometimes it can take years. For example, if you give candy for falling to the ground and screaming at the grocery store every week for ten years, it may take time to teach asking appropriately for candy—and then even more time for the child to accept 'no' in regard to getting candy at the store. Likewise, skill building for children with autism takes time. Children with autism may not learn from their environment. Therefore, at least initially, every skill must be individually taught using the principles of ABA.
Typically, we build skills based on the deficits associated with autism, train parents/guardians to continue to teach at home, and decrease any behaviors that prevent the child from having access to the natural environment (for example, hitting others when they move close to him/her would prevent the child from attending a Komets game and self-stimulatory behaviors such as self-talk may prevent learning in a group setting).
Young children who showed the most progress in studies received intensive (40 hours per week) and extensive (minimum of 2 full years) ABA therapy. Further, parental involvement is critical to generalization and maintenance of skills. Intersecting a child with autism's rate of learning with a typical developing child's learning is, again, a process. Parents are asked to understand the length of the process and realize that, although our goal is to mainstream every child into general education classrooms, this transition may take several years depending on the child's deficits/skills, parental involvement, and other factors in the environment (Peters-Scheffer, 2013).
In our program, parents receive training to facilitate understanding of ABA and to be able to conduct additional teaching outside of the Center. Parents are the most important members of the team because they are the ones who are with the child in every environment. Therefore, parental buy-in and understanding are crucial to success.
Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) oversee programming for every learner. Programming is accomplished by considering parental perspective, direct observation, and assessment results. Social validity is also considered; if a skill will not be accessed in the learner's natural environment, the skill may be of lower priority. For example, early requests (manding) and labeling names of items (tacting) are typically targeted based on a list from parents/guardians. These are items the child encounters in his/her daily life.
Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are frontline staff who work directly with your child. RBTs have been trained in the principles of ABA, have worked directly under the supervision of a trainer, and have passed a certification exam. They also continually receive training and feedback on their effectiveness with your child. RBTs focus on teaching as efficiently as possible—while your child receives reinforcement for demonstrating skills, the RBT works to create a reinforcing relationship with your child (this is called this 'pairing'). The goal is for your child to believe his or her world is improving when the RBT walks in the room.
Still have questions? Schedule an appointment to speak with one of our Board Certified Behavior Analysts about how ABA therapy can help your child and family. We are happy to explain the process to you along with what you can expect for your family. We look forward to speaking with you!
Peters-Scheffer, N.C. (2013). Fostering development in young children with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability: A center-based discrete trial approach. Radboud University, The Netherlands. Source.