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ABA Therapy

A Parent’s Guide To Starting ABA Therapy

 This blog article is part of a series dedicated to Autism Awareness Month. To read the previous article in the series, click here!

Starting ABA therapy can feel like a large commitment, as this type of autism treatment approach calls for significantly more hours than other common autism therapies. ABA programs are often intensive, with children spending 20 to 40 hours each week (on average) working with a Behavior Technician (BT). While it will take some adjustment, starting ABA therapy as early as possible can help your child develop cognitive, social, communication, and daily living skills that are foundational to their growth.

ABA therapy is an evidence-based autism treatment that is tailored to the unique needs of each person. Before starting ABA therapy, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will assess your child’s specific developmental needs and create a personalized treatment plan. Every ABA treatment plan is different, allowing therapists to target behaviors and skill deficits that are most relevant to your child’s long-term development. An ABA treatment plan could include one or more of the following goals:

  • Decreasing “maladaptive” behaviors, including self-harm, biting, hitting, and aggression

  • Improving personal hygiene and daily living skills, such as dressing and toileting

  • Accelerating the development of verbal and non-verbal communication skills

  • Building independence and flexibility when daily routines are disrupted or changed

  • Increasing socialization and relationship building with other children

Chances are, you already have a good idea of the specific skills and behaviors your child’s ABA treatment plan will focus on. Communicating these goals to your BCBA is a great way to break the ice when starting ABA therapy, as it can help them get a full picture of your child’s needs, abilities, and growth.

Starting ABA Therapy: The First Step

One of the first things you’ll want to consider when starting an ABA program is where therapy sessions will be held. Some families choose to host ABA therapy in the comfort of their own homes, which can help children feel more comfortable and secure. Other families prefer to get ABA treatment through an Autism Therapy Center, whether because of a busy work schedule or to allow for more opportunities for their children to socialize with peers their own age. Regardless of which option you prefer, your child will receive the same level of ABA treatment, personalized care, and developmental support.

Home-Based ABA Therapy

Home-based ABA therapy allows your child to receive treatment in real-world environments they’re already familiar with; it’s also the only environment where ABA therapists can practice daily living skills and personal hygiene. Another benefit of home-based ABA is that it enables parents to schedule therapy sessions outside of normal work hours, leading to more consistent and flexible coordination of care (no pick-ups or drop-offs). There’s no travel time, no fighting traffic, and no emergency midday calls from the Autism Therapy Center about disruptive behaviors. 

Center-Based ABA Therapy

Center-based ABA therapy allows for greater access to group therapy, social activities, and other in-person events. Autism Therapy Centers also have an entire team of mental health experts on hand that can work with and understand the specific needs of your child. Since parent attendance isn’t required, your child can receive ABA treatment during normal weekday work hours. What’s more, your child’s center-based ABA therapy can be enhanced by scheduling at-home ABA sessions on weeknights and weekends. In fact, many parents prefer a hybrid ABA treatment model that utilizes both home- and center-based therapy.

Common Questions About Starting ABA Therapy

Along with sorting out the scheduling and logistics of your ABA therapy plan, you should also set aside time to learn about what makes ABA therapy different and unique. The more you know about ABA techniques and best practices, the easier it will be to work with your BT and reinforce key ABA lessons outside of therapy. At Applied ABC, we empower parents to play an active role in their children’s development by providing free parent training and a wealth of informational materials.

To learn more about how ABA therapy works at Applied ABC, click here.

Why Does ABA Therapy Require So Many Hours?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is rooted in the science of human behavior and learning. ABA therapists gather detailed information about your child’s behavior, developmental milestones, and other key factors to help determine the severity of their ASD diagnosis and to build a personalized treatment plan. Since each ABA treatment plan is tailored to the individual, the length and frequency of therapy sessions will be unique to your child.

There’s often no easy answer about how many hours of ABA therapy your child will need. Children with more severe ASD diagnoses typically require more hours per week over a longer period of time. In many cases, recommended ABA therapy hours are determined by criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). In terms of a standard range, most children with autism who are treated using ABA therapy receive anywhere between 25 to 40 hours per week over a period of one to three years.

Behavioral and skill improvements through ABA therapy are often gradual, requiring consistent effort and practice over a sustained period of time. And since your child’s treatment plan is personalized and constantly evolving, the work isn’t finished once they’ve overcome a particular challenge or behavior. Many of the goals have overlapping behavioral components, meaning therapists can build off previous lessons/successes to further accelerate skill retention and behavioral improvements. The reality is that without a high number of therapy hours per week, often over a span of several years, some lessons learned through ABA won’t stick around.

To learn more about how ABA therapy hours are calculated, check out this useful Parent Guide from Autism Speaks.

Does Insurance Cover ABA Therapy?

Yes, most insurance providers cover ABA therapy services for children diagnosed with autism, including Medicaid in select states. However, every state and insurance company has its own rules and regulations concerning ABA therapy, so it’s important to do some digging before you sign up.

Luckily, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) created this handy insurance coverage explainer that offers a ton of detail about state-specific coverage mandates for ABA therapy. Be sure to read through the requirements in your state to get an idea of what’s covered, and when.

How Does ABA Therapy Actually Work?

ABA therapy is rooted in a large body of academic research and clinical studies that date back over 50 years. Studies have shown that early, intensive application of ABA therapy can help children overcome developmental delays, behavioral challenges, social deficits, and more, as noted by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Repetition, routine, and practice are essential to achieving positive results through ABA therapy, in part because of how lessons and skills are taught.

While there are a wide variety of techniques and strategies in use today, two stand out as fundamental to ABA best practices: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Pivotal Response Training (PRT).

  • Discrete Trial Training is the method of building behavioral habits by breaking them down into separate parts rather than introducing entire concepts all at once. This allows your child to learn beneficial ‘micro habits’ through repetition, which can be assembled into more complex concepts and built upon over time.

  • Pivotal Response Training is play-based and initiated by the child. It is the idea that each child has different needs, strengths and weaknesses and that these different areas are prioritized based on the most pivotal needs.

To learn more about ABA therapy techniques, check out this useful walkthrough from Autism Speaks.

How Can Parents Contribute to ABA Therapy to Achieve Better Outcomes?

Parents can support their children throughout the ABA therapy process by helping reinforce key lessons learned during therapy sessions. Since skills and concepts are often broken down into their smallest parts, you can find all sorts of creative ways to weave them into your child’s daily routine. For example, if your child is working on social skills, hosting a group activity at your home can help them practice sharing, peer-to-peer communication, and relationships building.

Keep in mind, retention and consistency are essential to long-term results, so continuing the principles of ABA outside of therapy can make a huge difference. When parents are active and engaged, they can continue applying ABA techniques and methodologies outside of therapy to further accelerate improvements. Knowing how ABA therapy works and why therapists interact with children in certain ways gives parents greater insight into how autism impacts development and what they can do to help.

At Applied ABC, parents will regular training from their assigned BCBA about the specific developmental challenges their child is facing, along with the techniques they can use to support their child and overcome resulting disruptions. Since the parent training is personalized, there’s no general curriculum that applies to every family.

Prepping For Your First ABA Therapy Session: Parent Tips and Recommendations

When starting ABA therapy, your BCBA will set up an initial assessment to aid them in creating a personalized treatment plan based on observations of your child’s behavior and overall level of functioning. From there, the BCBA will pass along this information to the assigned BT and will supervise the first session to ensure that the treatment plan is being followed. These ‘supervision sessions’ are paramount to your child’s long-term progress because they offer you an opportunity to ask questions and get to know your BCBA and BT better.

As a parent, one of the best things you can do is to ask lots of questions. The more questions you ask, the more you will know about the ABA therapy process. Observing ABA therapy sessions can also help you recognize and understand strategies used by the BT to communicate with and support your child. For example, understanding what triggers your child’s tantrums and how often they occur can help you navigate future tantrums, reduce incidents of self-harm, and more. Simply put, learning how to apply ABA techniques yourself can lead to better long-term outcomes for your child.

If you’re looking to take the next step in your ABA therapy journey, Applied ABC is here to help!

Our team of dedicated Intake Specialists and Case Managers will work with you to find the right ABA therapists for your family. When searching for the right fit, we take the developmental needs of your child and your personal preferences into account. In cases where we are unable to locate an ABA therapist that matches your preferences, we’ll immediately start the search for an external candidate to join our growing team of providers.

With over 10,000 ABA professionals in our network, we’re confident we can match you with an ABA therapist that checks all your boxes. To learn more, fill out our Online ABA Assessment or reach out to an Applied ABC team member today!

This blog article is part of a series dedicated to Autism Awareness Month. To read the next article in the series, click here! 


Other articles

ABA Therapy Basics

Examples Of ABA Therapy

How ABA Therapy Works At Applied ABC

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