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ABA Therapy

ABA Therapy Basics

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a highly customizable tool for teaching important skills and behaviors to children with autism. The antecedent-behavior-consequence model, or ABC model, is the backbone of successful ABA therapy. The ABC model is highly flexible and can be applied in a wide variety of contexts.

Here’s an everyday example of the ABC model:

  • Antecedent: You’re dining at a restaurant with a friend, and the waiter offers you a cup of coffee.

  • Behavior: You accept the offer and receive a cup of coffee.

  • Consequence: You now have a cup of coffee and, presumably, must pay for it. It’s worth noting that the “consequence” is not always bad. In this case, we can assume it’s great coffee and you’re happy to exchange a few dollars for it. In another version of this situation, you could have chosen to refuse the coffee and missed out on the experience—or successfully avoided a very disappointing cup of mediocre coffee.

Once you understand the basics of the ABC model, don’t be surprised if you start noticing it everywhere.

Because the ABC model applies to so many daily situations, it’s a great tool for teaching children with autism how to respond to various antecedents. For example, communication is a common treatment goal for children with autism. Sharing a snack with a parent or caregiver is one possible way to teach communication skills. Here is a simple illustration of how that might unfold:

  • Antecedent: The child’s parent has a small package of crackers. The child with autism wants one.

  • Behavior: The child asks for a cracker. The exact method of communication will depend on the child. Verbal children may use a word or short phrase. Nonverbal children may point to a picture or use another gesture.

  • Consequence: The child receives a cracker.

This small cycle can be repeated until the crackers are gone, giving the child many opportunities to practice the behavior.

Alternatively, a child who is still learning this behavior may cry or refuse to use the designated communication method to ask for a cracker. The consequence: The child does not receive a cracker.

Read more examples of the ABC model in the context of autism treatment >

ABA therapy in different contexts: At home, at school, and beyond

Discrete Trial Training

Some ABA therapy falls under the umbrella of discrete trial training or DTT. DTT breaks a learning process into bite-sized steps to teach a more complex behavior or sequence of behaviors. For example, if a child with autism is learning how to put on a shirt, the steps may look like this:

  • Pick up shirt.

  • Orient shirt correctly.

  • Put left arm through the left-arm hole.

  • Put right arm through the right-arm hole.

  • Put head through the head hole.

  • Pull shirt down around body.

DTT is a good approach in controlled environments, such as the child’s home or an autism treatment center. However, not all concepts or skills are linear or predictable. In fact, most situations are subject to a wide range of variables and might require a different approach.

Read more about Discrete Trial Training here.

Natural Environment Teaching

Another category of ABA therapy is called Natural Environment Teaching, or NET. As the name suggests, NET takes place in natural environments, such as a classroom or a store, when a more complex, less structured approach is required. An autism therapy professional might use NET principles to teach a child with autism how to play with his or her peers. This teaching process might include:

  • Exploring what “play” means.

  • Identifying activities that can be categorized as play.

  • Inviting another child to play.

  • Appropriate interactive behavior for playtime.

Many of these elements are highly nuanced by subjective definitions of play and the introduction of another child into the process.

What are the key behaviors that ABA therapy can help improve? >

DTT and NET are just two examples of the many methods that make up ABA therapy. ABA therapy can be highly customized to match the child, the environment, and the desired skill.

The three keys to successful ABA therapy

Just as each child with autism is different, every autism treatment plan will be different. However, virtually all successful ABA therapy is built on three consistent pillars:

  1. Quality. ABA therapy must be conducted by highly educated, qualified autism treatment professionals. This includes a registered behavior technician (RBT) and a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA), along with a supportive administrative team.

  1. Duration. ABA therapy is most effective over a period of several years.

  1. Intensity. Nearly all children with autism undergoing ABA therapy require a bare minimum of 10 hours of treatment per week. Most children will need between 20 and 40 hours per week for meaningful, lasting results.

If you’re ready to learn more about what ABA therapy might look like for your child and your family, get in touch with an Applied ABC team member today >

Other articles

Examples Of ABA Therapy

How ABA Therapy Works At Applied ABC

How Outcomes Are Measured Using ABA Therapy

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