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ABA Therapy

ABA Therapy: What You Need To Know

ABA therapy is a teaching method that helps children with autism learn specific skills. ABA therapy aims to empower individuals with autism to be independent and contributing members of society. Independence, like autism, is a spectrum: It means something a little different for each child with autism.

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. That’s because ABA therapy focuses on developing and teaching specific behaviors based on a careful assessment of the individual first. ABA therapy breaks down skills and processes into bite-sized steps that are easy to understand for children with autism.

With time and consistency, ABA therapy can make a significant difference in the lives of children with autism and their loved ones.

Breaking Down ABA Therapy: The Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC) Model

At the heart of applied behavior analysis is the antecedent-behavior-consequence model. The ABC model can be applied to virtually everything in everyday life. Consider the example of a ringing telephone:

  • The phone rings. This is the antecedent, which is the situation or occurrence that triggers a behavior. An antecedent can be a single event, like a ringing phone, or a larger environmental trigger, like a noisy restaurant.

  • You answer the phone. This is the behavior, which is your response to the antecedent. You might also choose to ignore the phone call, which would change the final step.

  • You speak to the person who called you. This is the consequence of having chosen to pick up the phone. The word “consequence” has developed a negative reputation over time, but a consequence is not inherently bad. A consequence is simply what happens after a certain behavior. For example, if you had chosen not to pick up the phone, you may have missed an important call—or avoided an unpleasant conversation.

Once you’re aware of the ABC model and how it translates to your everyday life, you’ll start seeing it everywhere!

The ABC model can be leveraged to reduce maladaptive behaviors in children with autism. If a child with autism wants a particular toy but is unable to reach or find it, she may not know how to communicate her desires appropriately. Here’s how that breaks down in the ABC model:

  • Antecedent: The child wants her toy, but she can’t find or access it.

  • Behavior: The child cries or yells.

  • Consequence: The child does not receive her toy.

In this situation, one of the defined goals for ABA treatment might be empowering this child to communicate her needs and desires in a calm, clear manner. Communication looks a little different for every child with autism. Some children can communicate using a word or a short phrase. If the child is nonverbal or very young, communicating with pictures might be the best path forward.

History of Autism Treatment and ABA

The earliest mentions of ABA therapy in scientific literature can be traced back to the 1960s. However, one of the most well-known early studies of ABA therapy was published in 1987.

Drs. Ivar Lovaas and Robert Koegal of UCLA found that children who received more hours of 1:1 behavior intervention—40 hours per week versus 10 hours per week—were more likely to demonstrate higher intellectual functioning.

The children who received more 1:1 treatment also performed better in a classroom environment. This level of intensity remains important to effective ABA therapy.

Check out our blog to learn more about the history of ABA therapy.

How Has ABA Therapy Changed Over Time?

Some elements of ABA therapy have changed over the years. For example, earlier versions of ABA therapy included negative reinforcement, a practice that has largely fallen into disuse.

Additionally, ABA treatment professionals, such as BCBAs and ABA therapists, require more education and training now than they did in years past.

And, of course, as the scientific community learns more about autism spectrum disorder, their discoveries contribute to the continuous improvement of ABA therapy.

How Does ABA Therapy Help?

Because no two children with autism will be exhibiting the exact same behavior or treatment plan, the benefits can differ from child to child. When applied consistently and correctly, some of the more common positives of ABA therapy for children with autism include:

  • Reducing maladaptive behaviors

  • Increasing overall level of functioning

  • Improving emotional and cognitive well-being

  • Enhancing communication and socialization

  • Building independence and daily living skills

ABA Therapy Techniques

ABA therapists use several techniques that help children with ASD see results. Some of these include:

  • Discrete Trial Training – A teaching technique that breaks down an action into small, bite-sized pieces. DTT uses positive reinforcement as a means of incentivizing the desired behaviors.

  • Natural Environment Teaching – ABA practitioners use their surroundings to help children with autism understand, develop, and hone learned skills.

  • Modeling – Students imitate a target behavior from someone who has already mastered the sought-after skill or behavior.

These techniques are just one of many ways that an ABA therapist can help your child achieve their goals. Often, ABA therapy techniques are used throughout therapy, but the way in which a therapist will treat a child depends on an individualized treatment plan and personal goals.

What to Ask About ABA Therapy

How are ABA Treatment Outcomes Measured?

ABA therapy is a joint effort between an ABA therapist and a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). When a child with autism begins ABA therapy, they will be assessed by a BCBA. The BCBA observes and interacts with the child before writing a report and creating an ABA treatment plan. Throughout care, the ABA therapist and BCBA are in regular communication regarding the child’s progress and treatment.

Once every six months, the BCBA conducts a formal follow-up assessment. A BCBA might use a variety of different tools to measure and benchmark the child’s progress. The BCBA will use these tools, their observations, and input from the RBT to prescribe the next steps in the child’s treatment plan.

How Is ABA Different From Other Autism Therapies?

ABA therapy is one of the only treatment methods developed specifically for children with autism. Unlike other forms of autism therapy, ABA is also endorsed by governmental organizations like the CDC as an effective method of treatment.

A comprehensive care plan for a child with autism may involve additional therapies, namely speech therapy and occupational therapy.

One of the primary differences between ABA therapy and other therapies is the time commitment. A child with autism may meet with a speech or occupational therapist once a week for thirty minutes to an hour. That same child will receive 10 to 40 hours a week of ABA therapy from an RBT.

Another difference between ABA therapy and other therapies is the focus. Speech therapy, for example, focuses on one specific set of skills. ABA therapy combines functional and behavioral learning to achieve diverse outcomes.

Learn more about the differences between ABA therapy and other autism therapies by reading our blog.

Does Insurance Cover ABA Services?

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.

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.

What Results Should I Expect?

ABA therapy is not a cure for autism! Results vary depending on your child’s unique goals and behaviors, but all success will require hard work and effort.

 ABA programs are often intensive, with children spending 20 to 40 hours each week (on average) working with an ABA therapist. 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.

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 could be forgotten.

How ABA Therapy Works at Applied ABC

We believe that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is still a new field and that the best innovations are still ahead of us.

Our company was built with the mindset that parents and families of children with autism are key drivers in their children’s progress and the field as a whole.

At Applied ABC, we believe that for every child that has exceeded their diagnostic limitations, there stands a collaborative and persistent parent or parents by their side.

We are here to empower you to help your child grow past what anyone thought was possible.

We provide the tools, expertise, and knowledge. You provide the energy, focus, and hope to make it happen.

Only together can we make a real difference in the lives of those who will lead the future.

How to Start Receiving ABA Therapy Services

Getting started with Applied ABC is easy! As soon as you have an official autism diagnosis, we pair you with a local ABA provider who will work directly with your family.

Our process to start receiving ABA is simple; just follow the steps below:

1.       Obtain an official autism diagnosis.

2.       Fill out our Getting Started Application.

3.       Provide medical and insurance information.

4.       Relax; we’ll handle the rest!

Other articles

ABA Therapy Basics

Examples Of ABA Therapy

How ABA Therapy Works At Applied ABC

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