If your child or young adult has received an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, you may be wondering where to go from here. While there are different treatments and therapies for people with ASD, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been proven by medical, psychological, and behavioral health professionals to be the most effective thus far. So, what is ABA?
ABA therapy is a type of scientific behavioral therapy that utilizes reinforcement to encourage positive behaviors or deter negatives ones. Behavior is often greatly influenced by the consequences that happen after a certain behavior. If something positive follows a behavior, that behavior is then likely to be repeated.
One of the key methods of ABA therapy is using positive reinforcement to help the individual achieve a certain goal. Typically, the behavior therapist working with your child or young adult will help to set a behavioral goal and then that goal will be broken down into smaller, daily objectives and each time your child or young adult achieves one of those objectives, they will be given positive reinforcement to encourage the continuation of that behavior. Positive reinforcement could be anything from words of affirmation, to clapping, or even receiving a tangible reward such as candy or a new toy.
Another key component of ABA therapy is understanding antecedents, which is what happens before a behavior occurs, and consequences, which is what happens after the behavior has already occurred.
An easy way to remember this strategy is by the acronym ABC which stands for antecedent, behavior, and consequence. Autism Speaks defines these terms as the following:
An antecedent: this is what occurs right before the target behavior. It can be verbal, such as a command or request. It can also be physical, such a toy or object, or a light, sound, or something else in the environment. An antecedent may come from the environment, from another person, or be internal (such as a thought or feeling).
A resulting behavior: this is the person’s response or lack of response to the antecedent. It can be an action, a verbal response, or something else.
A consequence: this is what comes directly after the behavior. It can include positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, or no reaction for incorrect/inappropriate responses.
Goals of ABA Therapy
ABA therapy not only works to encourage or discourage certain behaviors, but also is used to teach new skills in the following areas:
- Play skills
- Language and communication skills
- Social skills
- Emotional regulation skills
- Motor skills
- Academic skills
Effective ABA therapy is adapted to meet the needs of the individual, so the goals and strategies will often vary from person-to-person. While ABA therapy often starts during childhood, it is something that can be utilized throughout an individual’s entire lifetime.
The Importance and Impact of Early Intervention ABA Therapy
Early intervention is when a child starts receiving therapy for ASD when they are around or under the age of three. Research shows that the earlier a child with ASD starts treatment, the more likely they are to have stronger cognitive, social, and behavioral skills. One of the main reasons that early intervention therapy is more effective is because the younger a child is, the easier it is to shape their development and behaviors due to the plasticity of the brain.
Research also shows that intensive early intervention therapy is more effective, so the more a child is able to participate in therapy, the better the outcomes.