ABA For Children On The Spectrum

ABA stands for Applied Behaviour Analysis. It is one of the most popular therapies used for children on the spectrum. Having first made its appearance in the 1970s,  it has now become almost the unanimous choice all over the world as the therapy to help children with Autism. To help individuals on the spectrum, it is crucial to adopt a therapy that is strongly based on research, wide experience and evidence-based practices. ABA ticks all the boxes here that has made it the longest standing and best-established form of therapy for children on the spectrum.

What Is ABA

ABA is a therapy that is useful in understanding behaviour and how the environment affects behaviour. It is based on applying the psychological principles of learning theory to systematically modify behaviour. ABA is used mainly to increase behaviour that is favourable while decreasing behaviours that are harmful or affect learning. It has been mainly used to treat behaviour problems and help children on the spectrum learn new skills and modify their behaviour. 

ABA is used to help children develop communication, social and learning skills mostly through reinforcement. A basic tenet of ABA is that behaviour can be modified using rewards and consequences, while carefully measuring the results, which makes this approach scientific.

Core Principles of ABA

  • A Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) plans and supervises the therapy. 
  • It is important to remember that ABA is not a one plan fits all approach. What makes ABA effective, is that is designed uniquely to the needs and goals of each individual. 
  • Positive reinforcement is one of the key aspects of ABA, which means that once a goal behaviour has been identified, every time the individual displays this behaviour, they are rewarded with something they value. This increases the goal behaviour. 
  • ABA also focuses on ABC, which is for Antecedent, Behaviour and Consequence. This is carefully observing what happens before and after a certain behaviour is displayed. This helps in understanding what is causing the behaviour and how a different consequence can bring about a behaviour change.   

 What is ABA generally used for

ABA can be used for teaching and modifying a wide range of skills and behaviours. Some of the examples are to “extinguish” undesirable behaviours such as tantrums or outbursts while encouraging behaviour such as using words/signs for requests or learning to share a toy or waiting their turn to play. 

ABA is also used in teaching children key life skills, from self-care to social interaction, motor skills, play and leisure and also academic and learning skills. A very important use of ABA is to teach language and communication skills. ABA generally is effective in training children to communicate their needs better, reducing harmful behaviours.

While ABA is primarily taught in a one-to-one session in a therapists clinic, most therapists also move on to guiding children in more natural settings such as the playground or classroom etc. so children get plenty of opportunities to apply the skills they have learnt in real-life situations as well. 

While starting with therapy, a therapist will first assess the child’s strengths and skills while also setting goals in areas they find challenging. This will include plenty of observation and discussion with the parents. ABA is tailored to the specific needs of each child and considering the skills the child needs to work on, a therapist might also suggest integrating other forms of therapy. 

A crucial aspect to the success of ABA is administering the plan and strategies in different environments across different caregivers and people. Therefore, a therapist will also train and educate parents and teachers too if possible about strategies that’ll reinforce the results they see in therapy sessions. 

As therapy progresses, a therapist might modify the strategies and approaches in achieving goals, depending on how the child reacts to them and how much improvement they see. So regular and frequent evaluation is a significant part of ABA. 

 Is ABA a good fit for your child?

Given the popularity of the therapy and its effectiveness, ABA is the go-to approach for almost all children with Autism. Although historically, ABA has come under criticism for what some believed to be harsh practices, it has evolved over the years. ABA now aims to help children on the spectrum develop life skills and independence, rather than “fixing” their traits or personality. If you have been recommended ABA for your child, do your research to understand more about it. Ensure that a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst supervises the plan and the therapists working with your child. Note if the therapist working with your child has the right training and if they’re able to get through to your child. As with all forms of therapy, it is imperative to give your full commitment and a significant amount of time to the therapy to see changes and improvement. ABA involves a joint effort from the therapists and parents in setting goals, measuring progress and bringing about the best outcomes. 

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