What is ABA Therapy?

What is ABA Therapy?

Navigating through recommended therapies for your child can be overwhelming at times. Most children who have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be referred for several therapies to support the learning of critical skills for everyday life. Currently, about 1 in 44 children are identified with ASD, which is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people communicate, engage in social interactions, respond to their environment, and learn. ABA is used for a wide variety of skill development, as well as for decreasing challenging behaviors. But what is ABA therapy? Read on as we explain how ABA therapy works and the benefits of working with an ABA therapist.

What is ABA therapy for Autism and how does it work?  

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the scientific approach of understanding behavior and learning. The term ‘behavior’ refers to anything a person does that is observable and measurable (e.g., talking, walking, eating, looking, dressing, etc.). Many individuals with ASD are referred for ABA therapy as it is considered a medically necessary treatment to support learning critical skills that impact everyday life. The primary goal of ABA is to teach new skills, such as increasing communication and language, self-advocacy, building social connections with others, and increasing independence in self-care. ABA is also used to reduce interfering or challenging behaviors.

ABA is often referred to as the “gold standard” of therapy for individuals with ASD. It has been recognized as a highly effective, evidence-based best practice, with over 40 years of research to support positive life-changing outcomes.  

ABA Therapy Services

Quality ABA services involve Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) working directly with children and their families to assess areas of strength, as well as current challenges to focus on for skill development. Following initial assessments, an individualized ABA treatment plan to meet the child’s medical needs is developed. Treatment plans guide ABA therapy in terms of the long and short-term goals, supports needed, training to be provided to the family, and the duration and intensity of the program. Treatment plan programs are often implemented by Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) or behavior technicians who are under the supervision of a BCBA.  

Patients may receive either comprehensive or focused ABA treatment based on their needs. Many factors determine the duration, intensity level, and complexity of ABA, and a comprehensive assessment helps therapists make these decisions. During ongoing ABA therapy services, the BCBA regularly monitors progress through data analysis to determine if current interventions and strategies are increasing skill development and/or decreasing the occurrence of an interfering or challenging behavior. 

Frequent caregiver and parent training are critical for successful outcomes in ABA therapy. During training, the BCBA can teach effective strategies and interventions for caregivers to use to promote the use of learned skills while also providing training and support for specific challenges shared by the family.  

What do you do in ABA therapy?  

During initial ABA therapy sessions, therapists spend time getting to know the patient through play and fun activities while becoming familiar with specific preferred toys, activities, interactions, and snacks. This process is also referred to as “pairing” and allows the patient to become familiar and comfortable with the new environment and their therapist prior to working on identified goals. After establishing this relationship, therapists work one-on-one with patients using evidence-based strategies to teach a new skill and address challenging behavior.

High-quality services are individualized and focused on each person’s strengths, current challenges, and medical needs, so ABA therapy sessions may look different for different people. One of the main principles of ABA is using positive reinforcement, which leads to meaningful behavior changes. Positive reinforcement is effective for teaching new skills, such as verbal and non-verbal communication, social skills, and functional life skills, and also supports the learning of alternative and replacement behaviors for challenging behaviors.

ABA Therapist Strategies

Therapists use a variety of other strategies to support learning during ABA too. The most common strategies are: 

  • Natural Environment Training (NET): NET focuses on teaching and practicing skills within situations that naturally occur during social interaction, play, self-care, and beyond.    
  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT): DTT focuses on teaching new skills by breaking the skill into smaller, defined steps, providing specific instructions and prompts, and providing reinforcement for success.  

Several other research-based strategies may be used during ABA therapy sessions since most ABA sessions use a combination of strategies to support learning. Other frequently used strategies include Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Antecedent Based Interventions, Social Skills Training, Visual Supports, and video modeling. 

Who can benefit from ABA?  

Currently, ABA is the leading evidence-based therapy for autism spectrum disorder, with most insurance providers covering ABA services as a medical treatment for individuals with ASD. Currently, ABA is predominantly used for ASD, but the principles and strategies used in ABA can also be very effective for individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder or other behavioral health conditions.  

ABA therapy has been shown to be most effective when used as an early intervention for children with ASD before the age of 4. However, individuals of all ages can experience meaningful behavior changes that positively impact independence and overall quality of life. 

We Can Help 

If you’re interested in learning more about ABA therapy, please reach out to one of the locations near you to discuss next steps or recommendations for getting started. Find a clinic near you and get in touch with us today! 

Article By: Rachel Hobbs, BCBA, LBA, M.Ed. 

Rachel began her career working with children with autism spectrum disorder 18 years ago as a special education teacher, followed by becoming credentialed as Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in 2014. Rachel loves working with children with ASD and other developmental disorders and believes in the importance of providing effective, early intervention services which are comprehensive and collaborative among each care provider for the individual. Rachel currently specializes in providing ABA services for children with ASD, providing and supporting training for parents and caregivers for children with ASD, as well as providing continuing education training to fellow BCBAs and professionals seeking certification. Rachel strives to work collaboratively with families to facilitate progress for her patients in all environments, leading to long-lasting, meaningful change for her patients and their families. She currently treats patients at Coastal Behavior Consulting within the Ivy Rehab Network in Chesapeake, Virginia. 

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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