I’m not going to lie; it’s difficult. It’s intense- sometimes 40 hours per week. It’s learning a whole new language. It requires a lot from parents, but can expand your child’s world and improve life for your whole family. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) can be so beneficial for a child on the autism spectrum. When it comes to treatment, there is obviously some controversy out there, and you need to make the decision that makes the most sense for you and your family. Here is what I know about the benefits of ABA.
Several years of research has shown ABA to be an effective treatment for children with ASD. Not only is it effective, but some of the research has compared it with other treatments, and children made the most gains through ABA intervention. For summaries of some of these research articles and a list of other research, click here.
More importantly than the scientific research, is the number of parents I’ve worked with over the years, who report tremendous improvement in not only their child’s life, but their own. I’ve seen children go from non-verbal to verbal, from isolated to having friends, and from dependent to completing self-care tasks and helping around the house. These things didn’t just happen. ABA may be intense, but is systematic, and provides a framework for teaching children on the autism spectrum in a way that works for each individual.
Teaches New Skills
This framework for teaching is so important, as many children with ASD learn differently. While other children may pick things up naturally by observing, children on the autism spectrum may not. As such, there are often skill deficits that come with autism, many of which may impact a child’s ability to function independently and often result in challenging behavior. ABA uses behavior principles to teach those skills. The list of skills that can be taught through ABA is a long one. Some of the more common areas of focus through ABA intervention include:
- Communication and Language Skills
Anything from teaching a child to form sounds and words to back and forth conversation, as well as the ability to identify objects, actions, etc.
- Social Skills
This can include eye contact, understanding body language, or learning what is appropriate in different contexts.
- Play skills
Turn-taking, independent play, group play, etc.
This can include anything from bringing awareness to one’s own behavior to organizational skills.
- Daily living skills
Teeth brushing, dressing, bathing, etc.
- Toilet training
This can be teaching a child to use a utensil, accepting new foods, etc.
Identifying safe people in the environment, crossing the street safely, not running into the street, what information we share with what people, etc.
Teaching these skills can be the difference between a child thriving in his or her environment and a dependent child, who engages in challenging behavior, in order to get needs met.
Decrease difficult/challenging behavior
If you find yourself having the same struggles over and over again or frustrated by your child’s challenging behavior, such as tantrums or aggression, then you may be realizing that typical punishments don’t often work. ABA professionals are in the business of behavior change, so, of course, a big part of ABA includes managing and decreasing those challenging behaviors. It’s often counter-intuitive, but makes so much sense once you understand it. Some of the more challenging behaviors that may be tackled through ABA intervention include:
- Tantrums/ meltdowns
- Self-injurious behavior (e.g., head-banging)
- Compulsive, repetitive behaviors (e.g., need to line up objects)
- Other Self-stimulatory behaviors (e.g., repetitive movements that impact one’s ability to engage with the environment or to learn)
Includes Parent Training
Because what works to decrease challenging behavior is often counter-intuitive, it takes some learning and coaching. It’s really important that parents learn how to implement interventions. ABA services, particularly those in the home, encourage parent participation and include parent education. The more consistent everyone in a child’s environment is with responses to behavior, the more likely it is that the behavior will change.
Think about what you want for your child. Is it independence? Is it for challenging behavior to stop? Is it to be able to communicate? All of those things have behaviors attached, and ABA is a great way to shape those behaviors. It is an investment of both energy and money, but one that is helping to shape your child’s future and a way to improve daily life for your family.