Helping Hands Family

Is ABA Therapy Harmful? Debunked.

In basic terms, the approach of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is to use behavioral techniques to reinforce positive behaviors and reduce harmful behaviors. ABA is commonly used as an early intervention to treat individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since one out of every forty-four children in the United States has been identified with autism according to Centers for Disease Control, ABA therapy has become a larger topic of discussion among the medical community. There are numerous studies that demonstrate the positive impact of Applied Behavior Analysis for children with autism, but there is still criticism towards the approach’s history as well. This leads to the key question, “Is ABA Therapy harmful?”

The Science Behind ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses scientific principles to understand a child’s behavior by breaking down complex behaviors into smaller, measurable parts. The overall goal of this therapy approach is to improve a child’s quality of life by helping them reach new goals in behavioral, communication, motor, and social skills! ABA is centered around using positive reinforcement to increase desirable behaviors while decreasing problematic behaviors. Generally, ABA therapy is conducted in a one-on-one setting between a child working closely with a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) but working in group settings is incorporated into ABA as well. Below are the basic general steps of ABA therapy.

1. Assessment

The first step in ABA therapy is conducting a thorough assessment of a child’s behavior and skill levels. The assessment is conducted by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), which may include direct observation of the child, interviews with caregivers, and standardized assessments.

2. Treatment planning​

Based on the assessment, an individualized treatment plan is developed to support the needs of a child. This treatment plan outlines specific goals related to communication, socialization, and learning improvement , while reducing concerning behaviors.

3. Implementation​

The implementation of ABA therapy rests on two main pillars, teaching new skills and utilizing positive reinforcement. When teaching new skills, a therapist may incorporate prompting, shaping, and chaining techniques. The ABA clinical team will also demonstrate these teaching techniques to all caregivers for use beyond the clinic setting. Positive reinforcement is used to increase desirable behaviors, through techniques such as praise, tokens, or other tangible rewards. Through the reinforcement, a child will learn and retain skills to strengthen functional communication, bolster social interaction, and improve the ability to focus.

4. Data collection​

The ongoing collection of data drives ABA therapy, because it helps measures progress toward a child’s individualized goals. Throughout the therapy sessions, RBTs collect data on the individual’s behavior. A BCBA analyzes the data to determine the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

5. Adjustment

Based on the data collected, the treatment plan may be modified to ensure a child is progressing towards their goals. The BCBA may adapt the teaching techniques or even modify the goals themselves to better fit a child’s needs.

Is ABA Therapy Good or Bad?

Even though ABA Therapy is an evidence-based treatment endorsed by the US Surgeon General and American Psychological Association, there is still some criticism surrounding the approach. Much of the debate surrounding ABA is due to outdated criticisms of the therapy or not having complete information or experience on the present-day approach. Below are some of the commonly raised critiques of ABA Therapy.

Moving Forward with ABA Therapy

While it is always right to do research on any treatment you or your family may start, many of the criticisms of ABA are no longer relevant due to the evolution of the ABA approach. In the end, the decision to choose ABA therapy for a child with autism should be made on a case-by-case basis by the family and child’s medical professionals.

Helping Hands Family leans on the play-based element of ABA, because kids learn better while having fun! The goal of our approach is to always help children reach their highest potential in both an enjoyable and meaningful way. If you want to learn more, don’t hesitate to contact us today, because early intervention is one of the keys to success in ABA therapy!

Speech Therapy at Drexel Hill​


Our Care Coordination Team can provide you with information about ABA Therapy to see if it is a fit for your family.