Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a specialized and intensive therapy used to treat individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Unlike other therapies and treatments, ABA Therapy does not use a cookie cutter approach. Each child’s treatment is individualized based on their specific needs. Treatment plans are adaptable based on the child’s progress reported by Behavior Analysts.
Even though ABA is an individualized and adaptable treatment, a common process is still necessary. ABA is an individualized and adaptive treatment that follows a team design. This whole team approach involves the child, parents, behavior technicians, and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). This team works and collaborates to accomplish shared goals for improving a child’s learning, behavior, and independence. The major tentpoles in ABA therapy involve accurately assessing an individual’s abilities and working simultaneously to successfully execute a treatment plan.
Consultation and Assessment
First, you will have a consultation with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) specializing in the treatment of individuals with autism using ABA. This consultation is called a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), which includes two main sections. First, the BCBA will ask about your child’s strengths and abilities as well as their challenges. There will also be questions related to your child’s background information, typical behaviors, and family health history. Finally, the BCBA will ask parents and family members involved to share their goals for treatment.
The second consultation is the interaction and observation portion of the FBA. The BCBA will observe and interact with your child in a comfortable setting. During this portion, the BCBA is trained to assess the child’s behavior, learning, and communication. Then an interaction portion includes skills testing between the child and the BCBA as well as other standardized assessments.
At times, it may be necessary to conduct a third consultation for additional information. This may take place in the same setting, or it could take place in another setting, such as a daycare or preschool. The same type of information would be gathered during a third observation.
Developing the Treatment Plan
Based on the FBA, the Board Certified Behavior Analyst will create a treatment plan, which is uniquely tailored to your child! Needs, skills, interests, preferences, challenging behaviors, and environment all factor into the development of this plan. Your child’s needs and specific goals are addressed throughout the treatment plan. Goals for the first 6 months are developed via this treatment plan. The purpose of the goals are to increase learning capabilities and decrease challenging behavior. Goals can encompass many skill areas and are based on the child’s age and ability. One by one, the BCBA focuses on specific developmental steps that range from simple to complex. Each step progresses your child closer to their goals and increased independence in their daily life.
Executing the Treatment Plan
Based on the treatment plan, your BCBA will provide a recommended dosage of ABA treatment including 1:1 time with a Behavior Technician, supervision with your BCBA, and parent consultation to be sure parents are learning alongside their child. More severe cases of ASD provide more recommended hours to meet the child’s developmental goals. Your child and the ABA team will implement the specialized treatment plan together through both planned and naturally occurring situations.
ABA therapy treatment for your child is rewards based. When your child completes a task correctly, demonstrates positive interactions, or achieves a goal, they’re given a reward to motivate repeated practice and behavior. Studies show behavior is more effectively motivated by achieving something of personal value. In instances of problematic behavior, your child receives no reinforcement and instead, is prompted to engage in age-appropriate behaviors. A great example of this is increased communication. Many children on the autism spectrum engage in challenging behaviors as a form of communication. Rather than accepting a tantrum as a form of communication, the ABA team will teach your child to engage in communication through words and other appropriate actions.
Another important aspect of the treatment plan is the involvement of parents, family members, and other caregivers. You and your child’s support team (grandparents, teachers, etc.) will be updated and receive training in the strategies used in ABA. This involvement supports learning and skills practice during the time your child is not in treatment.
Through periodic meetings, you receive insight into the ABA team’s strategies that are reinforcing the treatment plan’s goals. Parents and caregivers should view this information as a teaching guide with instructions for measuring progress. These parent consultation sessions also educate on safely minimizing the reinforcement of challenging behaviors such as tantrums or self-harm.
By evaluating your child, the ABA team’s intention is to determine the causes of your child’s behavior. Therapy is adapted and evolved as the team gains more insight and knowledge into your child’s motivations and responses. A formal reassessment and progress report is typically generated every 6 months. BCBAs are constantly analyzing the effectiveness of treatment strategies and incorporating new tactics when appropriate.