Applied behavior analysis or ABA therapy aims to improve the learning, communication, and social skills of children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disability in which people with this psychological condition struggle with social interactions while showing repetitive or restricted behavior/ interests.
Children with ASD may exhibit delayed language skills, movement, or learning abilities, among other characteristics. Study reveals that ABA treatment can help improve the interpersonal skills of people with ASD, helping them better adjust to the ways of the world.
How Does ABA Therapy Work?
Applied behavior analysis therapy works on the principles of learning and behavior- where the autism therapist reinforces desired social behavior in the learner, encouraging them through simple rewards. ABA services have several different phases that can be easily tailored to the learner’s specific needs.
The following are four stages common to any ABA therapy:
1. Consultation and Assessment
The therapist will first discuss the prospective learner’s strengths and challenges with their caregivers (for a child with autism, they will consult the parents). They will also spend time with the learner and observe their behavior and social skills. For children, the autism therapist may even visit their schools to note social interactions during daily activities.
2. Planning for Personalized ABA Therapy
Based on the observations made in stage 1, the therapist will now create a personalised therapy plan that aligns with the learner’s unique needs. They will set goals to eliminate disruptive social behavior, such as throwing tantrums or inflicting self-injury, and encourage better, healthier social interactions. The goals will vary depending on the age and ability of people with autism, along with other factors such as their:
- learning abilities
- social skills
- self-care capabilities (such as showering or brushing)
- motor skills
- communication skills
3. Training the Caregivers
The caregivers, especially parents of children with ASD, have a major role to play in ensuring the success of ABA therapy. They must actively enforce the desired behavior while the learners are outside of therapy. The autism therapist will train the caregivers on how to respond to both desired and unacceptable social behavior.
4. Regular Evaluations and Changes in Plans
The therapist will constantly evaluate the learner’s response and make changes as needed to ensure better outcomes.
Techniques Used in ABA Therapy
The following are the five most commonly used techniques in applied behavior analysis autism therapy:
- Positive reinforcement
This involves rewarding desired social behavior with favorite food right after they exhibit the right behavior. This establishes a positive correlation between the act and the reward, making them more likely to remember and repeat the behavior in the future.
- Negative reinforcement
This is not to be confused with punishing the learner for displaying inappropriate behaviour. Instead, negative reinforcement involves taking away an object or activity after the instance involving undesired social behaviour.
For instance, say a child with ASD kicks their peer in class. To dissuade them from repeating similar behaviour in the future, they can be kept from engaging in their favourite activity, say, watching a particular TV show, as a direct consequence of the undesired behaviour.
- Visual and Verbal Cues
Both verbal prompts and visual gestures are effective at reinforcing the desired social behaviour as long as they aren’t accusatory or intimidating. For example, you may verbally direct your loved ones with ASD to wash their hands before meals or place their belongings neatly in a designated spot. The idea is to repeat the directions subtly and frequently till they no longer need a cue or prompt.
- Analysis of Tasks
This technique helps the autism therapist understand the learner’s progress and implement changes as needed to ensure more fruitful outcomes. They will assign tasks and observe the way they are completed to better analyse the learner’s abilities and create future tasks in line with their skills.
Here, the therapist will take the lessons learned from one session and apply them to other instances. For example, they may teach the child with ASD to spell out certain words by singing and then use the same vocabulary to create entire sentences and stories.
How Can ABA Therapy Help People with Autism?
ABA therapy advocates believe that those with inadequate interpersonal skills (including people with autism) can improve social interactions and communication by learning and practicing desired social behaviour.
Some commonly cited benefits of ABA autism therapy include:
•Helps develop behavioural skills while decreasing the severity of autism diagnosis
•Effective in teaching both simple and complex life skills, such as brushing one’s teeth correctly
•Helps caregivers better support their loved ones with autism while also guiding them in ways to encourage acceptable social behaviour and measure progress
•Helps people with autism to better interact with others by modifying their behaviour in social settings
When it comes to children with ASD, ABA therapy can help :
- Ensure better, clearer communication with those around them, especially when they want something (like food or a toy)
- Increase attention span at school
- Reduce instances of self-harm or throwing tantrums
Who Else Can Benefit from ABA Therapy?
While ABA is most effective in improving social and communication skills in people with ASD, it can also be used in treating other conditions, such as:
•Borderline personality disorders
•Anxiety and related conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and phobia
•Substance use disorder
How to Choose the Best ABA Therapy Services?
Caregivers may often be hesitant about seeking medical help for their loved ones with ASD. However, consulting a professional autism ABA clinic and working closely with a qualified therapist can help you ensure that your loved ones lead better, independent, and well-adjusted social lives. Check whether they have relevant educational qualifications or experience working with people with ASD before booking appointments.