A Guide to Applied Behavioral Analysis for Autism

What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is an approach used for people with autism in improving their social and learning skills through establishing a reward and consequence-based system. It itself is not a specific therapy. It is known to encompass a range of different techniques and ways that can be used positively to improve the behavior of people with autism. It also helps them in learning new skills thereby improving their own personal and social lives. 

What can it be used for?

Applied Behavior Analysis for Autism helps immensely in developing different social, motor, verbal, communicational, personal self-care and playing skills in children with autism. Thus, helping them in leading a more normal and social life. It can also help rectify the negative behavioral practices associated with autism in the children like screaming, aggression, irritability and inattention by positive reinforcements.

Where does it come from?

ABA therapy has been derived from Behavioral Psychology. The first primary study on the principles of ABA therapy was done at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1987 by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, and since then it has been very commonly used to correct the behavior in autistic people. Up till now, ABA therapy is being used as one of the most initial and efficacious therapeutics related to autistic care. 

Why does it work?

  ABA therapy works mainly on two general principles:  

  • Human behavior is generally the reflection of one’s environment and stimuli.
  • Actions and words that are treated with rewards are likely to happen again.

The therapy utilizes these facts in remodelling the behavior of people with autism by rewarding them either with material gifts or positive accolades for their benefit and properness. A goal or task can also be set by the caregiver and upon the completion of the task properly, the person is rewarded and this helps in establishing the respective skill or habit in the person by associating it with a prize and positive accolades.

What does ABA therapy involve?

Strategies based on ABA therapy involve the following steps:

  • Examining the current difficulties or challenges being faced by the person
  • Implementing goals and guidelines regarding the difficulty or skill development
  • Teaching the steps required for achieving the goal
  • Keeping an eye on the progress being made
  • Making any changes or alterations that may be necessary for helping the person to achieve his or her goal

These steps can be used in either correcting a specific difficult behavior, for example throwing objects at others, or can be applied in learning broader socializing and communication skills. When the goal has been achieved or the difficult behavior is overcome, other tasks and goals are added to the program and then broader and more complex skills are integrated like cooperating with others and reducing episodes of aggression or irritability. 

How does ABA therapy work?

ABA therapy usually involves a behavior analyst first observing and figuring out the child’s problematic and difficult conduct. After discovering this challenging behavior, it is then labelled as a “target behavior”.

An ABC method is then deployed by the analyst in finding out the main catalyst or reason for the child’s difficult behavior. The ABC stands for 

  • Antecedent: The events occurring before the episode
  • Behavior: The child’s behavior
  • Consequence: The events occurring after the episode

Here consequence depends on the behavior of the child. If the child reacted in a positive manner the consequences then faced will be positive and rewarding. However negative behavior does not require the need for physical punishment, but to enforce the positive behavior, some other privilege or freedom can be seized by the caregiver.

Who can provide ABA therapy?

ABA therapy is usually provided by a specialist or a behavioral psychologist in a one on one clinical setting where small tasks are set and rewarded. This is termed as Discrete Trial Training (DTT).

Another way of utilizing this therapy is by using it outside a clinical setting known as Incidental Training. Incidental Training can be done at the school or at home by the child’s guardians, family and teachers.

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is another form that involves different play-based activities that target multiple goals at once. To specifically increase the social communicating skills in the child Verbal Behavior Interventions can also be deployed.

Other methods include programs like Pivotal Response Training (PRT) and Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) etc.

What are the end goals?

All the techniques utilized in the ABA therapy can help in managing the difficult behavior of the child and minimizing the negative reactions of the autistic child thereby, making the child a little more independent and self- sufficient. ABA therapy can immensely help in normalizing their life and making them more social, amiable and cordial to other humans around them.

Other benefits

Apart from providing great help in rectifying the child’s problematic behavior, Applied Behavioral Analysis can also provide a sense of structure and support in the child’s life by repeating the reinforcement of positive behavior and attitude.

Where can ABA therapy services be provided?

Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy is usually done by trained Behavioral Psychologists who are board-certified. However, due to a shortage of such professionals, the services can also be provided by the trainees or supervisors of the program. Therapists can be recommended by the child’s paediatrician or doctor. Google and other social platforms can also be used by the guardians in their search for a specialist. 

Cost of ABA therapy

Cost of ABA therapy depends upon the needs of the child and on how much is being covered in each session as it is a pay by session program mostly. It can be a little costly as each session costs a significant amount but it is better to work with qualified people and not cut corners by going to cheaper but ineffective personnel.

The Bottom Line

It has been proven that ABA helps immensely in developing somewhat normal behavioral skills in autistic people and keeping them away from different awkward social situations and even self-harm.