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Why is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) the treatment choice for children affected by ASD?

June 27, 2020

Beautiful young mother having fun at home with her cute little son

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the treatment of choice for children with ASD for one reason: It is effective.

ABA is recommended by at least 11 scientific, professional, and federal agencies including: Autism Speaks, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Surgeon General of the United States.*

The effectiveness of ABA and these recommendations are based on over 60 years of research demonstrating that ABA is effective in developing communication, socialization, and self-care skills; as well as reducing problem behaviors.

ABA works so well because it focuses on the needs of the individual child. The child’s skills and problem behaviors are first carefully assessed by a highly trained professional. Skills in these areas are broken down into even finer steps. For example, a child needs to say the word “ball” not only when they see a ball, but also when the want a ball; and when someone else says, “What do you throw?” and they need to be able to point to or select a ball when shown a group of objects and someone says, “Show me the one you hit with a bat?” This careful assessment of the child’s skills reveals the things the child can do and the things that need to be taught. A plan is then developed which stresses making the child successful.

The skills that need to be taught are further broken down into small steps and the child is assisted (prompted) to progress through the steps and rewarded (positively reinforced) for even small attempts at first. As the child makes progress, the prompts are gradually removed and the positive reinforcement is given less frequently.

By proceeding in this careful, systematic manner the behavior analyst working with the child can see and remove barriers that prevent success and revise the plan so eventually success is achieved.

ABA is also effective because one overall goal is to teach parents how to also be able to implement ABA techniques that the behavior analyst uses in their treatment. Unlike most other forms of therapy, ABA should be ongoing throughout the child’s day.

Parent training should be an integral part of any ABA program and the behavior analyst should teaching and coaching the parents in the implementation of the procedures used in the ABA sessions so that the child receives a consistent approach throughout the day.

Finally, ABA is driven by data which reflects the child’s progress. The child’s progress on each skill is carefully measured in each session. If the data shows that the child’s skills are progressing in the desired direction, the current procedures and techniques would be continued.

If the child is not making progress on a skill, that will also be shown in the data and the behavior analyst would adjust the teaching techniques until progress is seen. By monitoring the data and progress carefully, time is not wasted on ineffective methods and this is a key as to why ABA is effective.

* For details see: https://www.kennedykrieger.org/patient-care/centers-and-programs/neurobehavioral-unit-nbu/applied-behavior-analysis/scientific-professional-and-government-organizations-position-on-the-aba-from-the-neurobehavioral-unit-nbu