Benefits of applied behavior analysis (ABA) - ABA Therapy for Autism
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Benefits of applied behavior analysis (ABA)

There are many real-world ABA benefits that make it an ideal therapy to treat autism and related conditions. While the majority of the population still doesn’t know ABA therapy by name, more and more people are using it without knowing it in their personal and professional lives. Thus, when they come into contact with it relative to someone in their life who is on the spectrum, it doesn’t feel totally unfamiliar. Many parents, teachers, and other non-ABA providers have an “Aha!” moment when they first encounter ABA. Many of the strategies are transferable across fields and can be used successfully with some coaching by a BCBA. For this reason, ABA can be doubly beneficial as an effective treatment both on its own, and when layered into parenting and other therapies. In this post, we will talk about the ABA benefits of treating autism. (For more information about ABA, visit our post here. For more information on our program and how we provide ABA as well as train others in how to utilize it successfully, you can learn more here.)

It is Research-Based

ABA has over forty years of research supporting it specifically for the treatment of autism. Most of the studies that have shown ABA to be effective have been “single-case design.” This means that the research took place with individuals with autism and their families in their real-world contexts. This method of research aimed to test whether or not components of ABA therapy could be effective with real people, to solve or assuage their problems in real-time. Now, there are massive amounts of studies that have replicated the positive effects of ABA with families and children all over the world.

It is Client Focused

ABA therapy focuses on the individual needs of the child as the starting point for treatment. The diagnosis of autism is simply the cue to begin getting to know that person’s strengths, challenges, and environment, and craft treatment accordingly. There is no “one size fits all” program in ABA therapy. And, ABA isn’t client-specific only in terms of the child or adult who has autism. Families are included, too, with parent and caregiver training programs designed according to information and goals gathered during the intake and assessment process.

Funding Streams Are Increasing

One of the hardest things about incorporating an ABA treatment program into families’ lives in the past has been the financial cost. With organized parent groups bringing advocacy as well as legal action in their communities, the tide has slowly but surely shifted. Now, it’s not uncommon to access insurance coverage to fund the bulk of an ABA program. School districts also fund ABA services to occur during the school day, often by hiring outside BCBA consultants who specialize in training school staff.

It is Flexible

ABA therapy goes where you go. It is meant to be used in the context of everyday life. For families of children with autism, portability is critical. It can make all the difference between a successful outing to the grocery store or a disastrous one. ABA is meant to make life easier for people impacted by autism. Rather than burden families with extra responsibilities or things to remember, ABA strategies can be adapted and adjusted depending on what makes the most common sense in the situation at hand.

It is Structured

While ABA is flexible, it also provides much-needed structure to the lives of those with autism. For example, ABA therapy is used to establish morning and evening routines. These routines are established to include plenty of advance preparation, motivation for each step, and rewards or “reinforcement” at the end. This helps routines become habits so that parents don’t have to be the director of every step of every routine day after day. Structure helps increase meaningful independence for children and adults with autism and removes the stress from caregiving for parents and other providers.

It is Data Based

We’ve already talked above about how ABA therapy is evidence-based or research-based. But the data doesn’t stop there. ABA therapy is measured in its effectiveness by ongoing data collection. Sometimes data collection looks like tracking and graphing increasing the independence of a child with autism as they learn a certain skill. Sometimes it looks like assessing parent stress or satisfaction with a rating scale and measuring changes over time. Data as part of ABA therapy helps the BCBA make changes sooner than later when they’re needed, to improve individual success. (See more here)

It is Strengths-Centric

Often, ABA therapy starts with the parents articulating a behavior or set of behaviors that’s caused them to seek help. And, it’s true, ABA therapy is a good-fit approach to treat symptoms of autism and to decrease challenging behaviors. But the road to treating these symptoms and decreasing the behaviors that cause stress to the family unit is paved with a strengths-based mindset and program. That means the therapist will work to bring out strengths and skills the person with autism already has, as well as teach new ones. Focusing on what to grow as well as what to decrease or make disappear increases the enjoyment of ABA therapy and ease of use across natural environments.

It is Collaborative

ABA is meant to be compatible with a variety of parenting styles and other therapies. For example, one program might focus on teaching a child how to advocate “I need help” for purposes of increasing their communication skills and decreasing tantrums. Prompting the child to ask “I need help” could happen during family dinner preparation time at home, as well as during a speech therapy session where toys are stored up high. ABA therapists collaborate with parents and other providers to facilitate this kind of overlap. They’ll also work to make sure parents and other providers have the support they need to make the embedding of ABA strategies as efficacious and meaningful as possible for the child or client.

Sources and Additional Resources

ABA 101: A beginner's guide to ABA

Learn more about the Evidence-Based Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis here.

Learn more about the seven dimensions of ABA here.

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