There are many different methods of ABA. It can be overwhelming to parse through all of these different possibilities as a parent. When you are pursuing ABA treatment for your child, you have to sort through funding sources, waitlists, and scheduling. You don’t want to put more on your plate than you have to. You also don’t want to have to become an expert on all of the ins and outs of different methodologies just so you can choose one and forget about the rest. Your time is more valuable than ever now that you are parenting a child with autism! In this article, we will discuss a few of the methods of ABA and their common applications. While this collection can’t be comprehensive simply due to the fact that there are so many different methods out there, we hope this provides you with a clear overview and enough information to guide your decision-making process.
The BACB defines two main types of ABA program structures for the treatment of autism. These are the “comprehensive” model and the “focused” model (see additional information here). The comprehensive model most closely resembles a classic ABA treatment program in which services are provided for several hours a day, several days a week, for weeks, months or even years at a time. Because recommended hours of supervision or observation and program management by the BCBA are based on a ratio or percentage approach compared to the hours of direct therapy level services, comprehensive programs include several hours per week of supervision. There may be one or two supervision sessions of one to three hours each in one week. The direct therapy is provided by a direct therapist or “behavior technician” who is trained and managed by the BCBA, but they will also be independently providing therapy for a large portion of the program. Sessions could occur in three to four-hour chunks, once or twice a day, each day of the week. Comprehensive programs are provided in situations where the child with autism needs intensive intervention to successfully navigate their environment and to learn. Thus, comprehensive programs also involve a lot of parent and caregiver training to give parents and caregivers skills to use during other times when a therapist is not present.
The other BACB-defined ABA program structure is the focused method. Focused therapy can be ideal in situations where symptoms of autism are not a constant issue, but there are one or two areas that require targeted intervention. Focused ABA is not as time intensive. The direct therapy time will be dramatically reduced, by half or even more, to around ten to fifteen hours per week. However, this is meant to be adjustable and individualized based on the client’s needs. The supervision time decreases proportionately to the direct therapy, too. Supervision in a focused program zones in on the highest need areas for parent training to enhance home outcomes, while still providing rigorous oversight of the direct therapy.
EIBI stands for “Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention.” (Learn more about EIBI here.) EIBI is designed to front-load skills and help development during the most pliable time in a child’s life. The goal is to establish a strong foundation that will make learning more complex skills later easier, and open doors for long term success. EIBI addresses skill development across the social, behavioral, adapted, and communication domains while providing a highly structured environment that minimizes challenging behaviors by design. Skills are taught in a one-to-one therapeutic setting but also practiced in small groups with same-age peers. Parent training is also a core component of the model. EIBI is conducted in a center-based model with purposeful linkages to the home setting via parent training and home visits.
Parent training both provides parents with a working knowledge of ABA strategies they can use with their child and uses ABA methodology to teach and enhance parent and client-specific program goals. Often, providers will set goals at the outset of parent training in both of these areas. The first meeting is an assessment in and of itself, creating a plan for future meetings and setting communication preferences intentionally. Parent training can also occur in small groups. (Read more about parent training here.)
Home-based ABA therapy directly addresses needs most prevalent in the home, including morning and evening routines, sleep training, mealtime routines, and transitions to and from the home. Home-based therapy can look like one-to-one instructional programs in a specially designated area of the home, especially for younger children who are building school readiness skills. But it is equally likely that home-based programming is fully embedded within home routines, with the therapist providing naturalistic prompting and skill facilitation in the moment. (Read more about Home-based ABA here).
School-based ABA can have slightly varying priorities, as it is intended to increase access and participation of the child within their academic learning environment. School-based ABA can focus more on academic skills as well as social, behavioral, adaptive, motor, and communication skills. Treatment targets are more likely to be specified as part of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) than a treatment plan. School-based ABA might also involve a BCBA providing consultation and training to the classroom teaching team. (Read more about school-based ABA here).
Community-based ABA therapy often focuses on safety and social skills within the community. For example, an entire therapy session may be spent practicing riding the city bus amongst various destinations. Or, the learner and therapist might go to the local zoo or museum and practice appropriate social skills in these contexts. Community-based ABA utilizes the local environment to teach and promote new skills.
Sources and Additional Resources
Learn more about our ABA methodology here.
Focused and Comprehensive ABA are described here.
Learn more about EIBI here.
Learn more about ABA for teens.