What Is ABA?
Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is a therapy that improves communication skills, attention, focus, and social skills while decreasing behavioral problems. It is a behavioral intervention that is sometimes used for things from panic and eating disorders to anger issues and borderline personality disorder, but it is primarily used to treat children with autism.
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What Does The Science Say?
The US Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association back ABA Therapy as an evidence-based treatment, according to Autismspeaks.org.
This scholarly article from PMC labs, "Where is the Evidence? A Narrative Literature Review of the Treatment Modalities for Autism Spectrum Disorders", cites ABA Therapy as having proven benefits. For instance, a 1987 study found that children showed significant increases in IQ scores after treatment.
Another study in 2009 also found behavioral intervention was effective for autistic children, according to the article. While the study had limitations and more research was needed, it was still determined that there is still plenty of scientific evidence to support ABA as an effective treatment for autism. The article cites 22 studies that support ABA as an effective treatment for autistic children to improve social and language development.
Even with years of research on behavioral intervention, it is still a controversial method. Some call it punishment and even ableist as if the treatment is somehow abusive and is conforming the child to just "fit in". Manhattan Psychology Group's article, "Can ABA be Harmful for My Child?", notes that punishment should only be used if all other reinforcement attempts have failed. Even, then, it should only be used for dangerous behaviors. More likely, the therapist will reinforce improved behavior while not rewarding problem behaviors, according to the article.
There is also nothing physically painful involved in this treatment. The therapist will gradually, not forcefully, expose the child to something that bothers them.
The example the article gives is an aversion to soap. The child will gradually be exposed to being around soap more and more. then move toward touching the soap briefly, at first. Eventually, the child is desensitized to being around soap and even using it. As far as the concern with an autistic child becoming indistinguishable from others, the goal is for the child to simply gain skills needed to succeed whether that be in speech or toilet training, as pointed out in the article. So, the treatment is not trying to change the child to "be like everyone else" as it is working to help them improve behaviors.
What To Look for In an ABA Therapist
So, how do you choose the best therapist for your child? First, look for behavior therapists who have Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBA) overseeing the treatment and the therapist administering the treatment. "What to Look for When Choosing an ABA Therapist" at researchautism.org, says that there are several things to look for in a therapist.
1. Therapist's Personality.
Just like with any other type of therapy, the client should feel comfortable with the therapist. Good, honest communication is key to any successful therapy situation. which goes hand in hand with trust. Particularly when your therapist is treating your child.
3. Ask About The Treatment Plan.
Speak to the therapist about your child's treatment plan. Make sure they are taking an approach that is right for your child and family. Also, the therapist should be focused on why the child has a negative behavior rather than just focus on the behavior alone. Talk to the therapist about how they measure the treatment's effectiveness. How is data collected and used to measure progress?
2. School funded ABA therapy
Also, as in the case of any type of medical treatment, you want to
look into their background. What did they specialize in for their degree program? Do they have a BCBA? How much experience do they have working with families?
4. Ask How You Can Help
Parents, you should ask how you can be involved in your child's treatment. Again, communication is key. For instance, parents need to communicate about the treatment and whether it is overwhelming for the family long-term. Parents should be involved in continuing the treatment when the child is at home and the family should be able to manage it.
Finally, make sure to do a thorough search for the right therapist. It will take some time but do not rush the process. Choosing a therapist is a very important step for the child's successful development.