ABA therapy: An effective treatment option for Autism Spectrum Disorders

ABA therapy is the gold standard for autism treatment in the US.

ABA therapy is the gold standard for autism treatment in the US.

Having a child or loved one in your life with autism can be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences. With such a vast spectrum that ranges from severely developmentally impaired to mildly Asperger's, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to care and treatment. Now that one in 59 children in America is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) today, the demand for therapeutic interventions is rapidly growing each year. The good news is that there are a variety of therapeutic options available for your unique child or loved one at their current developmental stage and level of need. While not every therapeutic intervention is created equally or right for everyone, there are some forms of therapy that are considered to be more effective than others across the board.

The most widely recognized form of treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) today is applied behavioral analysis (ABA). This form of autism treatment was first formed out of theories of early behavioral psychologists with the goal of shaping observable behaviors through a strategic use of rewards and consequences (withholding of a reward). This method of therapy is highly effective at treating the behavioral symptoms of ASD and other behavioral and intellectual disorders. This form of treatment is measurable, and based on empirical evidence taken from 40 years of clinical research.

ABA therapy is the “gold standard” or “go-to” method of treatment for autism today, and is especially useful when it comes to equipping those with ASD or other behavioral/intellectual disorders with the tools needed to meet the social behavioral demands of society—allowing for greater functioning in day-to-day life. The goal of this form of treatment is to increase behaviors that are helpful to an individual while decreasing behaviors that are detrimental, or that negatively impact the learning process. While this form of treatment isn't able to instill empathy or increase emotional IQ, it's ideal for eliminating or reducing the behavioral symptoms of ASD and beyond. Some of the benefits of ABA therapy include:

  • Improved communication and language skills

  • Social skill development

  • Increase motor skills

  • Enhance learning capability and academic skills

  • Teach good self-care skills (hygiene, using the restroom, etc.)

  • Learning through play and leisure activities in a social setting

How Does ABA Therapy Work?

Your child or loved one with ASD is unique, and unlike anyone else with or without ASD. One great feature of ABA therapy is that it can be custom built to fit the unique needs of each individual. It can also be conducted in a variety of settings such as in the home, at school, or in a community setting such as a park or recreation center. ABA therapy can also be conducted in a group setting, or one-on-one; making this form of therapy convenient and practical for meeting each person where they are developmentally, socially, geographically, etc.

As previously mentioned, ABA works using a system of rewards, or positive reinforcements. When a desired behavior is accomplished, a reward will be given to increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future. Rewards could be anything from positive praise and gold stars to toys or privileges such as spending time doing a favorite activity, watching a movie, etc. If the desired behavior doesn't occur, the reward is not given. By remaining consistent with the system of giving or withholding rewards, the desired behaviors will become patterns or habits over time.

ABA therapy has been found to be effective in helping both children, adolescents, and adults adapt behaviorally and socially while managing behavioral symptoms of ASD and/or mental illness. This form of therapy can be conducted by a variety of interventionists to keep the process consistent. For example; parents, teachers, and therapeutic staff alike can participate in using ABA to help an individual adjust. This means that while at home, in school, and in session the same principles are being used to shape behavior. This can help ensure the behavior changes stick in a variety of settings with a variety of people with the goal being for these behavioral changes to be generalized across the board in all settings and situations.

Effectiveness of ABA therapy

Forty years of research surrounding ABA therapy shows this to be an effective method of implementing social and behavioral change in those with autism and beyond. Since behaviors are concrete and can be measured, it's easy to quantify the success or progress of ABA interventions, as both desired and undesired behaviors can be observed and tracked over time. ABA therapy is most effective when implemented early in the developmental stages of a child, however, it's effective for all individuals at any age or stage of life. An adult who has never experienced ABA therapy can still greatly benefit from it. It's simply most effective when implemented young as it will be helping shape a child's development from the start, which is always easier than starting with an adult who has already developed concrete social and behavioral habits throughout the lifespan.

The results of ABA therapy can vary from one person to the next. At its best, applied behavioral analysis is able to eliminate all behavioral symptoms of autism in an individual to the point that the ASD is undetectable. Others will simply be able to extinguish problematic behaviors and incorporate those that are positive or beneficial in certain settings, such as at school, or in public social settings.

How to get started

If you're interested in learning more about ABA therapy, we'd love to help get you started. The first step is to meet with a Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBA) who will develop a custom, comprehensive behavioral intervention plan (BIP) for your child or loved one. In order to do this, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) or functional analysis (FA) must be conducted. These are services we provide here at Big Sky Therapeutic Services before ABA therapy begins. If you'd like to learn more, we welcome you to visit our services page for more detailed information surrounding our ABA therapy services, and to contact us to get started. Many times, ABA therapy can be obtained for free through a variety of federal and state programs, or insurance. If you think that ABA therapy is right for your child or loved one, we'd love to connect with you today and help get you started on a path toward adjustment and healing.

Jayna Nickert