Have questions about ABA? In our first blog post, we hope to provide information, dispel myths, and share the science we love. Determining the right services for you, your child, and your entire family can be daunting. In a world that is constantly trying to appeal and market to us, sometimes without us even knowing, it can be challenging to sift through the information available to come to the best decisions regarding your family. This task becomes even harder when you have a child with a suspected or diagnosed disability. Beyond Behavior's FAQs hope to help you determine if ABA therapy could be a fit for you and your family.
What is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is defined as "the science in which the principles of the analysis of behavior are applied systematically to improve socially significant behavior and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior change". What does that even mean? Basically, ABA is the science of teaching and learning. Professionals trained in ABA, such as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are taught and trained the principles of behavior so that we can help people in our care to learn skills to have happier, more independent, fulfilling lives.
I thought ABA was just for kids with behavior challenges and autism?
One common misconception of ABA is that we only work on challenging behaviors. We do (and we are really good at this!), but we know that all behavior is a form of communication. People do what they do because it works for them. We strive to identify the skills a client needs to have a happier life, which can include communication skills, social skills, independent activities of daily living, leisure and play skills, and so much more.
At times, ABA becomes synonymous with "autism treatment". ABA has been recognized by the CDC, U.S. Surgeon General, and National Institute of Mental Health as being a highly effective treatment for individuals with autism for good reason, but does NOT just apply to people with autism. The science of ABA strives to answer the questions, "How does this person learn best? What do they need to learn to have a happier, healthier, more successful life? How can I best teach this person? How do I know if the person is learning?" Those questions apply to people on and off the autism spectrum.
I heard ABA is done at the table with picture cards. Is that ABA?
ABA therapy is meant to be individualized to each and every learner. Our goal is to teach each person we work with in the way that is going to be most effective for them. Above all else, we strive to make learning fun and meaningful. We find that most people learn best when they are happy, relaxed, and engaged in learning activities that are designed just for them. Learning can (and should!) occur anywhere - on the playground, in the kitchen, playing with siblings and friends, doing chores. There are times where some skills, especially skills relating to school and skills that would naturally occur sitting down, might happen at a table, but ABA therapy should incorporate opportunities to learn everywhere the learner goes.
When I think of behavior management, I think of punitive measures, like time outs. That doesn't sound fun. Is that ABA?
BCBAs and other certified and trained professionals are taught to focus on and exhaust reinforcement before we add punitive measures into our teaching. This means that we find out what motivates the learner and we incorporate that into our lessons or sessions in a few different ways. Teaching new behavior skills (or any skill) requires the teacher to look at what happens before, during, and after teaching. We strive to make our lessons motivating to each person by infusing motivating or preferred activities into our sessions. This means learners are inherently more motivated, or willing, to engage in the learning we have planned for them. We also make sure we have reinforcers ready for after the student practices a skill. This is all designed with your individual learner in mind with the goals of making learning fun and effective.
There are times that we need to use punitive procedures, or punishment procedures, when less restrictive interventions aren't enough. However, punishment should always be discussed with the parent/caregiver in advance and designed specifically for the individual learner.
Is ABA a lifelong intervention?
The length of services varies from learner to learner, but ABA is not meant to be a lifelong intervention for most kids and families. Beyond Behavior's commitment to clients and families is to recommend the right frequency and duration of services (commonly referred to as dosage) based on the individual learner's needs and the needs of his or her family. We create goals with you based on the initial evaluation results. Our goal is to fade out our services by teaching the client key skills and by giving the family tools to practice new skills at home. We plan for generalization of skills from the very start of service initiation. Generalization means being able to perform skills independently in different environments, with different people, across different times of the day. When a skill has generalized, this is when we know true learning has successfully occurred.
Instead of thinking of ABA as a short- or long-term service, it might be helpful to think of it as "episodic" care. There might be times in your child or family's life when you are more or less likely to benefit from ABA therapy. We aim to be available to you during the twists and turns in your family's journey.
I'm interested in pursuing ABA therapy, but I don't know if we are ready. What should I do?
We understand how difficult it is to make the best decisions for your family. Beyond Behavior is committed to listening to your needs and worries and being a thought partner in your processing. In addition to reaching out to Beyond Behavior to talk through options, we recommend reaching out to local autism societies, parent support groups, and your insurance company to find it what is and is not covered based on your family's information and plan.