ABA Therapy – What to Expect?

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) has become the most popular intervention for autism since it developed because it is evidence – based and the results are observable and measurable. ABA has been around since 1960s and since then volumes of research has been done to establish the effectiveness of its principles. It entails application of principles of learning and motivation to bring changes in socially significant behaviors and enhance learning. Although it is most popularly known as the intervention for autism, it can be used with any individual to bring positive changes in behaviors.

Due to its widespread use and different practitioners using different approaches to ABA, it has become a little confusing. Many people associate ABA to a narrow set of practices rather than understanding the wealth of applications it offers and the ways in which it can be used to improve children’s lives. Its scope is very wide – addressing behaviors, developing speech and language, play and leisure skills, functional and daily living skills and improving gross and fine motor skills, ABA can be applied to teach almost anything provided the practitioner has the expertise to do so. Different practitioners have different levels of training claiming to do ABA and the parents are clueless as to what to expect from therapy or how to tell whether their child is getting effective treatment.

Following are the guidelines for parents in choosing the correct practitioners and knowing what to expect for quality services:

  1. The Center/Organization/Program should be headed by a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) / BCBA-D (Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral). In case, the program is not directly headed by a BCBA or BCBA-D, it should be supervised or overseen by one.
  2. In case of doubt, one can request the ABA provider to show their certification document. Alternately, you can also check whether the practitioner is certified on the Boards website: http://www.bacb.com under certificant registry. Every certified individual is listed there.
  3. Direct staff should be properly trained and should be able to discuss treatment plan with you.
  4. Data is collected, reviewed and the changes in program/treatment is data based.
  5. Progress or regression is discussed with you regularly.
  6. There is an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and you know the entire program and behavioral intervention.
  7. You are encouraged to participate in therapy and observe the sessions. Your input and participation is requested and welcome.

Apart from choosing and having an effective ABA treatment for the child, there is huge responsibility that lies with parents as well. Sending the child to ABA therapy alone will not miraculously bring changes in the child. Parents also need to be willing to learn from the sessions and adopt the ABA principles in their lives.

Lovaas, the pioneer of ABA treatment, believed that applying ABA principles at all waking hours by therapists and then by parents remainder of the day can lead to life altering progress for young children with autism…and nothing can be closer to truth than this.

ABA therapy is lifestyle change. It is not something you do just to fill in time left after various other therapies. ABA therapy doesn’t take a day off. It should not stop because it is vacation time, guests are visiting, child is sick or school has started. It is 24/7 therapy that goes on every waking hour of a child. When the therapist is not working one on one with your child, then it is the parents who take over. If you do not have a commitment to ABA therapy or do not understand and agree with it, you will not see the progress you are expecting to see from ABA therapy.

Suruchi Sancheti, MS, MS, BCBA

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