Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): What Parents Need to Know
While ABA is recognized as one of the best therapies to help children with autism or severe challenging behaviors, good ABA programs are not "one size fits all." Rather, each program is written to help each child work on specific skills that will help them become more independent and successful. Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA. When a behavior is followed by a reward, the child is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change. Parents, family members and caregivers receive training so they can support learning and skill practice by providing positive reinforcement throughout the day.
It’s important to find an ABA therapist who is a good fit for your family. The first step is for therapists to establish a good relationship with your child. If your child trusts the therapists and enjoys spending time with them, therapy will be more successful and fun.
What to Expect from ABA Therapy
A qualified and trained board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) designs and directly oversees the program. They customize the ABA program to each learner's skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. The BCBA will start by doing a detailed assessment to evaluate the child and determine which behaviors require change. They will use this to write specific treatment goals based on the age and ability level of the child. Family goals and preferences may be included, too.
Goals can include many different skill areas, such as communication, social skills, self-care, or academic skills. The instruction plan breaks down each of these skills into small, concrete steps. The therapist teaches each step one by one, from simple to more complex.
Each time the child uses the target behavior or skill successfully, they get a reward that is meaningful to them. Rewards can include praise, a toy or book, watching a video, access to playground or other location, or any special treat that encourages the child to continue using the skill. The child receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating the specific skill or behavior. The emphasis is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning. The child receives no reinforcement for negative behaviors. Over time this leads to meaningful behavior change as the child learns that good behaviors have good consequences.
The BCBA measures changes and improvements by collecting data in each therapy session. Data helps them monitor the child’s progress and decide whether further behavior modification is necessary. The BCBA regularly meets with family members to review profess and adjust goals as needed.
Length of ABA Therapy
The length of time spent in ABA depends on the severity of the problem and individual rate of improvement. Intensive and long-term ABA therapy is recommended for children with autism. According to Psychology Today, ABA is most successful with autistic children when intensely applied for more than 20 hours a week and prior to the age of 4, but individuals of any age can achieve results with ABA. Programs that provide 25 to 40 hours a week of therapy for 1 to 3 years show gains in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills, and social functioning.
Final note to parents
Parents and families play a big role in the success of ABA. Be sure you understand the specific target goals and behaviors so you can provide positive reinforcement when you see them at home. Every opportunity for continued practice in therapy and at home will help the child to replace the inappropriate behavior with one that is more helpful.
Alpha School an private special education school in New Jersey
Our Mission at The Alpha School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.370.1150, or request a tour of Alpha School of Jackson, NJ located just minutes off of Route 9 and Route 195 in Ocean County.
— John Gonzalez, Principal-Alpha School, Jackson, NJ