There are many thoughts on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy in autism. These controversial notions concern whether ABA therapy is abusive to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition, there are questions of whether ABA is even effective. Well, the answer depends on one’s understanding of ABA and his/her personal experience with ABA’s procedures. The purpose of this blog is to define ABA therapy use in autism. To examine some evidence. And to provide a personal account with ABA therapy. So, let’s examine ABA therapy in autism.
Understanding ABA Therapy and Autism
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is considered a scientific approach to modify behaviors. This is done through manipulating outside factors. ABA therapy looks at the setting in which a behavior occurs. Motivational variables, and events leading to the occurrence of the behavior are then assessed. In addition, ABA therapy examines consequence following the behavior that determines the likely recurrence of the behavior (Vismara & Rogers, 2010). Careful assessment of the individual is needed. Since the results determine interventions designed to alter behaviors.
What Does the Evidence Say?
Research suggests that ABA therapy is effective in autism. However, outcomes depend on several factors. For instance, diagnosis severity, cognitive functioning, treatment hours, gender, parent education level, or primary language spoken at home (Tiura et al, 2017).
Researchers examined participants, with a mean entry age of 3 years, who received ABA therapy. Then, assessments were conducted at intake and every 6 months thereafter. Results supported therapy effectiveness in communication, social-emotional, and adaptive behavior, with cognitive functioning being the leading predictor of treatment outcomes (Tiura et al, 2017).
Personal Account of ABA Therapy and Autism
My son was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. We did not consider ABA therapy until he was about 5 years old. He is now 7 years old. My interest in ABA sparked one evening after taking my son to speech therapy and observing a behavioral therapist redirecting twin boys (around 7 years old at the time) with ASD with reinforcement techniques. I inquired of their mother of ABA therapy’s effectiveness in managing her son’s undesired behaviors. I wanted her personal experience with ABA therapy and autism. She praised the therapy results and encouraged me to give it a try.
My son, Liam was an eloper. He also enjoyed climbing on or above high objects which was unsafe. He had other ASD characteristic behaviors like hand flapping and squealing. Hand flapping and squealing he did when excited which was perfectly acceptable and nonproblematic. After all, I enjoyed his excitement and wanted him to express it however he could.
We approached ABA to discourage his eloping and inappropriate climbing. I was privy to sit in on a few of his therapy sessions. What I noticed was that he was awarded for his appropriate responses while his undesired behaviors were simply ignored. You see, whenever Liam would elope or climb recklessly, he would look back to see if anyone was watching. When ignored, he stopped. But when given attention, he continued.
Why we stopped ABA Therapy
My son was involved in ABA therapy for about a year before we withdrew due to our moving further from the therapy center. To be enrolled in ABA therapy, the therapy center required his participation for at least 10 hours per week. 10 hours weekly for ABA therapy was nearly impossible due to his new school hours and after school swimming lessons. ABA therapy proved effective for Liam; his elopement issue is now nonexistent. We have seen a major decline in his inappropriate climbing. Though I am not sure if that’s due to ABA therapy or his backyard jumbo trampoline and doom climber.
ABA Therapy in Autism
There are numerous arguments on whether ABA therapy exposes children with ASD to abuse. I think that the answer largely depends on the approach used during therapy. Originally, ABA therapy included procedures of reinforcement, shaping, punishment, and prompting to modify behaviors (Leaf et al, 2018). However, when tailored and used appropriately, without punishment procedures, ABA therapy can be effective in autism. A closer look at ABA therapy and autism will help you and your love ones determine if ABA therapy is right for you.
Leaf, J. B., Leaf, R., McEachin, J., Cihon, J. H., & Ferguson, J. L. (2018). Advantages and challenges of a home- and clinic-based model of behavioral intervention for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 48(6), 2258–2266.
Tiura, M., Kim, J., Detmers, D., & Baldi, H. (2017). Predictors of longitudinal ABA treatment outcomes for children with autism: A growth curve analysis. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 70, 185–197
Vismara LA, & Rogers SJ. (2010). Behavioral treatments in autism spectrum disorder: What do we know? Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 6, 447–468