Applied Behavior Analysis is a common teaching method for individuals with autism. The goal is to increase positive social behaviors and decrease negative behaviors that interfere with the learning process.
For many people with autism, ABA is successful. It helps them increase significant behaviors that lead to more independence in their natural environment.
Unfortunately, ABA is often misunderstood or misrepresented. This leaves some parents unable to make an informed decision about whether ABA is right for their child.
If you’re interested in learning more about ABA, we can help bring clarity to some of the myths surrounding this treatment.
Here are some common misconceptions about ABA.
The Goal of ABA Is to Be Socially Acceptable
The goal of ABA is to teach skills that will allow autistic individuals to live happy, meaningful lives. The skills they learn go far beyond meeting social norms. At Level Ahead, we choose goals that are meaningful to your child and family. Our practitioners are knowledgeable about teaching strategies, but also about feedback from the autistic community regarding potentially harmful practices. We are mindful that eye contact should not be forced, self-stimulatory behaviors are an integral part of self-regulation, and all interests should be acknowledged.
Some of the target skills include:
- Adaptive living
- Vocational skills
- Language skills
- Leisure and play
- Planning and organizing
- Managing money
ABA skills are prioritized on an individual basis. They focus on the needs of the learner and their family.
The idea is to prioritize goals. The learner’s family will consider what skills are needed most and highlight short and long-term goals to help improve these skills.
For example, If the goal is to visit a friend, the skills will center around taking turns, sharing, playing, and related social skills.
ABA Is Taught at the Table
A typical ABA session may involve some time at the table, but that’s not all. Fun activities that reinforce positive behaviors are an important part of ABA.
The skills may be taught in a variety of settings, including the playground, backyard, or in the community. Your child’s natural environment is their best teacher! While some skills can be taught with pictures and note cards, we will begin with immediate generalization to help them fully master needed skills. Some autistic learners need a less stimulating environment to learn, so if that is the case for your child, your behavior analyst will be more than happy to accommodate this as well.
A structured and predictable schedule will be important for your child. This can be designed by you and the behavior analyst, including a combination of reinforcing activities, learning opportunities, and items preferred by your child.
ABA Uses Punishment and Aversive Tactics
Early researchers of ABA did use punishment and aversive procedures such as time out, removal of favorite items, or increasing tasks. Currently, best practices in ABA center around reinforcement-based treatments.
According to the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board Code of Ethics, reinforcement is preferable to punishments and aversive-based treatments. Punishments should only be used when the behavior is severe or dangerous or if reinforcement hasn’t worked.
Dangerous behaviors such as self-injury may require more than just reinforcement techniques. Aversives must be used very carefully and only by someone who is highly trained in ABA treatments.
There must be a plan in place to discontinue aversive treatments when they’re no longer needed.
ABA Teaches Kids to Behave Like Robots
An important element of ABA is teaching the generalization of skills across people, places, and things. This aim is for the learner to apply learned skills to a variety of settings.
Naturalistic Teaching Approaches focus on using skills in natural contexts, various environments, and with other people. This leads to more natural behaviors for everyday life.
Some learners do better in a highly structured environment. Some learn best through repetition. Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a method that breaks a complex skill down into basic and structured steps.
This type of teaching is successful with some learners but can lead to scripted or robotic responses. However, once the learner masters the skill, the goal is to transition into a more natural response in everyday settings. Your behavior analyst will discuss these treatment modalities with you, and work together to choose the best approach for your child.
Learners Become Dependent on Reinforcement
When a consequence following a behavior increases the behavior, it’s considered reinforcement. Reinforcement is used in a variety of settings, including the home, school, and the workplace.
Giving your child an allowance for doing chores or getting a paycheck for working all week is reinforcement. Although reinforcement is a necessary part of ABA training, the goal is to decrease the amount of reinforcement needed.
Some learners are highly motivated by contrived reinforcement such as toys, prizes, food, etc. ABA treatment emphasized the value of natural reinforcement that aligns more with daily life.
These types of reinforcers include praise, money, recognition, high-fives, and others.
ABA Is Only for Autistic Children
ABA was introduced in the 1960s as an autism therapy. B.F. Skinner founded ABA in 1938. It was based on the concept of operant conditioning, direct language, and learning through consequence.
Positive reinforcement is a fundamental part of human behavior. It’s effective with individuals of all ages and is used with people with developmental disabilities, autism, social or behavioral problems, mental disorders, and more.
It helps people move from rigid behaviors to more complex learning processes. A quality ABA program helps learners increase their skills in a variety of areas, including:
- Communication skills
- Social skills
- Play skills
- Academic readiness
- Community safety skills
It’s also used as a therapy for people with mental health disorders, including:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
ABA is also effective with health-related social concepts such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and reducing accidents.
Myths About Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied Behavior Analysis is a highly researched therapy for individuals with autism. Most of the misconceptions surrounding ABA services stem from the past and misunderstandings about the goals of treatment.
ABA is an effective treatment that can help improve a variety of skills, including social skills, communication, adaptive behavior, and much more. If you’re considering ABA treatment for your loved one, we’d love to talk with you.
At Level Ahead ABA, we’re committed to providing our clients with superior one-on-one ABA therapy in the comfort of their homes.
Contact us today to learn more.