Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that can make it difficult for your child to communicate with others. Because ASD is a spectrum, people will need different types of treatment. If you have a child with ASD who you think should receive treatment, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) might be a good option. ABA is a form of therapy used often for children with ASD and other developmental conditions. Learn more about how ABA therapy is used for ASD below.

What Is ASD?

ASD is when a child does not develop the expected social and language skills. Some people with ASD have mild symptoms and are considered high-functioning, while others have more serious cases. Characteristics that you may see in someone who has ASD may include:

  • Not responding to their name being called or not appearing to hear you
  • Resisting cuddling and holding
  • Preferring to be or play alone
  • Having poor eye contact and few facial expressions
  • Doing repetitive movements, like spinning, rocking, or hand flapping

ASD Diagnosis

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult because there is no specific test for it. A diagnostic evaluation may consist of a doctor observing your child’s behavior and giving them tests to check their hearing, speech, language, and development. If you’re concerned about your child having ASD, talk to your child’s doctor.

What Is ABA and How Does It Work?

Applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, is a form of behavioral therapy that can help children with ASD. While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for ASD, ABA is considered the gold standard treatment for ASD. With ABA, an ASD behavior specialist will help your child develop the skills they need to interact successfully with others.

In ABA therapy, a qualified professional develops an individualized plan to help your child improve their communication and social skills. For example, discrete trial training (DTT) is a form of ABA that can improve social skills, and it consists of the following steps:

  • Plan: An autism behavior specialist meets with you and designs an individualized program for your child with ASD.
  • Goals: A large goal is broken down into smaller steps. For example, a goal for your child may be to learn shapes. So, the first step may be learning how to match circles.
  • Prompts: During therapy, the specialist says something like, “It’s time to work.” They can then give a simple direction like “match” or “match shape.”
  • Help when needed: If necessary, the specialist gently moves your child’s hand to help them complete their task. They will assist them less and less over time until they can do things independently.
  • Reinforcement: Once your child can do the task by themselves, the specialist rewards them by saying something encouraging like, “Good job.” This gives them something rewarding, like their favorite food or toy.
  • Repetition and mastery: The task being taught is repeated until your child can carry it out easily. Then they can move on to more difficult tasks.
  • Generalization: Your child is rewarded for showing the newly learned skill under many different conditions.

Insurance Coverage: ABA Therapy for Autism

From 1980 to 2000, insurance companies were not required to cover ABA services for people with ASD in any state. In 2001, Indiana became the first state to mandate insurance coverage of ABA. By 2019, all 50 states and the District of Columbia required that at least some private insurance companies cover ABA treatment.

Pros and Cons of ABA Therapy for Autism

ABA therapy works for many people because it can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs. For example, if your child is having difficulty playing with other children, their ABA therapy may be focused on helping them follow the rules of a game or how to share toys with others. Another advantage of ABA therapy is that it can be done in multiple settings, including your home.

However, the structure of ABA therapy may be a drawback for some. For example, certain types of ABA therapy are rigid and encourage children with ASD to respond to prompts robotically rather than spontaneously. If you’re considering ABA therapy for your child but have concerns about it, talk to your doctor for more information.

What’s Next?

If you have a child with ASD and are considering ABA therapy, talk to your doctor about treatment programs near you. There are several organizations that offer services to children with ASD, such as the Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers and InBloom Autism Services. Ask your doctor about these and more resources, and see if what they have to offer works for you and your family.

Resource Links:

  1. “ABA Therapy for Autism: Our Commitment to Care” via InBloom
  2. “Advances in Our Understanding of Behavioral Intervention: 1980 to 2020 for Individuals Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder” via Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
  3. “Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for Children with Autism” via Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  4. “Behavioral Artistry: Examining the Relationship Between the Interpersonal Skills and Effective Practice Repertoires of Applied Behavior Analysis Practitioners” via Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
  5. “Therapy & Services” via Hopebridge
  6. “Efficacy of Interventions Based on Applied Behavior Analysis for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-Analysis” via Psychiatry Investigation