The Beginners Guide to ABA Therapy for Parents
Are you considering applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for a child diagnosed with autism? This therapy empowers children and adolescents to develop skills and communication styles suited to their unique needs.
In this guide, we’ll answer your pressing questions about ABA therapy and how it works to help you make the best treatment decisions for your child.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the only evidence-based FDA-approved treatment for autism. It’s also used to treat several developmental delays, brain injuries, mental illnesses and similar conditions.
ABA therapy is a long-term therapy that requires constant commitment from the therapists and caregivers in charge of the client, possibly even including teachers and other guardians when the child is in their care. Before your child starts with this modality, it can help to understand what it really is and how it will help them thrive.
How Does ABA Therapy Work?
Behaviorism is the foundation of ABA therapy. It states that behavior has three main aspects — the ABCs:
- Antecedent: The stimulus which triggers a behavior. It can be internal, like a thought or feeling, or something external in the environment.
- Behavior: The action that occurs due to the antecedent. Examples include a physical response, communication or even a failure to respond.
- Consequence: What happens after and because of the behavior.
A Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) can look at how a child moves through these three stages and understand where they may have challenges transitioning between or reacting to them. Once they’ve identified areas of concern, the therapist can target them during treatment and teach the child how to communicate their experiences and control negative reactions through positive reinforcement.
Is ABA Therapy Effective?
Children and families who see the benefits of ABA therapy firsthand can understand the effectiveness of these treatments after multiple one-on-one sessions. Since ABA is flexible and uses positive reinforcement to encourage certain behaviors in children with autism, ABA therapy is becoming the gold standard for autism treatment worldwide.
Years of research and continued studies of long-term benefits make ABA therapy a renowned practice for families everywhere.
What Are the Different Types of ABA Therapy?
Some of the most popular forms of ABA therapy include:
- Verbal behavior interventions: This type of ABA therapy primarily focuses on improving communication skills.
- Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI): This ABA therapy works best with young children. It teaches them skills in socializing, completing tasks and adapting to changes.
- Discrete trial training: While all forms of ABA therapy use some level of positive reinforcement, this is the most obvious example. Its focus is on having participants complete tasks and earn rewards to teach them new skills.
- Play-based model: Also known as the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), this form of ABA therapy encourages the child to play and have fun during sessions. We’ve found that playing allows children to open up more and better express themselves while accepting new ideas. The play-based model is the form of ABA therapy all Kids SPOT family facilities use.
What Types of Behavior Therapy Exist for Your Child?
Clinicians use many strategies during ABA therapy to meet children where they’re at, so ABA therapy will look different for every child. However, a well-known ABA strategy is called positive reinforcement. When a child performs a specific action or behavior the parent would like to reinforce, that action is rewarded with something valuable to the child to improve the likelihood that they will repeat the positive behavior.
Other treatment methods include Discrete Trial Learning, Incidental Teaching (also referred to as Natural Environment Training), Pivotal Response Training and Natural Language Paradigm (NLP). All ABA plans are structured to measure progress effectively. They also follow the same general principles, which include focusing on:
- Antecedents: The antecedent is the circumstance preceding the behavior. For example, when a parent or therapist says, “Let’s wash our hands.”
- Behaviors: The behavior is the child’s resulting behavior or reaction to the antecedent. For example, if the child walks to the sink to wash their hands or falls to the floor upset.
- Consequences: The consequence of the behavior is the result or response to the child’s behavior, like withholding a reward to deter problem behaviors.
What Are the Goals of ABA Therapy?
The goals for the outcome of ABA therapy are as varied as the people who participate in it. During the initial evaluation, the therapist may come up with a treatment plan to help your child:
- Improve responses to certain stimuli
- Decrease tantrums, outbursts or harmful behavior
- Learn to communicate wants and needs
- Improve focus and learning capacity
How Do I Know if My Child Might Benefit From ABA Therapy?
Finding the right therapy options for your child is assessing their needs and choosing a supportive therapist who can make a positive difference in their life. It can be rare for two children with autism to experience the same benefits of the same therapy type because their needs and potential goals can impact the therapy’s progress.
The most efficient way to determine if ABA therapy is the right route for your child is to meet with an experienced ABA therapist who can assess their needs and learning potential. They may suggest giving ABA a try to see the effectiveness of these sessions toward your child’s growth, or they might offer a different approach using different therapy options that could benefit their future the most.
Your child may be a good candidate for ABA therapy at any age, especially if they’re encountering challenges in:
- Early motor and speech skills
- Regulating their emotions
- Making and keeping friendships and other connections
- Developing independence and taking care of themselves
- Communicating and focusing in school
What Is the Importance of Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy?
Positive reinforcement is one of the main aspects of ABA therapy. When trying to get a child to correct or change their behaviors and reactions, rewarding them for doing so encourages them to continue practicing the target behavior. The reward must be something meaningful to them, but it doesn’t have to be big — perhaps a sticker or a few minutes of reading time.
Whatever the reinforcement is, it’s crucial to be consistent with it. That’s why it’s important that every caretaker be involved in the therapy process — everyone has to be on the same page so they can reward the new behaviors every time they happen and discourage old patterns when they occur.
How Do I Choose an ABA Therapist?
The right choice of an ABA therapist can benefit your child’s mental and social development and your family’s support system. Luckily, numerous board-certified behavioral analysts specialize in ASD therapies and treatments that you can choose.
Before starting ABA therapy, you and your family will have the opportunity to sit down with a therapist to ensure they are the right fit for your child’s behavioral progress. During this initial meeting, you can take advantage of this time together to get to know more about them and their experience and personality:
- Check into their professional background.
- Observe their personality and how they interact with your child.
- Ask about their treatment and therapy methods.
- Understand if they plan to involve you and your family in each session.
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you feel comfortable with, and do as much research into their background as you desire to find an ABA therapist near you!
How Can I Continue to Enforce ABA Therapy Practices at Home?
Practicing ABA therapy at home with your child can take time and patience. However, the journey to building healthy behaviors and interactions is incredibly rewarding for everyone in the family. Most ABA therapies in a clinic allow parents to participate or sit in on each session to better understand how to approach each ABA lesson.
If you are interested in doing ABA therapy from home, your child’s assigned therapist can make trips to your residence so they can enjoy sessions in familiar areas of the house. In-home therapy practices are an excellent way for your child to continue their behavioral therapy methods with family present to learn positive social interactions with each immediate family member.
Since the approach to ABA therapy is to demonstrate positive reinforcement when a child with autism can behave appropriately with others and communicate effectively, you can continue to use this reward system beyond formal sessions. It can take time and patience to master self-maintenance skills and swapping outbursts for communication. With a positive support system, you can continue to enforce ABA therapy practices at home.
How Do You Find a Provider?
There are providers offering services all over the country, but without insurance coverage, the cost of ABA therapy can be steep. The Kids SPOT family of companies has facilities that are in-network for most commercial insurance providers and Medicaid plans. We provide ABA therapy in multiple states, including Florida, North Carolina and Texas, and our expert pediatric specialists work with kids and young adults from birth to age 21, encouraging them to learn new skills and thrive in their environment.
How Much Does ABA Therapy Cost?
The costs of ABA therapy can depend on the individual you choose as your child’s ABA therapist and how long your child remains with these practices. You can find the exact cost once you find a trusted board-certified behavioral analyst who can walk you through the price and timelines you can expect with their ABA services.
In most cases, insurance will cover ABA therapy if your child has received an autism diagnosis. Since ABA therapy has an impressive history of benefiting the behavioral approaches to ASD treatments, insurance companies typically offer financial support for therapy sessions. If you think ABA is right for your child, contact your insurance to ensure that these services can cover your child’s support.
What Are the Benefits of ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy continues to develop through history to provide children with autism the opportunity to learn essential communication, self-care, and cognitive skills to thrive. As this behavioral method grows in supported research, the future holds a promising outlook for children and families who favor this approach to ASD treatments.
While the benefits of ABA for children’s behavior continue to evolve, current ABA benefits include the following:
- Involving the entire family unit in therapy sessions.
- Designed by board-certified behavior analysts.
- Treatments include improving communication, reduction of inappropriate behaviors and socialization.
- Individualized therapy approaches for each child.
- Positive reinforcement and prompting.
- Natural environment teaching.
How Old Does Your Child Need to Be to Begin ABA Therapy?
Depending on your child’s needs, they can begin ABA therapy as young as 2 years old. Additionally, the younger your child is, the more their sessions will resemble play therapy, making them more receptive to treatment. And the sooner your child begins ABA, the easier it will be for them to continue learning and maintaining positive behaviors.
How Do You Start ABA Services for Your Child?
To begin ABA therapy for your child, consult with a supportive, experienced team of pediatric therapists like Communication Corner or with one of our other family of companies. Our licensed specialists offer in-home pediatric therapy services and use a play-based ABA therapy model to help your child feel comfortable. The more relaxed your child is, the more receptive they will be to learning new skills and behaviors. Plus, you’ll be right by your child’s side to engage with and encourage them through therapy sessions.
Discover where we’re located near you and talk to our staff to learn more about how ABA therapy can transform your child’s life. Then, request an appointment with one of our hundreds of certified therapists today.