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February 17, 2021

5 ABA Therapy Methods and How They’re Applied in Real Life

From the center to the real world – 5 transferable ABA Therapy methods for children with ASD

Key Takeaways:

  • Five ABA Therapy methods that teach children with ASD how to better respond to environments and situations: 1.) Discrete Trial Teaching 2.) Social Skills Training 3.) Natural Environment Teaching 4.) Pivotal Response Treatment 5.) Reinforcement
  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT) identifies skill deficits and uncovers why your child might be struggling with certain skills.
  • Social Skills Training (SST) helps your child respond more naturally in social situations at home, school, and other public places
  • Natural Environment Teaching (NET) teaches “generalization,” which ensures that skills learned during sessions are transferred to outside situations.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) targets “pivotal” areas of development using play-based therapy to teach new skills.
  • Reinforcement involves using positive and/or negative consequences to guide and improve behavior responses.

If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you know that certain environments or situations can trigger inappropriate behaviors. Teaching your child to cope and master new skills can be a challenge but it’s essential if he or she is to make progress in school and other social situations.

ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) is an evidence-based method of teaching appropriate responses.

ABA Therapy uses five key methods to teach ASD children how to respond to stimuli and situations in more socially appropriate ways. What are these methods and how are they applied to real-life situations? We will explore each one below so you can get a better understanding and be able to apply the same lessons at home.

The Overall Goals of ABA Therapy 

As we mentioned, ABA Therapy uses methods that teach children with ASD how to respond to a variety of situations and minimize inappropriate behaviors. According to Psychology Today, when working with an ABA therapist, you will:

  1. Determine which behaviors require a change
  2. Set goals and expected outcomes
  3. Establish ways to measure changes and improvements
  4. Evaluate where your child is before, during, and after therapy
  5. Learn new skills and how to avoid inappropriate responses
  6. Review your child’s progress continually
  7. Decide whether a further modification is needed

ABA Therapy is based on techniques with literature. These techniques are used to teach skills and behaviors; one technique is positive reinforcement. Overall, there are five general methods that can be applied during sessions. The methods used for your child are based on his/her unique needs and challenges.

These methods include:

  • Discrete Trial Training
  • Social Skills Training
  • Natural Environment Teaching
  • Pivotal Response Treatment
  • Reinforcement

Let’s break each one down so you understand what the therapy entails and how it can be applied to real-life situations.

1. Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is used to teach children with special needs the skills they need to be more independent. DTT is a teaching strategy that breaks larger concepts into smaller, simpler steps.

The key to understanding DTT is knowing that most skills are comprised of multiple steps. Even something that seems simple (like labeling colors) requires a lot of little steps. To simplify complex skills, DTT is used to target each individual skill involved in the broader domain. For example, teaching a child all of the colors is broken down so that each color is taught in isolation until all of the colors were mastered. DTT breaks skills down into small “discrete” components.

DTT can prepare children for real-life situations, including:

  • Teaches how to make eye contact
  • Teaches functional play skills
  • Teaches communication skills
  • Teaches writing skills
  • Teaches how to respond in social situations
  • Teaches skills of daily living such as dressing, bathing, using utensils, etc.
  • Teaches how to follow multi-step instructions

2. Social Skills Training

Children on the autism spectrum often struggle to read social cues and body language including: facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Some struggles may involve common situations like how to respond to greetings and others may relate to more complex social skills like detecting sarcasm and holding conversations.

Social skills training is designed to address these issues so your child can respond more naturally in social situations at school or other public places.

Real-life application of Social Skills Training include:

  • Interactive play
  • Tolerating changes in play
  • Taking turns
  • Following directions or rules
  • Initiating and maintaining conversations
  • Making eye contact while speaking or listening to someone
  • Understanding social cues
  • Understanding nonverbal communication
  • Establishing appropriate personal boundaries
  • Coping skills

3. Natural Environment Teaching

Learning new skills in a therapist’s office is possible but learning skills using familiar items found in one’s day-to-day environment is better.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) utilizes everyday items and routines to help your child learn skills as opposed to items only found at a therapeutic office. Using NET, skills are more readily carried over across environments. For example, instead of teaching your child colors using flashcards, NET would utilize familiar items (e.g., crayons, cars, blocks, etc.) to teach the same skill.

Real-life applications of NET:

  • Communication skills
  • Playing appropriately with others
  • Putting away toys
  • Sharing toys
  • Daily routines
  • How to identify shapes, colors, and animals

4. Pivotal Response Treatment

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is a variation of ABA Therapy that uses playtime to teach new skills. It targets “pivotal” areas of your child’s development, rather than specific behaviors. In PRT, natural motivation, such as access to a favorite toy, is used to teach skills and improve behavior. In this way, PRT helps your child progress in a number of areas, from communication and social skills to behavior, by using only the motivation your child has to promote change.

There are several main areas involved in PRT:

  • Motivation
  • Response to cues
  • Self-management

Motivation is key to the PRT approach, as is rewarding appropriate behavior or learned skills.

5. Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the basis on which ABA Therapy is built. In order for a child to display appropriate behavior in any environment, some form of reinforcement must happen so the desired behavior occurs again in the future. Psychologists call this “Operant Conditioning” and it involves two core concepts: positive and negative reinforcement.

Both forms of reinforcement are used to increase the future occurrence of desirable behavior. An ABA Therapist will determine what motivates your child, which increases the chances that desirable behaviors and appropriate skills will be repeated.

ABA Therapy at Lumiere Children’s Therapy

ABA Therapy at Lumiere Children’s Therapy uses a multi-faceted approach that incorporates one or more of the five main methods above. We fashion a program based on your child’s individual needs and challenges. Sessions are led by experienced, highly-qualified ABA Therapists who teach the necessary skills that make positive behavior changes.

Aside from ABA Therapy, Lumiere Children’s Therapy provides other comprehensive services so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Our services include:

  • Speech Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Developmental Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Social Work
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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