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January 9, 2020

Treatment Options: Benefits of Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy

Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy can help teach important life skills

Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA) is a valuable tool when it comes to shaping behavior. Many people struggle with basic skills that contribute to their overall ability to integrate into society; this is particularly true of those on the autism spectrum. These foundational challenges make it difficult to feel comfortable at school, work, or in social situations.

ABA improves many of these behaviors and skills, including communication, learning, hygiene, social etiquette, domestic chores, and job performance. It is a valuable tool for improving self-esteem and encouraging an independent future.

What is ABA

ABA is a flexible form of treatment that is adaptable to different ages, disorders, and personality types, and it can be practiced anywhere. ABA uses the science behind learning and behavior to identify how behavior works, how it’s affected by the environment, and how learning takes place in order to encourage positive behavior.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful behavioral motivator and one of the key components of ABA therapy. The core tenet of ABA involves identifying a goal behavior and rewarding that behavior in a way that’s meaningful. Doing this successfully involves recognizing and understanding the following three steps, known as “ABCs” of ABA:

  • Antecedent: The antecedent is what happens immediately before the goal behavior. It can include a verbal prompt, an instruction, a physical object, a thought or emotion, or an environmental factor.
  • Behavior: What follows the antecedent is the response or lack thereof. This can include an action or verbal reply.
  • Consequence: The behavior is followed by a consequence — either positive reinforcement, such as praise or some form of reward or privilege for positive behavior, or no reaction at all for inappropriate responses.

Identifying why a behavior happens and how to encourage or prevent it are essential to influencing future actions. Routinely offering consequences — both positive and negative — helps empower children by demonstrating how they can alter their behavior to affect an outcome.

Foundational skills in ABA therapy

The flexibility and practical nature of ABA make it an appropriate treatment for a wide range of skill areas. ABA therapy begins with an in-depth evaluation of skills, preferences, and goals. Then a treatment plan involves breaking each target skill into reasonable, attainable steps that build upon each other.

Skill areas that may benefit from treatment include, but are not limited to:

  • Social skills
  • Communication and language skills
  • Hygiene and grooming
  • Motor skills
  • Academic skills
  • General life skills

Data is collected in each therapy session to monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.

Family involvement

Consistency is crucial in the success of ABA treatment. Consequently, it’s important to educate family members and caregivers about how they can participate in treatment by supporting the treatment plan and providing input regarding skills they’d like to see their child learn. Caregivers can help by identifying opportunities for practice and by offering positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors while learning how to react to challenging behavior.

Rates of progress vary among individuals based on their age and ability to function, so patience for the process is imperative. Caregivers who are actively engaged and supportive are more likely to see demonstrable progress; therefore, family involvement is extremely valuable.

Community integration

When it comes to learning social and life skills, practice makes perfect. The outside world offers a nearly unlimited number of opportunities to experiment with exposure to different settings, people, and experiences.

Although it can be intimidating to practice new skills outside of a controlled environment, encouraging your child to participate in traditional activities and environments, such as school, lessons, sports, or peer groups, allows them to build confidence around their behaviors and reactions out in the “real” world. Your child’s ABA therapist can provide suggestions that are appropriate for your child’s skill level.

Neurotypical people instinctively run through some version of the “ABC” process as they navigate through life in a way that equates to simple cause and effect. When something happens to prompt a behavior, you’re able to connect the natural consequences to the trigger event and your reaction to it and adjust future behavior based on what you learned.

ABA instills this process into children on the autism spectrum or those with behavioral issues or psychological disorders by ensuring that appropriate behavior receives a positive reaction in a way that creates a pattern of positivity around doing the “right” thing. Have your child evaluated by a therapist that specializes in ABA to see if Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy can benefit your family while improving your child’s ability to succeed in school, with friends, and at life.

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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