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Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is a well-researched and common approach to therapy for people with autism and other related disorders. It's especially beneficial for young children who have been recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
What Is the Meaning of Applied Behavioral Analysis?
ABA therapy focuses on real-world results to help children with autism function in the different settings they'll be in the most, like home and school. Applied means the goal of therapy is to work toward appropriate social behaviors rather than abstract concepts. The "Behavioral" part of the name means the intervention strategies used focus on the child's actual observed behavior rather than assessing too much importance to the possible meanings behind the behavior. Analysis means that the strategies used are only decided upon once the therapist or specialist has been able to analyze a certain behavior pattern and determine when the child is most likely to display that behavior.
What Techniques Does ABA Use?
Since ABA services are tailored to work best with each specific child, therapists and behavior specialists may employ many different techniques. ABA never focuses on traditional punishment, however, because the goal isn't to reprimand children for "bad" behavior. It's to help them understand and implement socially-acceptable ways to help get their needs met. The word "punishment" in the context of ABA therapy simply means a decrease in undesired behavior. While some children do respond well to things like timeouts or the revocation of privileges, others respond more positively to positive reinforcement in the form of small rewards for positive behaviors.
ABA therapists also use techniques like prompts and modeling to help children remember and engage in desired behaviors. For example, a therapist might ask a child, "Where does your backpack go?" to remind the child to hang it up. He or she might also model taking the backpack and hanging it up to show the child how to do it or show a series of pictures depicting a child removing his backpack, walking over to the rack and then hanging it up on the hook. Many children on the autism spectrum respond well to breaking down tasks into simple, individual steps, so this type of breaking apart and sequencing is also often used in ABA programs.
Functional Behavior Assessment
Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is an important part of an overall ABA therapy plan. It's a part of the analysis portion of the therapy, and it's vital to understanding how best to serve each child. Therapists and specialists use direct observation of a child, as well as interviews with family members, to determine what situations or environments lead to a specific behavior. Once the most likely causes for a behavior are identified, the therapist can create tailored strategies to help redirect the child from unwanted behavior or help the child communicate in more effective ways.
For example, if analysis shows that a child starts screaming in loud environments, it's reasonable to conclude that the child may have difficulty processing noises. The therapist can then work with the child on more appropriate behavioral responses to those situations, such as having the child ask if he or she may leave the environment or by teaching him to cover his or her ears or put on noise-blocking headphones in overwhelming noisy situations.
ABA therapy is provided at all kinds of therapy and treatment centers. If your loved one is getting inpatient care at an assisted living facility, ask the facility's director about what ABA services are available.