What makes ABA effective?

Many families ask “What makes ABA effective?” when they’re starting their autism therapy journey. This post will describe a number of the factors and things that make ABA an evidence based approach.

Why is ABA an Effective Intervention Method for Autism?

Autism is a neurological condition that is often diagnosed in children under 5 years. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning that it affects each person differently. There is no cure for autism. However, there are evidence based interventions like Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) that can help autistics (and really everyone else too!) learn necessary skills.

Autism affects the way the brain processes information. It can make learning new skills hard. Common teaching strategies often are not enough. The areas that autistics find challenging are: social communication and repetitive, restricted and stereotypic behaviours.

The autistic child’s specific needs should be at the forefront of an ABA program. Therefore, the therapist chooses the targets and programs based on the child’s current skills. Also, the teaching procedures are specific to the learner.

Teaching is a slow process.

This is where ABA comes in. ABA is a very thorough science. In straightforward terms, the objective of ABA is to utilize strategies to reduce unwanted behaviours and increase helpful behaviours.

ABA can be complex to implement. Because of the way autistics learn, achieving and maintaining skills often requires consistent and intensive intervention. Some children require 1 on 1 intervention while others require small groups to master their skills.

ABA can be used to teach any skill. The basic idea is to break down a skill into small steps and teach each step until the entire behaviour is mastered. Another important aspect of ABA is using reinforcement or rewards to encourage a behaviour to happen again. Generally, in the beginning, reinforcement has to be tangible, meaning that the person can touch and hold it, for it to be effective. The end goal is to reduce the frequency of reinforcement and to make it naturally occurring (think social praise instead of screen time).

These things and more are what make ABA effective.

Source: Special Learning Inc.

Therapist at a computer with a child. This individualized dynamic is what makes ABA effective.

Is there evidence that shows what makes ABA effective?

What is the evidence that ABA works?

According to the National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice, ABA is an evidence based intervention. Evidence based means that ABA has passed scientific reviews of its uses, its effectiveness and if it can be replicated. ABA Therapy includes many different techniques.  All of these techniques focus on antecedents (what happens before a behaviour occurs) and on consequences (what happens after the behaviour). 

More than 20 scientific articles have been published that have proven that ABA is effective. Most of the research has focused on intensive, long term programs (40+ hours/week of therapy for 2+ years). However there is newer research coming out that demonstrates very clearly that focused ABA (limited number of hours each week for a shorter duration) is also very effective.

ABA is effective in many ways. However, it’s not effective for all skills and all children and families. That’s why an interdisciplinary team is so vital. Each discipline brings a lot to the table. At Side by Side Therapy, we believe in building a team that will be most effective for the child and family.

Two kids playing on the floor with blocks.

Parents of children with autism or other special needs often have a very difficult time helping their child overcome their challenges. We work as a trans-disciplinary team to create individualized, functional, evidence-based interventions that teach these missing skills. As a result, the family achieves an improved quality of life. 

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