There are many intervention methods currently in practice for individuals with autism. However, few have research to support their effectiveness. Those that do, have a strong foundation in Applied Behavior Analysis which is defined here.
Over three decades of research have shown that intensive behavioral interventions can lead to both short and long-term improvements in functioning. That is where ABA—Applied Behavior Analysis—comes in.
Children with autism are often capable of learning, but it takes a very structured environment, one where conditions are optimized for acquiring the same skills that typical children learn “naturally.” ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, is all about the rules for setting up the environment to enable children with autism to learn.
Behavior analysis demonstrates that rewards—or immediate positive consequences to a target behavior—lead to positive behavior changes. Conversely, any new behavior we may try, but is never rewarded, is likely to die out after a while (how often will you dial that busy number?). As common sense would have it, a behavior that results in something unpleasant is even less likely to be repeated. These are the basics of behavioral learning theory. ABA uses these principles to set up an environment in which individuals with autism learn as much as they can as quickly as possible. It is a science, not a “philosophy.” ABA is an objective discipline, focusing on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.
Procedures used in Applied Behavior Analysis include the use of positive and negative reinforcement, extinction, modeling, shaping, and chaining behaviors. Applied Behavior Analysis programs also include the use of token economies, discrete trials, behavior momentum and self-management techniques, among others.
An effective ABA program involves a thorough assessment, data collection, and parent training regarding the procedures being used and skills being taught. ABA programs are individualized and can take place in a variety of settings, ranging from structured teaching in a one-on-one setting at a table to play-based activities.
How to Implement Behavioral Strategies
- Develop an individualized educational plan with your school.
- Break down difficult tasks into (discrete) teachable steps.
- Provide clear instructions to the child.
- Physically, visually or verbally prompt or provide a model for the way to perform specific behaviors.
- Fade prompts as the child masters the skill.
- Immediately give praise and rewards for doing appropriate behaviors.
- Shape a response by rewarding positive behaviors and slowly increasing your standards.
- Use tools to assess and replace inappropriate behaviors.
- Teach when and when not to perform the learned behaviors.
- Practice positive behaviors in various settings and with a variety of individuals for generalization of the skill.
Above information was developed with information from ABA Resources for Recovery from Autism/PDD/Hyperlexia, Autism Speaks, The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and The Center for Autism and Related Disorders)
You can also review these recommended webcasts from OCALI. They can advise how to integrate evidence-based practices when supporting a family member with autism.
Milestones Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Fundamentals Podcast
Listen and learn the basics of ABA from the comfort of your home. ABA strategies include a set of powerful techniques used to teach new skills, increase communication, promote independence and decrease challenging behaviors. ABA is evidence based and can be successful with individuals of any age across a variety of settings.
Basic ABA Principles Part 1 What Is ABA? 9 min.
Basic ABA Principles Part 2 Getting Started/Discrete Trials 24 min.
Basic ABA Principles Part 3 Reinforcement 21 min.
Basic ABA Principles Part 4 Prompting 15 min.
Basic ABA Principles Part 5 Task Analysis/Data Collection 13 min.
Other Types of Intervention
The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders has a brief for all current evidence-based practices. You can read each of these briefs to help determine what is best for your family.
Along with Applied Behavioral Analysis, here are other forms of intervention that are worth investigating:
TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children) TEACCH is used in many schools. It relies heavily on visual learning, a strength for many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Children use schedules made up of pictures and/or words to order their day and to help them move smoothly between activities.
PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) Since many people with autism are not able to verbally communicate, PECS teaches how to communicate using pictures and picture cards.
Floortime The idea behind Floortime is that a child’s caregiver gets down on the floor and plays with the child and following the child’s lead to determine what interests her. It can help the child to understand being in a “shared” world.
Occupational Therapy OT for individuals with autism can help to develop play and motor skills. In addition, it can help develop a longer attention span, aid in transitions, and reduce aggression.
Physical Therapy A physical therapist can work on physical skills that are important for sports, recess and general play, skills such as running, skipping and catching a ball. Physical Therapy can also help to improve muscle tone and build physical endurance.
Social Skills Interventions Working with children with ASD on interacting with other people and developing skills such as eye contact, conversations and playing with others.
Medication Consult with your child’s physicians to determine if there is a medication that might be appropriate.