If you’re the parent of a child with autism or a developmental delay, there’s a good chance you have heard of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). You may even have experience with this form of therapy. But what is ABA therapy exactly? How does it work and how does it help children on the autism spectrum?
By helping therapists understand how behavior works — even how behavior is impacted by the environment around us — ABA therapy focuses on helping children learn valuable life skills, according to Patricia Kane, MA, BCBA, Clinical Director at a.c.e. Therapies in Lockport. At a.c.e. Therapies locations in Lockport, Merrionette Park, Naperville and Palos Heights, skilled Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) work together with therapists and technicians to help children build skills that matter.
“Basically, ABA studies behaviors and determines reinforcement values,” Kane explains. “We take a mindfulness approach to ABA therapy by looking at the whole human being, rather than just breaking down specific behaviors.” Through careful observation and by getting to know the children they serve, therapists at a.c.e. Therapies build an understanding of what makes each individual happy and calm — because that’s when learning happens best.
The same is true for all children, whether they are developing typically or are on the autism spectrum, Kane says.
“We see that when a child gets upset or reaches a point of friction, they won’t learn new skills,” she says. “Our focus is making sure they are happy, relaxed and engaged. We are teaching from a place of joy.”
There are as many different approaches to ABA therapy as there are therapy providers. Parents who are seeking ABA therapy for their family may wish to consider what goals they have for their child.
“The goal of ABA is to provide children with the skills they need to learn from their environment so they can be more independent,” Kane says. “We teach children how to learn. Once we have gotten past that, they can build skills from their environment, even learn in a way that is similar to a typically developing child.”
In order to make sure children with autism have the basic skills that they will need throughout their lives — those that will keep them safe and help them get their needs met — a.c.e. Therapies uses the Essential for Living curriculum which focuses on helping children learn to make requests, wait a reasonable amount of time to have their request fulfilled, transition from one activity to another, complete tasks, accept “no,” follow directions and tolerate skills related to health and safety, plus other important tasks and skills.
What’s important about the way the a.c.e. Therapies team approaches ABA therapy is an understanding that the method of learning should make sense for the child. “We always focus on incidental learning and whatever we are teaching makes sense,” Kane says. “For instance, we look for opportunities to help a child learn to put on their jacket — like going for a walk or taking out the trash. We wouldn’t just ask a child to put on their jacket without a reason for doing so.”
The contextual approach to ABA therapy at a.c.e. Therapies is distinct from what is often referred to as “discrete trial training,” which tends to use flashcards and tabletop exercises that can be far removed from the real actions of everyday life. “When a child is getting ready to eat lunch, we want to make sure they can select a spoon or fork from the drawer in the kitchen,” rather than point to a picture of a fork, she says. “That ability to generalize across situations is very important.”
Family commitment maximizes the benefits ABA therapy
Once parents have selected ABA therapy for their child, they can work to maximize the effects and get the most out of the experience for their whole family.
“It’s so important for families to maintain open communication with their child’s ABA therapy team,” Kane says. “Parents can take part in parent training which will really help them understand what their child is learning and help them get on board with reinforcing their skills at home.”
If the ABA therapy team is helping a child learn to ask for an item and wait to be handed the item rather than grabbing for it, that skill can be reinforced if parents help the child practice at home. “If parents are on the same page, across the board the child will learn the skill more efficiently,” Kane says.
In addition to focusing on the most essential skills, your ABA therapy team should be interested in learning your family’s goals so they can work to support your child in the therapeutic setting. Whether that’s learning to use the toilet when away from home, tolerating trips to the grocery store or riding in the car to grandma’s house, skilled therapy teams can support your family through the use of ABA therapy.
Learn more about ABA therapy and how a.c.e. Therapies can help your child and family. Visit ace-therapies.com.