Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or simply “autism,” is relatively common among people, yet it is still not widely understood. This is partially because autism, as just mentioned, is on a spectrum, and so it reveals itself in various forms and various degrees. So even though one child out of 68 is born with ASD according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they might find it hard to become accepted and understood in society. Indeed, about one third (35%) of young adults with ASD don’t have a job or enrollment to higher education after high school.
Fortunately, since the 1960s professionals have been working to learn more about autism and they ways in which people with autism can function and succeed in society. Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy for short) has become an effective way of helping children and young adults with autism gain useful skills in social interaction and learning.
How Does Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy Work?
The main psychological principle behind ABA therapy is that rewarding good behavior reinforces that behavior, creating a positive feedback loop that can have lasting impact on the way one behaves in society. For those with autism, ABA therapy has proven to be effective. A professional instructor observes the existing behaviors of a student or students. Behaviors that should be discouraged are not reinforced while positive behaviors are reinforced by reward and repetition. In order to be effective in the long term, ABA therapy is usually intensive, requiring a good amount of guidance and frequent intervention. On average an ABA therapy program involves 40 hours per week year-round for at least two years.
Methods of ABA Therapy
Since every individual is different, professionals take the time to get to know the person or people they’re working with in order to gauge the best way to instruct them. After doing so, the instructor may employ techniques such as modeling, peer training, scheduling, and more.
Modeling refers to an ABA technique in which the instructor demonstrates a specific way of doing something, which the student must imitate. By reinforcing proper imitation with a reward system, this behavior can become normalized in the student. Peer training, as it sounds, involves supervised interaction between the student and peers. The peers in most cases don’t have disabilities and must be guided by the instructor so as to not make the student feel left out. By interacting with peers, the student can develop useful social skills and gain confidence. Scheduling is a way of breaking down tasks into a simplified series of steps that can be rewarded and reinforced along the way. This method makes complex tasks more digestible and easy to repeat when met with proper reinforcement.
Why ABA, Anyway?
This method of treating those with autism is considered by many in the field to be the most effective. Autism may still not be fully understood, nor is it something that can be “cured.” However, the behaviors produced by those on the autism spectrum can be modified to help them lead fuller, more independent lives. Today, ABA Therapy happens the be the best way of monitoring and improving behavior among those with ASD. Whether or not new and better methods to achieve this are found is yet to be seen. Until then, ABA Therapy has helped many people gain important social and academic skills to succeed in this world.