Once you have received the diagnosis of Autism (or a disorder on the spectrum) for your child, you probably think – what’s next? You left the doctor’s office with a mile long recommendation list and “suggested” therapies and home interventions to try.
Your list of recommendations may include a specific therapy: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and its benefits may be explained briefly. ABA therapy can be used in the home, school and community environments. As with any therapy, it has its processes to follow, but once learned, can be adapted for a family to use in whatever environment necessary.
ABA therapy is (and this is explained very simplistically) a technique that is rooted in the observable behavior of people and uses positive reinforcement to teach/learn behaviors (verbal, non verbal, cognition and gross/fine motor skills. It is being more commonly used in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and in some states has recently been voted to be covered by insurance!! In careful observation of the behavior (before plans are developed), the trigger and re-enforcers of the negative or undesirable behavior are identified. Once identified, the therapist will build a plan that will target removing triggers and reinforcements by teaching the child new responses to the same trigger in that environment.
--If dinnertime and settling in at the table is a trigger for a tantrum, an ABA therapist would look at what leads up to the trigger, what happens during and what is attempted to stop the tantrum behavior. If it is observed that a simple call for “dinner” causes the child to get upset, the caregiver then says to the child, “come and have a few crackers while everyone settles in and I get dinner on the table.” The tantrum stops and you get dinner on the table. Yet, the behavior was reinforced – this happens almost every night. The ABA therapist along with the parent wants to help the child to respond differently to “dinner,” and use a more positive coping skill. Suppose the underlying need is that transition is extremely difficult and cannot be predicted by your child. A change to “dinner” may be saying, “When I start to take the dishes out we need to start settling in for dinner.” To add to that, you may ask your child to get the napkins or grab the soda/drinks from the fridge. This way the “plates coming out of the cabinet” are an indication dinner is coming and the assigned task helps the child ease into dinner time. Timers are also helpful for children who struggle with transition, keep saying, “Dinner!” but then set an egg timer for 3 minutes. Again, same trigger…little bit of a different spin, but teaching the child to respond in a different manner.
Again, a simplistic example but hopefully this gives the fundamental teachings of ABA therapy. ABA therapy can be administered by care givers, teachers, therapists and other health care professionals. However, I would recommend that you are learning such techniques from a Certified ABA therapist. Schools, state Autism foundations and mental health clinics in your town/state are often good resources to find such folks. ABA can be used in many different ways, for many behavioral disorders and can be tailored to your child’s needs and functioning.