Q) "What is ABA anyway?": To summarize (because this can be a very long response), "Behavior Analysis" is a behavioral science that researches the most effective ways to reduce or increase a variety of behaviors, such as cessation of smoking, weight loss, educational strategies, etc. "Applied Behavior Analysis" is taking this body of research and applying it to everyday environments to help individuals improve or increase their quality of life. If you have heard of ABA before, it was likely connected to young children with Autism. However; ABA is far more than an effective intervention method for individuals with Autism. ABA therapy programs can help to increase language and communication skills, improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, or academics, and to decrease dangerous or disruptive problem behaviors. The methods of Behavior Analysis have been used and studied for decades, and today you can find ABA interventions being implemented inside of people's homes, inside of classrooms, at private centers or clinics, in residential facilities or hospitals, or even inside of businesses and corporations.
Q) "My child currently receives ABA therapy at home. I am considering ___ therapy. Which therapy is the best/Which therapy should I stop doing?": What I would suggest to any parent considering a new therapy or wanting to end a current therapy is look at your child's individual needs. What deficits do they have? What strengths do they have? Focus on therapeutic methods designed to address your child's needs. Look for methods that are empirically supported (research showing the method is effective) across a variety of settings or individuals. Look for methods that include the parents in therapy, and also address behavioral issues. I often see new therapy methods that become very popular but if the child has challenging behavioral issues then they can't participate. If a professional expects to teach a child with developmental delays, then encountering challenging behaviors is likely.
Q) “Why do I need a BCBA/What does a BCBA do?”: A Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, is a an individual who has obtained a graduate degree, passed a rigorous board exam, and completed over 1,000 fieldwork hours, in order to meet the standards of the BCBA credential. A BCBA is qualified to manage, oversee, and supervise direct staff, and also possesses a high level of understanding of behavior changes processes. BCBA’s are trained in analyzing behavior, conducting behavioral assessments, behavioral theory, data collection, and much more. The ABA therapist is the person who works with the child directly, usually in a 1:1 format. Typically there will be at least 1 person over the ABA therapist acting as a supervisor. The reason it is preferable that this person be a BCBA is because of the knowledge and expertise necessary to accurately manage all components of an ABA program. Many professionals without BCBA certification are not equipped to modify, manage, and intervene on behavior.
Q) “I was able to secure some funding for ABA, but there are no providers in my area”: This isn’t an unusual problem. Depending on where you live, there may be ABA agencies falling out of the sky. Or there might be one agency with a 2 year long waiting list. You do have some options if you cannot locate trained professionals in your local area. You could find laypersons and get them trained, such as teachers, paraprofessionals, the nanny, etc. With proper training and BCBA supervision any of these individuals could be used as an ABA therapist. Or, you could hire a BCBA who does not live in your area. They could provide remote ABA consultation, in addition to traveling to your home (monthly, quarterly, etc.) for in-person intensive trainings and meetings. With the advances in technology today, telehealth options are bringing quality ABA treatment to schools and families all over the world!
Q) “I was told that my child is too high-functioning to use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) because she is verbal and relates to other people. Is it true that ABA is best used with young children who very impacted by their Autism diagnosis?”: I have heard this myth before that "ABA is only for young kids" or "Only for children who cannot speak yet/Won't work on older or savvy individuals". However, that simply isn’t true. I have worked with children all over the Spectrum, who varied in how impacted they were by their diagnosis. ABA can be successful for older kids, as well as with adults. It all depends on what the treatment goals are. ABA therapy with a teen may focus on more cognitively advanced skills, such as dating, employment, puberty issues, etc., rather than zipping up a coat or decreasing tantrum behavior. Progress is possible when using ABA with an individual of any age. Some funding sources severely minimize or cut off funding for children over a certain age (e.g. 10). This does not mean that ABA can’t help a teen or adult, it just may be difficult to find a funding source to pay for it.
Q) “My son wont stop banging his head on the living room floor/My daughter screams if you turn the TV off/ How do I get my child to stop doing ______?”: I get a lot of questions of this variety, with the same theme of “What do I do about XYZ” behavior. Behavior reduction is not that simple, and it’s not that cut and dry. When trying to intervene on a problem behavior it’s important to complete the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) process, create a Behavior Intervention Plan, and then implement that plan. A professional can’t know with confidence what to do about a specific behavior just from hearing a few details about it. Also it would be unethical of any ABA provider to give specific advice regarding a client they do not serve.
Q) "I'm overwhelmed by all these treatment options. Should I research each one and read more books before I implement anything?": Early intervention is key when it comes to Autism treatment. Throw away the concept of “wait and see". The sooner you begin intensive treatment the better the overall prognosis. Yes, the vast array of treatments for Autism is dizzying. Focus on treatments that address the deficits your child is exhibiting. Every individual with Autism does not need Speech Therapy, medication, Social Skill groups, or intensive ABA therapy. Autism impacts individuals differently (remember, it is a spectrum), so my suggestion is to focus on selecting a treatment that will help your child have the highest quality of life, over the entire course of their life (long-term effects).
Q) "What kind of expert (Special Education Teacher, Physician, Psychologist) is the best source to tell me about my child?": Doctors, Pediatricians, Developmental Psychologists, Nurses, Teachers, Behavior Specialists….as a parent of a child with Autism you may find yourself in the middle of a revolving door of professionals. It’s important that you understand professionals are qualified in certain areas or domains, and do not know everything about everything. They may be experts in child development, language, or medical treatments, but who is the expert on your child? You are.
For more information about Applied Behavior Analysis, please see the Behavior Analysis Certification Board website: www.BACB.com