Applied Behavior Analysis in the Treatment of Autism

ABA in the Treatment of Autism

Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a fairly new medical intervention technique. To date, one particular group has benefited from this new approach as much if not more than any other: those with autism. How does ABA work, and how does it specifically aid in those with this disorder? Piece by piece, here are the facts so far.

What is Autism?

Before going much further, it’s quite important to understand what exactly constitutes “autism”. There are many similar conditions and even symptoms of other conditions which can mimic autism and confuse even the most “in-the-know”. Per the official organization dedicated to the cause, Autism Speaks:

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“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences”.

In addition to this general definition, it is important to also note that there are actually varying types of autism, each with its own particular classification, symptomology, and so on.

Autism Fast Facts

– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

– An estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults – and lose school-based autism services – each year.

– Around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal.

– Around one third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.

– Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.

– In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four previously distinct diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

– Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.

– Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.

– Contrary to popular belief, children under the age of three can be effectively diagnosed.

What is ABA?

Now, let’s shift our attention to ABA. What is it? Once again, per Autism Speaks:

“Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior”.

How Does ABA Work?

So, in short, applied behavior analysis is a sort of watch, learn, and react system, specialized for use in particular medical circumstances such as in cases of autism. With this system of approach, medical professionals can observe and take in facts about the patient and subsequently form a plan for positive progression. The treating doctor can then facilitate continued application of this approach in the pursuit of continued positive progress. Positive progress might be something as small as the defeat of a bad hygiene habit or something as significant as a whole new level of independence gained.

Step by step, here is a more detailed breakdown of how the process typically works.

1. An in-depth assessment and observation period is administered.

2. Family members, educators, family doctors, and others of the like are consulted regarding the patient and their behaviors, patterns, goals, and so on.

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3. An intervention plan is crafted based on the previous compiled findings, deficiencies, and goals.

4. Once crafted, the plan is enacted. At this point, any number of progressive techniques may be employed by the overseeing doctor or doctors. In the office or at home, the patient and those close to them can then take part in their own part of the plan per the doctor’s guidance.

In addition to these basic steps, there are a number of important underlying principles that are very helpful to understand when it comes to ABA applications in autism. In general, reinforcements should only be given if a behavior is positive, and not negative or destructive. An abundance of opportunity for positive reinforcement learning situations should be made available over the course of the day. Planning ahead is crucial. Finally and quite possibly the most critical component is the united front – everyone working in tandem and on the same page ultimately gets the very best results in the ABA system.

It is also important to note that not just anyone can administer medically official and effective ABA technique. This is a specialized methodology found within the professional school of psychological practice. The result is a concept that should only be facilitated by qualified medical practitioners. Someone qualified in this method should be board-certified in clinical psychology as well as trained in ABA technique specifically.

The American Board of Professional Psychology, commonly referred to as the ABPP, maintains a list of clinically approved and certified practitioners.

Findings To-Date

Many emerging medical systems and approaches come quickly and go in just the same manner. What does present fact have to say about ABA? Overall, the findings are overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.

With this approach, multiple studies have found that patients typically grow in a number of personal areas with very good results. In areas including learning, adaptability, behavior control, and communication, those studied showed particularly great gains. In a very small portion of participants, however, little significant long-term gain was noted.

In conclusion, applied behavior analysis techniques have thus far provided a great and very promising new tool in the battle against autism and its daily inherent difficulties. Further study is expected to continue to provide additional results and insights as time goes on. For additional links to resources in ABA practice, autism, and more, visit the online resources of the American Psychological Association.

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