Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a systematic approach to treating the symptoms of autism that increases communication and decreases maladaptive behaviors. ABA therapists rely on assessments and empirical observation of behavioral and communication abilities to create a customized treatment plan for each child they work with. The method focuses on the fact that not being able to communicate can provoke kids to behave in detrimental ways out of sheer frustration.
ABA is one of the most effective treatments for autism. Children undergoing ABA therapy are taught alternative behaviors through techniques that improve communication, social relationships, play skills, and self-care. A key reason behind its effectiveness is how easily its principles can be applied in structured environments, such as a classroom, and in the unstructured and often unpredictable environment of day-to-day life.
ABA therapy benefits the whole family.
Autism doesn’t happen in a bubble. Whatever affects the child, naturally affects the entire family. As such, therapies that only deal with the child in structured environments can have a limited effect on the child’s behavior in real life. Children learn behavior and communication strategies inside the treatment center or classroom, but aren’t always able to apply those lessons to experiences in their home or community.
Children who receive ABA therapy at home also often respond better because they are in a natural, functional setting. This is especially true when parents are involved in the treatment process. For many children with autism, having their parents close by provides them with a sense of security and safety, two qualities that increase the effectiveness of ABA therapy. Progress breeds confidence, and confidence sets the child up for even greater progress.
Here’s how in-home ABA therapy can have a direct impact a child’s social skills, family interactions, verbal behavior, self-help skills, and independence.
Social skills and family interactions
For children with autism, the world is full of social rules that everyone except them seems to know and understand. Understanding complex emotions is difficult, frustrating work. And, even when they do understand an emotional response, they still don’t know what to do about it. Figuring out what the people around them know, feel, or think is a constant struggle. And, no matter how much progress they make, the world seems to get more complicated with every passing year.
In home ABA therapy offers the opportunity for the therapist to observe body orientation, interactions with siblings or other family members, sharing, attending, and proximity to others. This allows the therapist to establish a baseline – a starting point – for treatment based on current reality.
In ABA therapy, many social skills are initially taught with a trusted adult showing and demonstrating. This is often true even when the goal involves interaction with siblings or other children.
There are two primary reasons for this. It can be difficult to get other children involved in the number of repeated patterns of learning that that child with autism needs. And, children with autism are usually less aggressive with adults. Even when they are aggressive, adults can generally handle it better.
Since ABA therapy is focused on consistent patterns of behavior, it’s extremely useful for parents to continue working with their child long after the therapist has gone home for the day. This ongoing work strengthens family interactions, and weaves “therapy” into normal day-to-day occurrences. The approach offers consistency – something children with autism crave.
Verbal Behavior Therapy uses the principles of ABA to help children with autism connect words with their purposes. The goal is to help the child understand how words can help them get what they want or need. Since so much of a child’s basic care happens at home with the primary caretakers, it makes sense to engage the entire family in verbal behavior therapy.
Rather than focusing on words as labels for objects, verbal behavior therapy teaches children with autism how to use language to make requests and communicate ideas. In other words, it helps children understand why we use words in the first place, a concept that does not necessarily come naturally.
When everyone in the household gets involved in verbal behavior therapy, the entire family dynamic can change for the better. The child starts to understand that communicating with words produces positive results. This can have a significant effect on reducing negative behavior such as tantrums or other outbursts.
Self-help skills and independence
For example, a common goal of all parents is to do what they can to help their child be successful. For parents of a child with autism, this might involve modifying the home environment, calming emotional outbursts, or other changes designed to shape the family dynamic around the child instead of the other way around. This is a natural response to the desire to get the child – and the rest of the family – through each day as successfully as possible. However, it can also hinder a child’s development of self-help skills and ability to be independent.Teaching self-help skills can be incredibly empowering for many children with autism. Self-help skills are functional tasks that build independence and self-esteem, the patterns for which are almost always established in the home.
When children lack self-help skills, they will exhibit developmental behaviors years behind their actual age. For example, a 5-year-old who still requires his mother’s help to eat. Or, a 10-year-old who can’t get herself dressed or tie her shoe laces.
Because ABA therapy starts with assessment and observance, in-home therapy is the ideal way to take stock of where a child is most lacking in self-help skills. From there a specific plan can be developed that involves the whole family and continues in the hours between therapy sessions. Even if a child feels incapable of doing something for themselves, they typically want to and are frustrated by the fact that they can’t. As they experience small “wins”, accomplishing things for themselves that they haven’t previously been able to do, their level of confidence rises and they become more willing to try to do more things.
In home ABA therapy is great. But, clinical should be considered as well.
There are plenty of situations in which in-home therapy is limited, not possible, or not the best environment for the child. In addition, if little social interaction is possible at home, an integrated approach that involves both in-home and clinical therapy might be the optimal solution.
If you are the parent of a child with autism and have questions about ABA therapy and the kind of treatment that might be best for your situation, we’d love to talk with you. Give us call or send an email. We welcome all your questions, comments and suggestions.
Are you looking for ABA services for your child in the comfort of your home? Are you looking for less stress in your life? Cornerstones Autism Services can help.