Does ABA Therapy Really Work?
After your child was diagnosed with autism, chances are you started immediately looking for answers on how to help. This is what most parents do: look for as much information as they can get their hands on in regards to what the best plan of action is going forward. ABA therapy is one of the most common results that come up in these searches, but naturally, a lot of parents have some hesitance going all in on this form of therapy. Does ABA therapy really work? It’s a question that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, but instead, needs a deeper look into what can result in success or failure.
Does ABA Therapy Work?
ABA therapy is a proven process, effectively treating children with autism since the early 1970s. However, even with this proven success, there are instances in which treatment may not be as effective as one would hope.
When ABA Therapy Works
One of the biggest factors of ABA being successful or unsuccessful is the consistency of therapy. The consistency during therapy is obviously important, making sure each lesson or program is set up and run the way it’s been intended based on the plan set forth for each individual child. But its success also hinges on the consistency outside of therapy. This is where you as a parent come in to the picture. It’s important for you to participate in your child’s therapy and embrace how they are being taught. The lessons they learn and the skills they work to improve can be integrated into your child’s day to day at home as well.
Let’s say during therapy, your child is working on requesting. An example of this is your child expecting someone to open their favorite snack when they hand it to them. During therapy we aim to improve that particular communication skill teaching them to “mand” or ask for the snack to be opened. This will usually start with teaching them to say “open” as they hand over their snack. From there we can progress to different, more specific forms of “manding.” At home, you should have that same expectation of your child to ensure that the skill is being maintained across settings. If your child starts to realize that they can get away with simply handing over the snack and it will be opened for them, then they will start to revert back to what is “easier” for them. Consistency across settings is what makes ABA most effective. We want these skills and behaviors being taught to carry over to their everyday lives, not just within the clinic or therapy settings.
When ABA Therapy doesn’t work
ABA has been proven to be the most effective way of treating and teaching children with autism. However, there are scenarios and factors within ABA that can render it unsuccessful. Usually this is because of the implementation rather than the practice itself.
ABA is so individualized for each child that it’s hard for it not to be effective when the plans are being followed correctly and the environment is set up for success. There are a lot of misconceptions out there classifying ABA therapy as somewhat “robotic” or being “too regimented”. If you find that this is the case, it’s more likely that it’s the implementation and the therapist behind the implementation causing this effect rather than the entire process being too restrictive.
ABA therapy does certainly involve structure, but no more that is needed in order to keep that consistency with programs and keep the well thought out plan for each child on track. A good therapist will make sure that this structure is presented in a fun, energetic and engaging way. If you’re finding after a while that your child is still averse to their therapy sessions, something isn’t being done correctly within the session and that’s where you will find that lack of success. The therapist should make it a priority to ensure the session is a desired place to be. Time should be spent playing during sessions to keep that learning momentum going and reinforcers should be chosen with your child’s interests in mind. ABA is unsuccessful when that extra time and effort to make the sessions fun and exciting is not there.
Pros and Cons of ABA Therapy
ABA therapy has increased in popularity throughout the decades it has been put into practice. With this increase in popularity and through the research conducted, we know how much it can benefit children with autism and help families maintain the skills and behaviors gained while going through therapy. And although they don’t take away from the benefits of ABA, there will be a few problems to overcome throughout the process. In the following, we will discuss a few pros and cons of ABA therapy.
Pro: Research based and Proven
ABA therapy is a form of treatment and a way of teaching children with autism that has been utilized since the early 1970s. Throughout the decades in which it has been put into practice, research into its results has been conducted. As a result of all of this research, adaptations have been made to make therapy more effective and we can better understand what works in what situation and with what child.
Even while your child is in therapy, their results and progress are being tracked, recorded and analyzed. This attention to detail allows for effective results and any changes that are made to programming and strategy are done so with this analysis in mind. This is a big part of why ABA is proven to be the most effective method of treating children with autism.
Con: Time consuming and not a “quick fix” method
If you’re expecting a quick turnaround in significant results for your child when placing them into ABA therapy, you will probably be disappointed. The process of reinforcing and cultivating the progress of your child is a time consuming one. In order to ensure long lasting, meaningful results and learning, we need to take the time to build up underlying skills and behaviors in order to improve the more prominent ones. For example, we can’t teach your child to write their name if they can’t first identify letters. And even after learning the alphabet, we can’t teach your child to write their name without teaching them first to hold a pencil the correct way and draw basic shapes. As you can see, it’s a process that takes time and patience.
Also, in the beginning stages of a child’s therapy, a lot of times it’s recommended that therapy occurs 40 hours a week. This is to ensure that we are able to effectively target and teach what we need to help your child progress.
Pro: Can improve a wide range of skills and behaviors
The plus side to all the time spent teaching is that ABA therapy is able to target a wide variety of skills and behaviors. During therapy sessions, your child will be exposed to teachings aimed to improve almost anything you can think of in terms of skill acquisition including communication skills, writing skills, fine and gross motor skills, peer interaction, and toilet training, as well as any behavior deficiencies or excesses.
Con: Resources aren’t always in place
One unfortunate issue with ABA therapy is that all of the resources needed for certain ABA settings are not always in place. A common example of this are ABA classrooms in public schools. A big reason why it’s hard to find ABA classrooms in public schools is because the resources and time to ensure effectiveness just isn’t there. This may create some inconveniences if you have to travel with your child from school to a clinic. This is why it’s beneficial to find a practice that is flexible and can provide your family with the options to conduct therapy and provide support in a variety of settings.
Pro: Well- trained staff
When you find the right practice, ABA therapy is run and implemented by a well-trained and qualified staff. Chances are you will find Doctorate level or at least Master’s level supervisors on site, trained BCBAs overseeing cases and thoroughly trained therapists working with the children. It’s imperative that your child’s therapy is run by a team that knows their stuff and has been trained in the most up to date, effective methods in the field. When you have this team working with your family, the results will speak for themselves.
Con: Difficult to find the qualified therapists your child deserves
Finding that qualified team can sometimes be difficult. Not every ABA practice or facility will have the most qualified staff. Also, not every state has the same mandates for therapist training. This is why it’s important to do your research and meet with the team you’re thinking of bringing your child to. Pick their brain and don’t be afraid to learn about their backgrounds.
How you can be sure ABA therapy is right for your child
The best way to be sure ABA therapy is right for your child is to talk with professionals. If you have any notion that therapy may be beneficial, then seek out a practice and ask them questions. Ask what their process is in teaching children and how they provide services and in what settings (school, clinic, home, community, all of the above). You can bring them the concerns that you have, whether it be with your child’s skill deficiencies or behaviors. They will be able to let you know if ABA would be an effective route to take.
How SPBS Ensures ABA Success
So, does ABA therapy really work? At Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services, we fully understand what makes ABA effective and have seen firsthand the improvements made because of the therapy. Through research, data analysis, planning and effective implementation, our team of Doctors, BCBAs, and Behavior Technicians ensure success with your child’s therapy.