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The Parent’s Guide to ABA Therapy

At first glance, ABA therapy can seem challenging for parents. There are many different terms and elements to familiarize yourself with, but that can be said about most therapies out there. ABA, also known as applied behavior analysis, is not quite as overwhelming when it’s broken down into its parts. If you have questions about ABA or are considering ABA therapy for your child, we have a guide to offer some answers.
What is ABA therapy?

Applied behavior analysis is a field of science just like chemistry, physics, and biology. It is a natural science that focuses on optimizing a child’s environment to increase behaviors we want more of and decrease behaviors we want less of. ABA is the science that guides all behavioral interventions and is not just a type of therapy or intervention for children.

Everyone around us is using the science of ABA whether they know it or not. Anyone who is initiating or responding to others or interacting with familiar environments is utilizing the principles of applied behavior analysis. We are always connected to and influenced by our environment and the contingencies within it. Your immediate environment shapes and maintains the behaviors you consistently emit through environmental consequences. These consequences can increase, decrease, maintain, or eliminate the value of certain behaviors.

Utilizing the science of ABA through direct behavior intervention is an efficient and effective way to systematically change and improve the behaviors of your children in a safe, ethical, and scientifically supported manner.

Benefits of ABA Therapy

Applied behavior analysis is the science of teaching and learning. Parents who are trained to utilize ABA strategies and techniques are more confident in teaching their children new skills, more competent in handling problem behaviors, and more comfortable taking their children into different environments around other people. Having these skills as a parent increases confidence, decreases stress, and minimizes obstacles to the happy and healthy development of the child.

Parents who are trained in ABA can structure their home environment and routine in a way that optimizes child motivation, increases compliance, creates opportunities for learning and development, and enhances the likelihood of appropriate interactions with friends and family. ABA parents are focused on finding the good in their children’s behavior and consistently link positive behavior with positive consequences.

Parents utilizing ABA can teach their children more skills in less time. They use efficient instructional practices, take data on what they are doing, and make adjustments quickly so that they spend most of their time doing only what works for their child. Children of ABA parents find learning fun, interesting, and engaging. Most of the time, they cannot tell the difference between learning and playing with their parents.

With a focus on positive reinforcement, ABA parents can increase the enjoyment and efficiency of instruction so that children can increase their skills in areas such as social interactions, emotional and behavioral regulation, adaptive skills, self-care skills, academic skills, leisure skills, and appropriate play skills. When children have as many skills as possible, they are more likely to behave independently, have an increased level of confidence, and have fewer opportunities to have negative interactions with family and peers.

When problem behaviors arise, parents can use behavior reduction strategies that minimize the usefulness or necessity of problem behaviors and replace them with appropriate and functionally equivalent behaviors that are socially acceptable and more appropriate for multiple environments. By making problem behaviors less useful and less valuable, parents make these behaviors less likely to occur. In addition, emphasizing replacement behaviors equips the child with better skills that are more likely to be reinforced and maintained in other environments.

Is ABA Therapy only for Autism?

Many parents have heard about ABA being used to treat children with Autism. However, a common misconception is that ABA is only useful or evidence based for children with Autism. The truth is that behavioral interventions based upon the principles of ABA have been researched, published, and disseminated in hundreds of academic and scientific journals for almost every imaginable mental and behavioral disorder one could think of.

ABA therapy is used to assess, analyze, and treat any behavioral excess and any behavioral deficits spanning across ages, cultures, and species. What children do too much of and what they do too little of are the primary concerns for any behavior professional. Diagnosis comes into consideration only when considering the origin and development of certain behavioral symptoms. Knowing how behaviors may develop over time and how they are related to physical changes and brain development can help a behavior analyst plan and adapt interventions to the specific needs of the child.

ABA is the science of teaching and learning. ABA principles can and should be used to equip children with skills they need to successfully navigate the environments they encounter. ABA is also being used to teach and equip parents with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be their child’s most effective and impactful teacher. There is very little chance that any teacher could ever spend more time with a child than their parents. Children are always being conditioned by their environment to respond in certain ways. Parents can use ABA to design optimal environments and make that conditioning process as fun, engaging, and beneficial for their child as possible.


What does an ABA therapist do?

One of the first things an ABA therapist does is to “pair” with the child. “Pairing” is the process of pairing and relating oneself to the items and activities the child finds valuable and interesting. For example, if a child likes toy cars, the therapist may frequently pair themselves with the car and bring a large selection of cars to play and interact with during the child’s therapy. Pairing is critical because it builds a foundation of connection and trust between the child and the therapist and conditions the therapist as valuable, interesting, and reinforcing.

An experienced therapist also uses items and activities the child is naturally interested in and builds upon those in therapy. Using the child’s pre-existing interests is important because it builds trust and shared enjoyment quickly in the beginning of the therapeutic process. It conditions the therapist as being the “giver of good things” and teaches the child that things are more fun with the instructor than without them. Expanding a child’s interests in different items and activities is important because it increases the number of tools a parent or instructor has to shaped and reinforce new behaviors. In addition the more items and activities a child is interested in, the more likely they are to notice and join others engaging with those items and activities.

An ABA therapist is guided by a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan addressing the needs of the child and is overseen and supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The treatment plan includes skills programs that address specific areas of need and a behavior intervention program that targets behaviors for decrease.

Detailed data is collected and analyzed by the therapist and BCBA. Decisions and adjustments to the child’s programming are made based upon patterns in the trend, level, and variability of the data. Decisions about the programming could include pausing the program, stopping the program to put a prerequisite program in, placing a tactic in the program to change the way it is run, or continuing to run the program as-is.

An effective therapist and BCBA will communicate any progress, changes, or necessary adjustments to a child’s programming with parents. In addition, parents will be included in their child’s treatment through parent training sessions. Parents are taught how to teach their children skills, how to shape and reinforce new behaviors, and how to decrease and eliminate problem behaviors.

How long does ABA therapy last?

The length of therapeutic intervention depends on several factors. The complexity and severity of the child’s problem behaviors in addition to the skill deficits the child presents with often need to be considered when providing an estimate on the length of therapy.

In addition, therapy interventions can be reduced in length if an environment is receptive and adaptable to the recommended changes. If the environment is slow to adapt or modify contingencies based upon the child’s needs, therapy time will be extended.

The length of time and the amount of learning history the child has with specific behaviors will also impact therapeutic intervention time. When children have less learning history, interventions are typically quicker. When children have extended learning histories with more severe behaviors, intervention times will be extended.

Scottsdale PBS and ABA Therapy

At Scottsdale PBS, we pride ourselves on being experts in ABA therapy. Our providers are highly educated in the field and undergo constant training. We know how to effectively assess, treat, and train patients to the best of their individualized needs. Our facility is designed specifically to promote the best environment for our patients to learn and thrive in, for treatments ranging from ASD, SPD, and more. If you are looking for more information about ABA therapy and would like to know how our process and facility can benefit your family, schedule a personal tour today.