What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a kind of therapy that uses systems of rewards and consequences to encourage desired behaviors. While ABA can therapy can help patients of many types, it is most popular for people on the autism spectrum.

Many experts consider ABA therapy to be the gold standard of treatments for autism spectrum disorder. It’s important to understand that ABA therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Clinicians tailor the approach based on where patients fall on the spectrum, the behaviors they want to change, and what types of rewards they enjoy.

The History of ABA Therapy

Experts trace the history of ABA therapy to John B. Watsons 1913 book called, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” which tied together psychology and behavioral science. Revered scientists such as Fred Keller and B. F. Skinner published works that increased the understanding of behavioral science and its potential applications. Clinicians started using ABA therapy to help people on the autism spectrum and those with similar developmental differences.

Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy

The primary tool that ABA therapists use is positive reinforcement. The concept behind positive reinforcement is simple. When the client does something that the family wants to see more of, the therapist rewards the patient.

For example, many people with autism spectrum disorder struggle with nonverbal communication and want to change that. So, if a patient maintains eye contact with the therapist for a set time, he or she gets a reward.

The rewards vary based on the patient’s desires and the magnitude of the tasks they complete. Some examples include five minutes of extra screen time, books on a favorite subject, or new toys.

Family Involvement in ABA Therapy

ABA-certified therapists do not just work with people on the autism spectrum, but they also help their support systems. Over time, parents learn to apply ABA methods in between sessions with the therapists. This involvement helps maintain structure, which helps patients feel comfortable. Furthermore, parental involvement in ABA therapy makes the results longer lasting.

How ABA Therapy Works

Therapists sometimes refer to “the A-B-Cs” of ABA therapy, which stands for:

  • Antecedent: a request or other trigger
  • Behavior: the patient chooses either a positive or negative reaction
  • Consequence: based on the behavior, the therapist gives a reward or does not

In the very beginning of ABA therapy, these interactions may start with a request as simple as the therapist asking the patient to stop playing video games (the antecedent). In this example, the child may protest, burst out in anger, or simply ignore the therapist (the behavior). In such a case, the therapist may turn off the console (the consequence).

Once ABA starts to work, the same request may result in the patient kindly asking for five minutes more with the game, which is the desired behavior. The therapist then allows the patient to have those additional minutes, which serves as a reward.

ABA therapy also requires continuous assessing and planning. As behaviors change, therapists check in with the family and patient. They decide what works, what doesn’t, and what goals they should work toward next.

ABA therapists can help clients at home, in school, or in residential treatments. The settings depend on the patient’s behaviors and the severity of the autism spectrum disorder.

Where to Get ABA Therapy Treatment?

Parents and other caregivers may read descriptions of ABA therapy and believe they can implement the method without professional help. We do not recommend this approach. Licensed ABA therapists go through years of training to learn how to do this without harming the patient’s well-being.

Trained professionals can tailor the basic ideas of ABA therapy to each unique patient. Then these therapists teach the support systems to properly implement ABA for their loved ones. Only after guardians receive this training should they try to use ABA therapy without supervision.

LifeStance Health connects families with licensed, knowledgeable ABA therapists in Florida who can help. If you believe ABA could help you or a loved one, contact a LifeStance Health location today.