Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an effective and safe therapy for autism. But if a therapist is not qualified and not right for your child, the treatment may become harmful and cause new problem behaviors. Keep on reading to find out more about ABA therapy and what you should know when looking for a therapy provider for your child.
What Is ABA Therapy?
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a form of behavioral therapy that focuses on changing unwanted behaviors and reinforcing desirable ones in children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
ABA therapy has been successfully used to treat autistic children since the 1970s. With an improvement rate of more than 90%, it is currently considered the most effective form of autism treatment. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, as well as the National Institute of Mental Health.
ABA therapy has been proven highly effective in helping children with autism develop and reinforce their social, sensory, emotional, and other skills, for example:
- Improving language skills
- Increasing attention, focus, and memory
- Learning to follow instructions and directions
- Learning to initiate conversations and respond to questions
- Learning to understand non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions
- Decreasing problematic behaviors like aggressivity and meltdowns
- Acquiring essential academic and pre-academic skills.
With early intervention, close to 50% of autistic children who go through ABA therapy reach a development level where they are indistinguishable from their neurotypical peers.
The National Research Council recommends that young children receive at least 25 hours of ABA therapy for maximum effect.
How does it work?
ABA therapy is customized to the individual needs of each child and takes into account their unique strengths and weaknesses. The methods used target the particular areas where the child needs improvement.
ABA therapy is based on using positive reinforcement in the form of rewards and other incentives. Because a desirable behavior is followed by a special treat or activity, the child is more likely to repeat the action. Over time, this method can encourage positive behavioral changes. Additionally, this type of therapy breaks down essential skills into small, concrete steps to gradually build toward more significant behavior changes.
ABA therapy sessions for autistic children typically include a combination of play, direct instructions, various fun activities, and adaptive skills training. Parental involvement is strongly encouraged in order to help incorporate strategies into the child’s daily routines.
Requirements To Be an ABA Therapist
ABA therapists typically have a bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis or a related field such as psychology, counseling, or special education, followed by a master’s degree in behavior analysis.
In addition, certification is essential for working as an ABA professional and there are several types and levels of ABA certifications available.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a graduate-level program that allows ABA therapists to practice independently. BCBAs are required to have a graduate degree in behavior analysis and experience working in a clinical setting. This certification is obtained through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) is another certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, however, it doesn’t allow its holders to practice ABA therapy on their own. BCaBAs are assistant behavior analysts who provide their services under the supervision of a BCBA.
Autism Certificate (AC)
Autism Certificate (AC) is a certification program offered by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). It is reserved for professionals who have been working in the field for two years or more and have at least a master’s degree. The certificate must be renewed every two years.
Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)
Professionals who have a master’s degree and have been working with autistic children or adults for at least two years, for example, teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physicians, are eligible to become Certified Autism Specialists (CAS). This certification shows their commitment and expertise in the field. It needs to be renewed every two years.
Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)
Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) is the basic certification in behavior analysis. A registered behavior technician works directly with autistic children using applied behavior analysis principles, under the close supervision of an RBT supervisor. Minimal requirements include a high school diploma, at least 40 hours of training, and passing the RBT exam.
Read on for some useful tips for choosing an ABA therapy provider for your child.
What To Look For When Choosing an ABA Therapy Provider
To ensure that your child will receive the most effective therapy possible, it is essential to find a reliable provider who is in alignment with your values and the goals you have for your child. Here’s what you should look for.
- Make sure that the provider has at least one staff member who is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or more if they serve a lot of clients.
- If the therapist your child will work with is not BCBA certified, ask how he or she will be supervised.
- Look for highly trained ABA therapists who use data and the most up-to-date techniques.
- Find out about the provider’s experience when it comes to working with autistic children: how many children they have worked with and for how long they have provided their services.
- Ask the provider for references and talk to others who have used their services.
- Inquire about the stability of staff. A fast turnover can affect the quality of services that are provided.
- Since January 2020, New Jersey requires licensure for behavior analysts. Providers should be able to show proof of their credentials that meet state requirements.
- Because ABA therapy is based on individual strengths and weaknesses, sessions should be customized to meet your child’s needs. If the provider offers a limited approach, it might not be the right fit for you.
- The therapist should develop a plan to teach your child skills that you find the most useful, for example, communication, toilet training, eating at a table, interacting with friends, or playing with siblings.
- Find out more about your provider’s approach, for example, their use of visual supports and augmentative communication systems, as well as whether they prefer working in rigid or flexible environments.
- Beware of promises about fast results. Although ABA is an extremely intense therapy with up to 40 hours of weekly sessions, it may take months and even years before you see any significant progress.
- Your provider should have a clear plan for building and revisiting essential skills and be able to explain it to you in clear terms.
- ABA therapy should prioritize goals that would make a meaningful difference in the life of your child and your family. Make sure that you agree with the provider on the goals that would be set for your child.
- Ultimately, your therapist should have a transition plan to move your child out of therapy and into more natural settings, such as school or community. Ask about the provider’s criteria for transitioning to a new setting, how they handle transitions, and their transitioning success rate.
- An experienced behavioral analyst should be able to regularly provide you with clear and easy-to-understand reports showing the improvement rate of your child.
- Ask the provider about their protocol for observing your child in therapy and how often they usually schedule observations.
- The rates of ABA therapy can differ significantly from provider to provider, so make sure to compare the costs of various providers before you make the final decision.
- The cost of your child’s program will also depend on how many skills they need to develop and the setting in which the therapy will be provided.
- Keep in mind that more expensive providers don’t always provide better services.
- Make sure to ask about billing and insurance practices.
Can ABA Therapy Be Harmful?
The results of numerous studies have shown that ABA therapy is an effective form of treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder. However, some parents of autistic children and practitioners do not support its use.
One criticism is that its earliest version of ABA therapy used punishments in addition to rewards. Even the founder of ABA therapy, O. Ivar Lovaas, used electric shocks to stop children from engaging in their obsessive behaviors and make them behave more like neurotypical children.
ABA therapy has evolved tremendously since then and punishment as a method is no longer acceptable. The BACB’s Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts requires that reinforcement strategies are always implemented before considering punishment procedures. Today, ABA uses evidence-based strategies to help children reach their full potential through play and fun activities.
Still, some critics believe that ABA therapy may be too hard on autistic children because of its intense and repetitive nature and focus on eliminating negative behaviors instead of building new skills. If practiced incorrectly, ABA therapy can be harmful to an autistic child.
Read on for some horror stories that resulted from unqualified therapists using abusive techniques.
ABA Horror Stories
The wool hat story
Gregg Santucci, an occupational therapist from New Jersey shares a story about his disturbing experience while working with an autistic child in a school setting. The school’s BCBA team designed and approved a method that consisted of using a “visual screen” to make the student calm down and prevent aggressive behavior. The teacher would cover the student’s face with a wool hat until the undesired behavior stopped. The boy was upset and scared, but since he was non-verbal, he was unable to communicate his fears. The only way to escape the situation was to comply with the teacher’s demands.
The use of aversives
Aversives are a kind of punishment used for children and adults with autism and other disabilities. Due to pain or discomfort caused by aversives such as extreme heat or cold, bitter flavors, loud noises, and pain, the person will stop engaging in undesired behavior. This method is not only traumatic and harmful but it is also shown to increase aggression and anxiety.
An ABA therapist in California went to court because the rough handling of an autistic person resulted in permanent spinal damage. Although the therapist was brought up on cruelty charges, she was not convicted because she was simply following a method described in a book that was accepted as standard protocol in her field of work.
Some autistic adults consider certain ABA methods they were exposed to as children as traumatic and wrong. For example, ABA therapists may deliberately ignore the child’s attempts to communicate or engage in behaviors that have not been demanded by the therapist. They address the child’s behaviors rather than feelings.
Some ABA therapists also prevent children from flapping their hands or rocking since stimming is considered to be a purposeless action that interferes with learning and social interactions. However, for an autistic child, stimming is a comforting self-soothing behavior that helps reduce stress and regulate emotions.
The best ABA therapy provider in the New Jersey area
The Golden Care Therapy team of dedicated and experienced ABA therapists has been providing exceptional service to children with autism and their families since 2016. We are proud to offer compassionate autism treatment to families throughout the state of New Jersey.
We are confident that our accurate application of scientifically proven ABA methods makes a positive difference in the lives of autistic children and our five-star reviews and success stories are here to prove it.
Our BCBAs create and deliver individualized treatment plans for each child. Using home– and center-based practices, our experts will help your child learn social skills and reduce challenging behaviors. In addition, Golden Care’s Social Skills Group will give your child the chance to practice the newly acquired techniques for interacting with peers.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of ABA therapy or schedule a consultation, call us at 732-631-8223 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.