child learning

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a common therapy treatment that’s meant for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disorders. It has achieved a considerable success rate in the improvement of social, learning, and communication skills.

But what happens if it doesn’t work? What could be the cause? Read on for more insight.

What Is ABA Therapy?

Behavioral analysis is the cornerstone of ABA therapy. It’s a field of science that involves the study of human learning and behavior. It is guided by the following principles:

  •   The environment determines behavior.
  •   Behavior is reinforced or discouraged through consequences or rewards.
  •   Positive rewards spur behavior more than negative rewards.

By definition, ABA is a form of evidence-based therapy applied to children with autism. It seeks to improve specific social behaviors like:

It also focuses on adaptive learning skills, including:

  •   Hygiene.
  •   Fine motor agility.
  •   Punctuality.
  •   Domestic capabilities.
  •   Work competence.

Simply put, ABA therapy focuses on pinpointing issues with your behavior or learning skills and addressing or correcting them. It reinforces desired behaviors to improve them and discourages unwanted behavior to suppress them.

Here is an example of the implementation of ABA therapy:

A child has communication difficulties. As their therapist, you allow him or her to access the playground to play. But the child needs help putting on their shoes and tying the laces.

However, you remain quiet and don’t offer help while waiting for the child to ask for assistance. The scenario prompts the child to communicate. Essentially, you’re using this natural situation to help the child practice their communication skills.

It’s important to note that ABA may not be compatible with all children. So how do you know when it’s not working?

Signs that ABA Is Not Working

Here are some of the signs that the ABA program isn’t working:

  •   You don’t see any signs of improvement in your child after sticking to the ABA program for some time. However, remember the therapy may take a while before you can see positive results, which means you have to be patient. This is because children with autism experience difficulty responding to change. From your child’s perspective, he or she might not understand why you’re taking them to this new place to see a therapist. It might take a while before they feel safe in the new location.
  •   You may also witness an increase in unwanted behavior, often called an extinction burst. This is a scenario where a certain behavior that worked in the past for your child is now being discouraged. From their viewpoint, they may think they need to put in more effort. In some cases, the unwanted behavior may increase and then disappear quickly.
  •   You may also see a recurrence of behavior you assumed had been eradicated by ABA therapy. This is known as ‘spontaneous recovery’ and is something normal. Probably something occurred to lead to this recurrence of the initial behavior, or your child may be testing the waters to see your reaction. However, if it persists for a long time, it may mean the ABA program isn’t effective.

There are many reasons why ABA therapy is not working. Read on to find out.

Why Is ABA Therapy Not Working?

ABA therapy has been the subject of study for many years, with a considerable success rate among children with autism. However, if the program doesn’t appear to be working for your child, it could be attributed to external variables and not necessarily the program. These include:


Environment influences behavior. Because kids with autism grapple with sensory conditions that may lead to anxiety, stress, or self-harming behaviors, the therapy environment needs to be comfortable for your child.

This pertains to aspects like lighting, color, sound, and smell. For example, lighting may add to sensory overload and cause your autistic child to experience a meltdown. Ideally, don’t use overhead lighting, especially fluorescent lighting, in your home. Instead, opt for desk lamps or tabletop lighting.

Less Meaningful Positive Reward

ABA employs positive reinforcement (reward) to develop positive behavior. The reward must be meaningful to the child to motivate them to continue with the positive behavior. Examples include a book or a toy, praise, watching a TV program, or access to the playground.

However, if your child deems the reward as something not meaningful in their lives, then they might not have the motivation to behave positively to get the reward.

The Therapist

The ABA therapist working with your child may also determine whether or not the ABA program works. Your child might like the therapist. The approach and personality of the therapist should match your child’s exact needs. The right ABA therapist is fun and engaging. They must also be patient as sessions with children may at times be slow and taxing.

When Should One Stop ABA Therapy?

Here are likely scenarios where you should review ABA therapy for your autistic child or patient:

Positive Progress

First, look at the progress of your child since they started the ABA program. What are the outcomes of the therapy so far? The ABA therapist should always furnish you with a regular progress report covering two aspects:

  •   An explanation of your child’s development on the treatment objectives worked on during the therapy.
  •   An explanation of your child’s development using some commonly administered assessment mechanisms.

If your child has satisfied the treatment goals and does not need to work on any other skill (more common in high functioning autistic children) you can consider discontinuing ABA therapy.

Lack of Progress

If your child is not showing any progress even after sticking to the ABA program for some time, you should consider changing therapists or pausing the treatments.

Lack of Cooperation

The ABA program is intensive and calls for cooperation between the family and the ABA therapist to create an individualized approach for the autistic child. If you are not connecting with the therapist and cannot work together, then it’s better to discontinue the therapy or get a new therapist.

The Bottom Line

An autism diagnosis can be quite difficult for any parent. Fortunately, ABA therapy can help your child learn new social skills that are crucial to their growth and overall well-being. However, if it doesn’t work, you should review the external variables before deciding to discontinue the treatment.

If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York or New Jersey, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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