What is ABA Therapy?

What is ABA? ABA applies the principles of behavior to create socially significant and meaningful change in children with autism, and their family. ABA aims to teach fundamental life skills in the areas of cognitive development, language/communication, social skills, play skills, motor skills, adaptive skills, and daily living skills. ABA also aims to decrease maladaptive behaviors such as aggressive behaviors, non-compliance, self-stimulatory behaviors, and other behaviors that are barriers to learning. ABA is an evidence-based practice that has been proven to help improve the lives of children with autism. ABA shapes behavior by understanding what happens before (antecedent) and after (consequence) a target behavior. ABA changes behavior by manipulating the antecedents and consequences of a behavior in order to increase desired behavior and decrease problem behavior.

A typical ABA session will consist of the following components:

Verbal Behavior Approach: Verbal behavior helps early language learners develop communicative skills across different functions of language. Your child will learn to request, label, answer questions/comment, repeat words, gain vocabulary, and follow directions. In the beginning, this approach will a focus heavily on teaching your child to use language communicate his/her wants and needs. By teaching your child to be able to verbally request desired items and activities he/she will learn that language is functional and directly beneficial, and he/she will be motivated to verbally communicate. It is important to note that verbal behavior does not just mean spoken words. For children that are not vocal our approach will teach language by using alternative modes of communication such as sign, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), and AACs (Alternative Augmentative Communication Devices).

Discrete Trial Training: Discrete trial training breaks skill sets into small and achievable goals. Discrete training is a systematic and structured approach to learning. Discrete trial training is useful for breaking down overarching goals into concrete and measurable units for initial skill acquisition. Discrete trial training is very useful for teaching children with autism to acquire new skills he/she may not acquire naturally on his/her own. Discrete trial training often occurs at a table, and children are given preferred items/activities for correct responses. Prior to skill acquisition children will often need to work on learner readiness through early learner goals such as building cooperation and attending. Some common skills that are taught during discrete trial training include but are not limited to following one step-instructions, responding to name, imitation skills, matching, and identifying objects.

Natural Environment Teaching: NET (Natural Environment Teaching) teaches developmental skills in everyday moments such as during play, daily routines, and out in the community. For example, during natural environment teaching, an ABA therapist may practice having your child label animals while playing with figurines. Your child’s motivation and interests will lead the therapist to determine which goals to target during NET and the ABA therapist will work on encouraging spontaneity and initiations. NET is a great way to generalize skills gained during discrete trial training in a fun and meaningful way as well as help in development of play skills. Play is child’s work and is critical for cognitive and emotional development. NET teaching will assist in teaching your child to functionally play with toys as well as gain social skills through interactive play.