What is ABA therapy?

Right after my son Drew was diagnosed with Asperger’s in January 2012, we received information about ABA therapy for him. Back then I really didn’t know a lot about it but I assumed it was something like what Max had in Parenthood. I wasn’t sure how it worked.  If we went somewhere for it or if they would just come to our home. We were able to start a few weeks after we got the diagnosis.

What is ABA therapy?

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis.

According to Autism Speaks, Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.

As mentioned, behavior analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders in the 1960s. Early techniques often involved adults directing most of the instruction. Some allowed the child to take the lead. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism – from toddlers through adulthood.

These techniques can be used in structured situations such as a classroom lesson as well as in “everyday” situations such as family dinnertime or the neighborhood playground. Some ABA therapy sessions involve one-on-one interaction between the behavior analyst and the participant. Group instruction can likewise prove useful.


What has been our experience with ABA?

Drew has been in ABA therapy for 13 months now. When we first started he was only in preschool. They came to the house a couple of times a week and also went to school with him. He was attending a church preschool so we had to get their permission for them to be there. Luckily that wasn’t an issue and they let them in to help him learn how to act in school.

At the time Drew had a big problem with being told what and when to do things in the classroom. He had a very hard time playing with his peers and not throwing fits over every little thing.

Over the last 13 months we have worked with 4 different therapists/tutors. Last year he would go to school twice a week and then usually he would have a few hours after school with one of the ABA therapists.

When summertime hit we would see them about 4 times a week. Sometimes it was at home, sometimes out in the community. They even went to swim lessons with him. Sometimes they would come over and we would try to get him to ride his bike. Other times we would practice playing board games which he had a very hard time with at first. They use a reward systems so he is always working for something. If he gets so many stickers, he earns a prize. At first he would earn m&ms every few hours. Now he needs to earn six stickers throughout the day at school. If he does that he earns an Angry Birds Buck (we made this up) and if he gets a certain amount, he earns something of his choice. He can earn a trip to McDonald’s for five Angry Birds Bucks or work for 15-20 for a toy. This system works so well for him and he is so happy when he gets home from school if he had a good day.

These days I don’t see too much of the ABA therapists. Drew doesn’t see them as much anymore either. When he started school last fall we realized right away that he needed them there during the day. Now that it is March they are just on call with the teacher and might stop by during the day to check on him. They also meet with him at home once a week to go over school stuff and talk about the Angry Birds chart.

There have been difficult times where he was really upset and they helped me with him. They guided me about how I should act during a fit and I have always felt free to ask them any questions about Drew or what he is doing.

I am just amazed at how much Drew has changed since last February. We were in CA a week, lots of new situations and the only real meltdown he had was at the wedding. And this was understandable as the music became very loud and he was very tired. But that was after being at my parent’s house for a whole week already.  A big change from when we were visiting last summer.

School is getting much better for him too. We only have about 2.5 months left of the school year. I do worry about being out of school for the summer and starting first grade in the fall. I am glad we have such wonderful therapists that work with him. You can really see that everything they have done has paid off.

If your child has just been diagnosed and you are about to start ABA, I hope that I have given you an idea of what to expect.



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