I recently read a comment on Facebook from a mom who felt like ABA therapy was torturing her child, so I thought it wise to address what ABA really is. Because for someone new to it or for a parent unfamiliar with what ABA therapy is, it can be confusing.
What is ABA?
First, I must tell you that ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis. So, in English that means the therapist is wanting to help modify behavior so that an individual can better navigate the world around them.
Behavior is defined as anything we do. We eat, we breathe, we may even scream — these are all behaviors. So when I mention behavior, know that I am not meaning it in a negative way. But like anything, there is some behavior that serves the individual much better, and ABA therapy seeks to encourage positive behavior, reduce negative behavior, and build life skills.
ABA therapy is a one-on-one therapy that essentially takes a person through many small steps to teach them a better way to handle situations. From a parent’s perspective, ABA has been a godsend. My son used to freeze when a kid he didn’t know said hello. He would ignore the child or run away. But his therapist taught him a script of appropriate conversation, which they practiced a lot. So now when a kid says hello, my son says hello back and even asks if they want to play. He has been given skills he didn’t have in the past.
Teaching Life Skills
My son also used to struggle with patience. His therapist taught him patience with M&M’s. She would hand him an M&M and ask him if he wanted another one. Of course, he did! They are his favorite candy. Then she said he could have another one if he waited 5 seconds. She had a little timer, and always gave him another one when the time was up.
It was hard for him to wait that long at first. But she gradually increased the time he waited till he was waiting three minutes between each candy. During the process, she taught him to distract himself with another activity while he was waiting. It’s a skill that has helped him so much! And because of it, our family interactions are much more peaceful.
The mom who was complaining on Facebook is likely complaining about the part of ABA where natural consequences are used to discourage undesirable behavior. For example, when kids at play therapy pick their nose, they must wash their hands. A child may HATE washing his hands and complain about it… But it is a natural consequence of putting your hands in a dirty place. So, continuing to have them wash their hands is a great way to teach them not to pick their noses.
I have also observed my son’s play group learning to take turns. It is hard for my son when it’s not his turn to choose the game, but they repeat the activity often enough that he knows it will be his turn again soon. Being able to predict the order of events helps his anxiety with taking turns.
It’s a Team
The part of ABA therapy that is still new to me is the way they document every little thing. The only way they can measure progress is by taking a lot of data. My son’s supervising therapist (BCBA) recently forwarded me a graph of his progress for the month. I looked at it and was completely lost. It was a bunch of data points, and the only part that made sense was that the line was going up over time. It was one of the reasons I have decided to become an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician).
That’s the lower rung on the two-step ladder that is the ABA team — and your child always has a team who works with them. I think that is another reason ABA is so effective: you never have one person simply making a guess. The team collaborates and everyone works for the good of the child. As I have been watching the people who work with my son, I really feel like this is a beautiful work. For example, when I was a kid, my teacher threatened us with a paddling if we didn’t do our homework. But in ABA there is NEVER physical punishment.
In ABA, there is simply encouragement and natural consequences. As a parent, I have learned so much watching these team members. Their style of handling conflict and helping children grow in confidence is the other reason I am taking the training. That AND my son still baffles me in so many ways, that I feel I need to understand him better.
So, if you have questions, let me know. I will see what I can do to answer them. And I’ll be sharing some of my new insights as time goes on. There is so much to learn! I’m excited to be taking this next step.
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that this isn't a bad thing. And you or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.