Getting an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming for families. With so many misconceptions, as well as an abundance of therapies and treatments, parents can have a hard time sifting through the plethora of information given by doctors, teachers, and the media. But one aspect that most people can agree on is that families of children with autism seek to provide a happy and productive life for their children. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of specific techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behaviors for individuals diagnosed with autism and is widely recognized as one of the safest and most effective treatment for autism.
ABA is defined by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders as “[…] the application of the principles of learning and motivation from Behavior Analysis, and the procedures and technology derived from those principles, to the solution of problems of social significance.” It is the most established autism treatment by insurance providers and is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, The National Standards Project, and the Association for Science in Autism (ASAT). ASAT further states, “Because ABA currently has substantially more scientific support than any other behavioral or educational intervention for children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder], ASAT recommends that families and professionals strongly consider implementing ABA and […] further recommends that professionals describe other behavioral and educational interventions as untested and encourage families who are considering these interventions to evaluate them carefully.”
ABA’s primary focus is seeking to better understand and improve human behavior. ABA uses principles of human behavior in order to achieve higher success rates for autistic students by, among many things, determining the purpose of problematic behaviors in order to substitute such behaviors with more desirable behaviors. Studies have demonstrated that ABA techniques can improve communication, social relationships, play, and academic performance resulting in an increased participation in family and community activities.
Utilizing ABA methods pioneered by Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas of UCLA under the guidance of the Lovaas Institute For Early Intervention (LIFE), the Augusta Levy Learning Center (ALLC) aims to enhance the social, academic, communication, and independent living skills of its students. The Lovaas method has over 40 years of research proving its effectiveness. Lovaas was a pioneer in the field of autism research during the 1960s and was the first researcher to suggest that autism could be treatable in some cases. At the time, most patients that were presented with autism were institutionalized. Dr. Lovaas’s behaviorist approach proposed that autistic individuals’ quality of life could be improved through an intensive one-on-one program of behavior modification program and became a garrison for applied behavior analysis.
Using Discrete Trial Training (DTT), a method using teaching in simplified and structured steps, as well as incidental teaching or “natural environment training”, stereotypical autistic behaviors are reduced through extinction, and the provision of socially acceptable alternatives are implemented. Early intervention is key, and progression through goals of the program are determined on an individual basis. ABA is comprehensive, and skills complement and build upon each other systematically, emphasizing individualization of curriculum based on each child’s strengths and weaknesses. The first step of ABA seeks to reduce self-stimulating behavior (stimming), teaches imitation, establishes age appropriate play, and seeks to integrate family members into treatment protocol. The second phase focuses on linguistic acquisition, peer interaction and basic socialization, and strives to include the student’s community so as to optimize mainstreaming later on. Lastly, the focus shifts to emotional expression in addition to observational learning and pre-academic skills.
Due to its success in the areas of autism and developmental disabilities, ABA has seen substantial advancement over the past 15 years. ABA intervention can help learners with autism make slow but significant life changes, and studies have demonstrated that many children with autism experience significant improvements in academic performance, communication, and adaptability when they participate in high-quality ABA programs. Many school age children who participate in early, intensive ABA acquire sufficient skills to participate in regular classrooms with little or no additional support. These children have advanced through the school system with little to no additional assistance and have been mainstreamed into regular classrooms. They appear indistinguishable from their peers in measures of social, emotional, and intellectual functioning.
Other children who go through ABA therapy learn important skills but may need additional educational support to succeed in the classroom. Still, such children have a greatly improved quality of life with sizable decreases in inappropriate behaviors and increased linguistic gains even if they do not reach a level comparable to typically developing peers. They become better functioning members of their communities and more active family members while learning in the least possible restrictive environment.
The principles of learning and motivation within ABA have guided many students to acquire many varied skills, improving their quality of life through effective intervention. For more information, feel free to contact the Augusta Levy Learning Center.