Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a powerful treatment option for people with developmental conditions like autism or ADHD. ABA works to increase socially significant behaviors and reduce barriers to learning and has been extensively proven to be effective, but many still misunderstand it.
Many people in the neurodivergent community speak out about ABA therapy because it has a controversial past, but the field has changed and evolved for the better and we want to share the ways in which we think ABA therapy can be a positive thing in your or your family’s life.
- ABA is harmful for the person receiving it.
In an academic study published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders earlier this year, a group of researchers from the Autism Partnership Foundation outlined the controversial history of ABA and the evolution of the practice over time to become something safe and effective. If you’re interested in reading the lengthy piece, you can access the full thing here, but we’ll save you some time and summarize the major points for you.
ABA therapy was developed in the 1960s and came to prominence with the Young Autism Project and Ivar Lovaas. Lovaas spent decades creating the foundation of ABA therapy, but his use of electric shock on children to stop harmful behaviors and the rigidity of his programs are of concern to many when learning about ABA therapy. As one can expect with any medical practice, as knowledge was gained over time the old methods have been swapped out for new, harmless tactics that do not include shock therapy and do not change a person’s unique personality. Treatment plans are created by Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and are approved by parents to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the goals set, the methods used, and the time commitment required so that everyone involved feels comfortable and safe.
ABA therapy may not be right for everyone, and BCBAs are trained to complete risk/benefit analysis to determine that ABA is right for your child.* A BCBA is held to ethical standards that will not allow them to provide services to just anyone and BCBAs are great at recognizing when ABA therapy is not the best therapy for your child. So if you’re worried as to whether you should be in ABA or not, you may just want to ask a BCBA!
- ABA makes my child a robot.
ABA therapy works to help your child manage behaviors in a way that will help them best in the real world. Some behaviors that people with ASD engage in can be physically harmful, socially inappropriate, or can just make their day-to-day difficult. ABA therapy will help tackle those challenges so that your child can live their happiest life and show their unique personalities to the world in a safe way. BCBA's are trained to teach multiple functional responses to questions/learning tasks, or what your BCBA may refer to as "targets". This is called programming for generalization. (not sure if the crazy ABA lingo is necessary). This may be as simple as asking questions in different ways, or teaching children to show a similar response to different pictures (e.g. understand that when they see a brown dog and a white dog-they are both still dogs). We encourage individuality at AnswersNow and ABA is not out to change your child's personality! We love seeing each and every child's personality shine, and we can tailor our teaching strategies to your child's individual learning style. There is not a "one size fits all" for ABA therapy - the strategies behind it are the same, but how those strategies are implemented will vary based upon what you as a parent are comfortable with and what works best for you and your child.
- ABA therapy forces compliance.
A good ABA practitioner will teach children alternative responses, such as how to say no, ask for consent, or demonstrate appropriately that they do not want to do something. Choices are often offered, such as, “Do you want to work on X Y or Z right now” or “We have to finish this, but would you like to take a break and come back later?” However, in the real world, there are certain things in life that are not “optional” and require boundary setting. Understanding and following rules is a part of everyday life, for all persons. As an extreme example-if your child wants to run out into a busy street because they like cars, you tell them to “stop” and they say “no thanks I don’t want to”-that is not really an option.
- ABA therapy will cure my child’s autism.
There is no “cure” for autism spectrum disorder. People diagnosed with ASD can improve their behaviors and may eventually no longer fall on the spectrum, but no one thing or therapy is considered a cure.
- My child will always need ABA therapy.
There are some children that graduate from ABA therapy, but many do not. As a child grows and their challenges change throughout their life, their treatment plan may change and require more or less hours of their time, but for ABA to be its most effective it cannot be seen as optional. Consistency is the key to success!
- Does ABA replace other therapies?
While there is no need to start another therapy in order to prepare for ABA, you may still need to participate in other therapies that are recommended to you or your child while you receive ABA therapy. Most commonly, people may do ABA therapy in conjunction with speech therapy or occupational therapy.
ABA is not a replacement for therapies such as speech, OT, or PT-often children will receive them in conjunction with one another and all disciplines will work together to put together a consistent plan for your child.
- My child will be judged for needing extra help through ABA therapy.
ABA therapy is one of the most commonly recommended therapies for neurodivergent people, so it is hardly out of the ordinary that a child with a developmental condition would be recommended for it. If you are worried about your neighbors or family or your child’s school judging you though, you may want to consider a method of ABA that is less “visible” to the outside world like tele-ABA.