The last in a series of ‘treatment’ posts. Before reading this please be sure to read…
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy was developed by Lovaas in the 1960’s. It is probably viewed as the most effective therapy for children and also has research to support the ideas. This therapy is much like the one shown on the NBC hit show, Parenthood. Max, the character with Asperberger’s, has an in-home therapist named Gaby.
I have a very difficult time watching the show because it’s often just too real. My other ‘problem’ with the show is that it makes it seem having a behavioral therapist come to your home is an easy process. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process. These services are scattered and often, quite expensive.
In one major study, Lovass treated 19 children with autism. 49% of them reached average IQ scores and returned to the general education environment. (Herbert – see below). This type of in-home therapy and school support is quite common and has a great return of success.
This therapy is conducted during a child’s waking hours. A therapist comes to the home and helps to not only teach the child, but also parents. This is a community-based therapy – everyone surrounding the child is on the same page. This therapy is used to teach children basic concepts that they would not learn in a general education setting. These types of skills can include motor, social, and reasoning skills. Our regular education classrooms do a great job of teaching academic-based content. The skills that children learn through ABA are those skills that we, as neurotypicals, pick up from watching others.
As my red shirt, purple short wearing child can attest – he doesn’t really care, or pay attention to what others are (or are not) doing.
ABA uses careful observation and lots of positive reinforcement (remember Bribery?). Sticker charts, prize jars, and point systems are often used by ABA therapists. The idea is to discover what triggers an unwanted behavior. That trigger could be a misunderstanding, lack of understanding, sensory overload, or even fear. Once that misunderstanding, lack of understanding, sensory overload, or fear is conquered students will receive something they find rewarding.
When appropriate behaviors are used there is a constant reward until the positive behavior sort of ‘takes over’ the negative behavior.
These programs are very specific and created in different ways for each individual – depending on their needs.
According to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, ABA methods are used to help persons with autism in six ways:
- to increase behaviors (eg reinforcement procedures increase on-task behavior, or social interactions);
- to teach new skills (eg, systematic instruction and reinforcement procedures teach functional life skills, communication skills, or social skills);
- to maintain behaviors (eg, teaching self-control and self-monitoring procedures to maintain and generalize job-related social skills);
- to generalize or to transfer behavior from one situation or response to another (eg, from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom);
- to restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviors occur (eg, modifying the learning environment); and
- to reduce interfering behaviors (eg, self-injury or stereotypy).
This website has an amazing page that describes and defines the ABA process: http://www.centerforautism.com/aba-therapy.aspx
Other ABA treatments include social skills groups, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. Again, with each treatment/therapy it is imperative that the ENTIRE family is involved and educated.
One important result from Lovass’ research was that early intervention is key.
Like any ‘treatments’ (ugh…seriously…I hate typing that) there are detractors and many folks who say it does harm. Again, I’m not advocating for any of these treatments – just sharing what some folks choose.
Here is the bottom line – every person with autism (or autistic) is different. Some of these ideas work for some, and not others. Some folks are opposed to any type of therapy and others look for anything to help their children mainstream into the neurotypical world.
That being said, I do know of one thing that works for all.
Herbert, J.D., Sharp, I.R., & Gaudiano, B.A. (2002). Separating fact from fiction in the etiology and treatment of autism. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices, 1(1), 1-35. Retrieved from http://www.srmph.org/0101/autism.html