It has been said that applied behaviour analysis (ABA) used in Autism treatment is equivalent to chemo therapy in cancer patients. This statement validates the power of this form of autism treatment. There are many treatment approaches out there but only applied behaviour analysis has been proven to have an effective outcome in autism treatment.
Applied behaviour analysis tackles autism treatment by systematically applying interventions to improve the child’s overall social compatibility. Applied behaviour analysis works on the principle of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is used to increase desired behaviour and decrease undesired behaviour. It is a science in itself and no decision is made without data to back it up. Instructors in this field are required to take data on every trial and behaviour that occurs within their session. This data is imperative as it allows for informed decisions and recommendations to be made and implemented in the child’s program.
When looking at autism treatment, it is important to note that each child on the spectrum is completely different to the next, therefore it is of utter importance to treat each child as an individual and derive a program that best suits their needs. With this being said, it has been proven that a rate of 40 hours of 1:1 applied behaviour analysis treatment per week has the best results. However with autism being so vast, so is autism treatment. Therefore, the supervisors of the case will recommend hours based on the child’s needs as well as competency.
Programs are designed based on an evaluation of skills and skill deficits in eight domains. These domains include social, language, motor, cognition, executive functions, adaptive, academic and play. Within each domain, different lessons are listed, such as dressing, eating, desires, requesting, physical states and so on. Each lesson has targets listed under them. For example dressing would have targets such as t- shirt on, shirt with buttons on, pants on and so on. In addition, each domain has different levels and targets are only added to the child’s program as prerequisites are met. For example; in order for a lesson such as greeting to be added to a child’s program, a child would need to have mastered skills such as compliance, eye contact and gaining attention.
Each child has an individualised programme specifically designed to suit to their needs. They each have a team and this team is responsible for carrying out the programme accurately and consistently. The team consists of a supervisor, team lead and typically three to four team members. The supervisor designs the programme according to the child’s needs based on data and feedback from the team lead and team as well as parents’ expectations and concerns. The supervisor also sits in on sessions in order to constantly evaluate skill development and troubleshoot areas in which skill development is slower, which is important in continually ensuring that the child is progressing as much as possible. Programme changes are made regularly to help the child learn as they need to. As autism is a vast and ever-changing condition, so are the child’s needs. For example, a child may need to learn how to brush their teeth, however the team may realise that the child needs to be desensitised to the taste or texture of the toothpaste first. The team lead is responsible for implementing all changes timeously and ensuring that the team is consistent in their intervention, and the team is responsible or carrying out ABA with consistency and care.
Balancing out the skill acquisition component of the ABA programme in autism treatment are the Behaviour Intervention Plans (BIPs). These are drawn up to address challenging behaviour that often accompanies an autism diagnosis. Behaviour is considered to be challenging or problematic if it interferes with learning, interferes with social interaction, has the potential to cause harm to the child, has the potential to cause harm to others, or has the potential to damage property. A BIP is followed by a team to reduce and eliminate the occurrences of inappropriate behaviour. It typically consists of a detailed definition of what the behaviour looks like, the reason the behaviour is occurring or the need it meets for the child, procedures to be put in place to decrease the chances the child will need to engage in the behaviour, the replacement behaviour(s) we plan to teach the child to displace the problem behaviour while still meeting their needs, and the procedures to be carried out if the problem behaviour occurs. It is important that the BIP is fully understood and implemented correctly, as consistency is key in applied behaviour analysis.
The key to autism treatment from a behavioural approach, as mentioned above, is consistency. Consistency across the team, family and ideally everyone involved in the child’s life is important to promote progress in the child’s programme. It also speeds up the course of autism treatment.
Paired with applied behaviour analysis, biomedical treatment has shown a positive effect in some lives. Biomedical treatment is also treated as a science and through thorough testing by experts in the field; special dietary restraints such as gluten, dairy, sugar etc., are put into place together with a range of vitamins and supplement specifically put together for each child’s needs. Again, like applied behaviour analysis, this treatment is specifically designed to suit each individual’s needs and it is constantly evaluated and adapted to the child’s needs as they change. It is important to have the guidance of a biomedical doctor when pursuing this adjunctive treatment course.
To conclude this article, autism treatment is accessible, but it is important to understand that that not all methods are effective as not all methods out there take into consideration the sensitive nature of every child’s individual needs. Autism is so broad and no two children are the same, so what works for one child may not work for another. That is why in applied behaviour analysis, each child’s case is treated individually and this has shown positive results. The approach is meticulous and caters for every child’s needs and adapts to the child’s needs where needed. Instructors in this field are ready for every new change and challenge because every second counts in the fight against autism.