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Why ABA Works

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior.

How does ABA therapy work?

Applied Behavior Analysis involves many techniques for understanding and changing behavior. ABA is a flexible treatment:

  • Can be adapted to meet the needs of each unique person
  • Provided in many different locations – at home, at school, and in the community
  • Teaches skills that are useful in everyday life
  • Can involve one-to-one teaching or group instruction

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA.

When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.

First, the therapist identifies a goal behavior. Each time the person uses the behavior or skill successfully, they get a reward. The reward is meaningful to the individual – examples include praise, a toy or book, watching a video, access to playground or other location, and more.

Positive rewards encourage the person to continue using the skill. Over time this leads to meaningful behavior change.

What Does an ABA Program Involve?

Good ABA programs for autism are not “one size fits all.” ABA should not be viewed as a canned set of drills. Rather, each program is written to meet the needs of the individual learner.

The goal of any ABA program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the short term as well as in the future.

What is the evidence that ABA works?

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association.

“Evidence based” means that ABA has passed scientific tests of its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness. ABA therapy includes many different techniques.  All of these techniques focus on antecedents (what happens before a behavior occurs) and on consequences (what happens after the behavior).

More than 20 studies have established that intensive and long-term therapy using ABA principles improves outcomes for many but not all children with autism. “Intensive” and “long term” refer to programs that provide 25 to 40 hours a week of therapy for 1 to 3 years. These studies show gains in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills and social functioning. Studies with adults using ABA principles, though fewer in number, show similar benefits.

For more information on ABA, please visit the Autism Speaks website at: https://www.autismspeaks.org/applied-behavior-analysis-aba-0