What is Autism?
According to the NIH, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association used to diagnose mental disorders, indicates that people with ASD have:
- Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
- Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors
- Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism.
Children with autism may display some or many of the characteristics noted below. They may have severe forms of one or more of the characteristics, or may have only mild impairments related to these characteristics. It is important to note that with early education focused on a child’s needs, many of these behaviors can be modified.
Social Interaction Impairments
A child may…
Speech, Language, and Communication Impairments
A child may…
Stereotyped or Repetitive Behavior
A child may…
What is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach to understanding learning and behavior. The principles of ABA focus on how behaviors change, or are affected by the environment, as well as how learning takes place. ABA requires the implementation of established principles of learning, behavioral strategies, and environmental modifications to improve and teach new behaviors.
In practice, implementation must be systematic so therapists can identify how behavior can be changed and understand how learning occurred. The ultimate goal of ABA is to create meaningful changes in socially significant behaviors. Such behaviors can include social, communication, maladaptive behaviors, play, daily living skills and academics. Essentially, any skill that will enhance the independence and/or quality of life for the individual.
Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for Autism. It has been endorsed as an evidence-based best practice treatment by a number of state and federal agencies, including the US Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Health and the American Psychiatric Association.
Although there is a continuum of possible treatment possibilities in ABA treatment (intensity, duration, # of treatment goals, intensity of target behaviors, hours of direct treatment provided, etc.), in recent years the following treatment models for defining levels “intensive ABA treatment” have been put forth by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and adopted by most Commercial Insurance providers. These models are not intended to restrict or dictate treatment, they merely provide a universal method of categorization for treatment.
Focused Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Treatment for Autism
Focused ABA therapy services are provided to individuals who need treatment only for a limited number of key functional skills or have a specific acute problem behavior. Treatment generally ranges from 10-25 hours per week of direct therapy. However, certain treatment programs for some behavior may require more than 25 hours per week of direct therapy.
Comprehensive ABA Treatment
Comprehensive ABA looks at producing changes across a broad set of functions including cognitive, adaptive, social, and emotional domains. Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder often involves 30-40 hours of one-to-one (1:1) direct therapy per week. Young or newly diagnosed children may start with a few hours of therapy per day, with the hope of increasing the intensity of therapy as their ability to tolerate and participate permits. But ultimately the goal is to decrease hours of therapy per week when the child has met a majority of the treatment goals and is moving toward discharge.
What Can ABA do for my child?
- Reduce inappropriate or unwanted behaviors such as aggression, excessive tantrumming, or interfering repetitive behaviors.
- Increase skills across all areas of development to both address delays and give the client new skills to replace the unwanted behaviors.
- Target specific areas of concern such as feeding difficulties, sleep difficulties, or communication.
- Support parents in teaching new skills and addressing concerning behaviors.