Applied behavioural analysis

This is an intervention which aims to change a person’s behaviour, often from a negative stance to a positive direction. The goals are to teach an autistic person about breaking down a task into a series of manageable chunks which makes it easier to understand.

These smaller sections are highly structured and designed for children.

Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) does not cure autism: what it does is to teach a series of skills in easy to digest chunks which will help in everyday situations. Many autistic people have progressed well as a result of these sessions and found them to be very useful.

Another name for ABA is the ’Lovaas method’.

Who runs an ABA session?

This intervention is run by a programme tutor/leader and a team of therapists who will work with your child on an alternate basis. This takes the form of regular sessions over a 2 year period which can be held in your home.

This is an intensive programme which includes up to 40 hours a week of one to one therapy. Each session lasts for 2 to 3 hours and starts with a simple task which increases in complexity over time.

How does ABA work?

The tutor will take a set of tasks, e.g. social interaction and will break these down into subtasks which are taught to your child. They rely upon structure and repetition which is a learning style that often suits autistic children.

The child received positive feedback each he/she completes a task. The aim is to encourage him/her to do this task and to gain in confidence as he/she does so.

For example: the therapist will ask your child to watch as he/she points to an object or toy. Alternately, he/she will ask the child to point to an object as she says the name of that object.

This programme usually starts with asking the child to clap their hands. Once the child does this, he/she will be praised and given a reward, e.g. a popular toy. This is repeated in a pattern of reinforcement.

If the child makes a mistake or does not understand then they will be shown the right way of achieving the task. The aim is to encourage the child to develop these skills whilst ignoring or discarding unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour.

This means minimising inappropriate or challenging behaviour such as temper tantrums. The child will then understand what normal behaviour in society is and what is off-limits.

Every programme starts with easy tasks which become harder over time. Easy tasks include self-help and basic language (learning certain words) through to gestures, body language and eventually social interaction with other children.

What age is suitable for ABA?

For children it is better that they undergo this programme before the age of 5. The reason for this is to prevent them from acquiring bad habits or displaying stereotypical actions as they get older.

This can be a problem once the child is at school as their behaviour is shaped by their environment and peers.

The pre-school child can be taught a range of basic skills such as reading and writing (educational), talking to others (social) and throwing a ball/playing a game (motor).

But don’t rule out ABA if your child is aged 5 and older. An older child can still benefit from this programme as can many adults.

Monitoring the outcome of ABA

In each session the therapist will collect data, e.g. completing a set of criteria, which is analysed and then presented to the autism team and parents. This acts as a form of monitoring which enables the parents to see which tasks their child performs well at and which they find difficult.

This will vary from one child to another.

Behaviour chart

The child’s progress will be measured by means of a ’behaviour chart’which is something that the therapist will devise although parents can produce a chart or diary for themselves.

For example, a typical behaviour chart uses an ’A,B,C’system with space for additional comments. This chart is used to note down episodes of challenging or difficult behaviour such as emotional outbursts or an anxiety attack. The letter ’A’ refers to ’antecedents’ or triggers for a type of behaviour.

The letter ’B’refers to the actual behaviour.

The letter ’C’refers to the outcome or ’consequences’of the behaviour. What happened next and how did other people respond to this behaviour?

The ’comments’section is self-explanatory.

The idea with this chart is to identify the triggers for challenging or inappropriate behaviour and look for ways to control or channel this into positive behaviour.

Applying ABA at school

Many parents are keen to know if ABA can be used at school. In other words, can the skills their child has acquired from ABA be transferred into the school environment?

The short answer to that is yes: these skills can be adapted and hopefully, will enable the child to mix with his/her peers.

If you are a parent then the school and staff need to be made aware that your child has been undergoing ABA sessions. Your child’s teacher may want to visit you at home to sit in on one of these sessions.

Alternately, the ABA therapist may work with your child at school - as a ’buddy’–who will enable your child to utilise these skills in the classroom and outside.

For more information about ABA visit our links section. There you will find details of how to find an ABA programme.

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