What exactly is Modern Day ABA? - Blog - Achieve Beyond

What exactly is Modern Day ABA?

By: Gina M. Ballone, MS, BCBA, LBA

ABA Myths and Misconceptions

When you hear the phrase “Applied Behavior Analysis,” what is the first thing you think of? Most people would say “Autism” or “a type of therapy”. The main reason for writing this article is to debunk any misconceptions or myths about ABA and explain how it has evolved over the years. The first myth is that it is a “therapy”. ABA is a Science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior, which focuses on objectively defining observable behaviors of social significance (Cooper, Heron & Howard, 1987). The principles of the science, or rather field of study, are applied in an ABA therapy program. The reason it’s important to point out that it’s a Science is to give it significant credit as “empirically validated”. There have been over a thousand studies published, revealing significant changes in the increase of language, communication, socialization, and appropriate behavior and the reduction of problematic behavior. Most of these studies are published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA).

As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, I humbly admit the reason I pursued a career in this line of work is because I know how effective it is. What I mean by this is that I have personally seen amazing changes in children once they’ve received the treatment of ABA. Besides the “personal” note, as an objective clinician there is so much empirical data that reveals significant changes in learning. However, we need to be cognizant of the many “fad-treatments” that have surfaced abundantly over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, if you conduct a google search, there are hundreds of so-called “treatments” for children with Autism; but only a few are considered validly evidence-based. This is important to point out because time is precious and nobody wants to explore treatments that can actually be detrimental to their child’s well-being or their bank account!

ABA is rated the number one evidence-based treatment, and is also recommended by the Surgeon General. With all of this great news, you may ask yourself “why don’t all children get this treatment”? Sadly, some of the reasons are due to lack of clinicians (very long waiting lists), while others are related to some terrible misconceptions about the field that have deterred caregivers from getting services. I conducted an assessment a few months ago, and the child’s mother was so ecstatic after the assessment and told me that she was so relieved at how “nice” I was to her child and how natural my approach was. I seemed kind of confused by this statement, but she later explained that she was told not to get ABA services because ABA is “mean, harsh and intensive”. That is absolutely a myth. The word “intensive” is usually attached to ABA because of the many hours that we work one-on-one with children. When you compare an average 30 minutes of speech therapy twice a week to 10-30 hours of ABA in a week, I guess ABA is definitely termed as “intensive”.

Another myth regarding ABA is that it is like “boot camp therapy” (i.e., rigid and harsh). ABA is anything but that. However, ABA may have been more rigid in the 1970’s . . . but this is the year 2020 and our teaching procedures have greatly changed since 50 years ago! Actually, ABA is NOT sitting at a table, being drilled with flashcards. It is an amazing approach in which the therapist first develops a rapport with their learner. We call this a “pairing” process, in which the therapist develops a positive rapport so that learning is positive and fun. We want our clients to enjoy being around us, and associate us with access to preferred items.

ABA Involves Teaching Through Motivation

The entire premise of the treatment is teaching through motivation. The teaching consists of learning time at the table, but also learning within the natural environment (NET) through play based instruction. We collect objective data to measure and analyze progress in all areas of learning. All skills are broken down and thoroughly analyzed, therefore giving the learner the pre-requisite skills needed in order to master higher level skills. The teaching utilizes a positive and fun learning environment while systematically using evidence-based procedures to prompt skills, fade prompts and reinforce independent skill building!

As Autism increases in prevalence, we must focus on the positive side. We are fortunate to have treatment that is effective. As scientists and researchers are studying the causes of Autism, Behavior Analysts and ABA therapists are treating Autism with significant and hopeful outcomes. If you would like more information on Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis, please visit www.achievebeyondusa.com.

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