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5 Myths Debunked by Truth about Benefits of ABA for Children with Autism

6.22.16 mythbusted editionApplied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a leading therapy for children with Autism. Many treatments are available, but few are supported by empirical evidence. ABA is supervised by Master’s level Board Certified Behavior Analysts who evaluate areas of strength and deficits on an individual basis. Therapy is achieved 1:1 and when a child or adolescent is ready, group therapy produces amazing results to acquire social skills and ready-to-learn skills necessary for transition planning. There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding ABA treatment. Yet with a little research and information, those are quickly dispelled.

MYTH 5.  ABA takes place at a table to drill skills

TRUTH IS:  ABA is Everywhere!6.22.16 myth busted RESIZED

If your child loves his favorite chair, ABA can start there. At school? Absolutely! Center-based therapy is highly effective for children with autism who need a controlled environment to develop language, reduce problem behavior, acquire ready-to-learn skills for future transitions, self-care skills, play, and of course social skills to name a few. Children and adolescents receiving ABA therapy will have access to functional living skills such as: toileting, food programs, desensitization, problem-behavior reduction, social skills training, and pre-vocational skills. If a child needs help in the community, ABA works at job placements, restaurants, retail stores…okay we work on skill acquisition at the movies, parks, and swimming too! Who said ABA can’t be fun?!?

MYTH 4. ABA is only for young children.

6.22.16 myth busted RESIZEDTRUTH IS:  ABA is effective across all ages, severity levels, and domains. (It works for husbands too!)

The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is just one resource to find evidence of the effectiveness of ABA across a wide spectrum of individuals. (National Autism Center [NAC], 2015; Wong et al., 2014, 2015)

MYTH 3. It doesn’t matter how often ABA therapy is done, you will get results.

6.22.16 myth busted RESIZEDTRUTH IS:  ABA needs consistent focus, especially in the beginning, to gain rapport with the child or adolescent and to work intently on building skills across deficit domains.

ABA includes parents and guardians in order to generalize skills wherever the child may need them. ABA uses the child’s or adolescent’s motivation for preferred items or activities to build and maintain the skills he or she has worked so hard to acquire. Intermittent ABA will not produce the results for critical targets such as language development, reduction of problem behavior (NAC, 2015), and toilet training. A critical feature of ABA is individualized programming specific to the learner. The duration and intensity of treatment is based upon ongoing assessment and program supervision by a BCBA.

MYTH 2. ABA uses food to bribe children and adolescents to do their work.

6.22.16 myth busted RESIZEDTRUTH IS:  ABA identifies key motivation for each individual. 

Reinforcers are given immediately after a child does something we want to see again, such as tying his shoe with no help. ABA focuses on what a child does right, instead of what he or she does wrong.  The environment is set up so the child has the best opportunity to be successful. When the correct response is made, reinforcement of the correct response happens. Reinforcement is based upon the items, activities, or people that mean the most to that person. This is never given for inappropriate behavior as a bribe might be, but for the behavior we want to see again and again. This is where progress is made. Saying “That’s it, Buddy!” with a bright smile and excitement is how a person knows he or she is on the right track.  Sometimes edibles are used, but reserved for skills that are very important and difficult to learn, such as language development and toilet training. Tangible items are faded and transitioned to verbal praise, or even better the individual finding reinforcement in finishing a task.

MYTH 1. ABA is experimental and not a true science.

6.22.16 myth busted RESIZEDTRUTH IS:  ABA– It Works! Applied Behavior Analysis is an empirically-based science, meaning these methodologies are supported and shown to be effective.

Why is that so important? The scientific evidence for ABA shows more progress for persons with autism than any other treatment. That is a big deal! It holds clinicians accountable to peer reviews, replication of interventions, and requires strict ethical compliance for best practice and outcomes.

The Behavior Analysts Certification Board (BACB) is another great resource to learn about the requirements for ABA therapy and the ethical guidelines and qualifications required to become a Behavior Analyst. The BACB can be found by clicking HERE!

by Jennifer Lanham, M.A., BCBA, Associate Chief Clinical Officer

I’m a mother of 4 children: two 22 year olds and two 19 year olds. I have relocated to the North Shore Area of Chicago to work as the ACCO for AHSS. I also work for Ball State University as an Adjunct Professor. I lived in Indianapolis for eight years while I completed my Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Psychology with a Child Psychopathology focus. Then I completed a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis and Special Education from Ball State University, received my BCBA, and plan to complete my Doctoral work in Applied Behavior Analysis/Special Education by December 2016.

Additional References:

  • Mruzek, D.W. (2014). ASD intervention: How do we measure effectiveness? Science in Autism Treatment, 11(3), 20-21
  • National Autism Center. (2015). Findings and conclusions: National standards project, phase 2. Randolph, MA: Author.
  • Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (2014). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group.


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