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What is ABA?

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is the most effective therapeutic intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is successful with both children and adults. The focus of ABA intervention is to improve a person’s quality of life by teaching skills necessary for day-to-day functioning, and to decrease behaviors that may inhibit success. Typically, ABA interventions rely on the use of strategically applied reinforcers that motivate the individual to learn a skill, or refrain from engaging in an unwanted behavior.

ABA is a form of therapy based on B. F. Skinner’s theory of behaviorism, which focuses on observable behaviors. ABA therapy is applied in a variety of ways, but each therapeutic intervention is customized to be meaningful to the individual.

ASD kid looking at a globe - ABA blog

Why is ABA so popular?

ABA is proven to be effective! Studies show that 30-50% of children with ASD who begin receiving quality, intensive ABA therapy from a young age go on to succeed in regular education classrooms. Moreover, their success continues to improve well into the future. ABA interventions also help improve family relationships by increasing positive behavior within the home, and enhance social skills, such as appropriate eye contact, reciprocal conversation, making and accepting bids, as well as many others.

Specific, child centered  interventions are designed to teach functional skills that are important to the child. Examples may include: washing hands, tying a shoe, or a job-specific skill. The specific needs of the individual drive the design of his or her interventions. As a result, ABA-based interventions open up endless possibilities for learning and success, and encourage positive change in the lives of individuals and their families.

Kids playing in the classroom ABA approach

The Growing Field of ABA

As ABA grows in popularity, the number of services provided grows. Every day, more and more ABA-based services are provided in schools and in the community. A growing number of teachers and staff are embracing ABA and welcoming it into schools and classrooms. There has also been an increasing number of opportunities for older individuals with ASD. This makes it easier for adults with ASD to contribute their unique skills throughout the community.

For a parent of a child with Autism, fun and playtime can be stressful to consider; it may be difficult to think of activities to keep a child with Autism engaged in a fun and safe way.

Crafts, songs and games will help with fine motor movements and can help the child stay focused, associate words with objects to improve language and numerical skills, and improve social interaction with others (from taking turns to playing imaginative games).

 

Crafts provide sensory experiences that can stimulate attention and foster calm, and crafts involving the alphabet, matching and sensory bottles/areas are especially effective. Alphabet letters and blocks help develop word recognition and expand sight word knowledge by physically building sight words. You can get creative with materials too – try using blocks, magnets and puzzle pieces as well as paper.

 

Matching activities could include matching colors on two objects that are different in size or appearance or creating your own sorter. Take a sippy cup and poke holes into the top. Color around the holes with different colors and give your child color-coordinated pipe cleaners to match to each hole. Another way to facilitate matching is cutting a symmetrical picture in half so your child can practice matching halves.

 

A fun activity for a child with Autism is creating “calm down bottles” filled with water, glitter and glue (and sealed with glue at the top to prevent leaking). Another engaging sensory activity is adding texture to everyday toys. Whether it’s a plastic egg, a plastic ball or even a piece of paper, adding texture with fuzzy sticks, buttons, pompoms and more will greatly aid stimulation. Plus, all you need is glue and the items!

 

Songs help engage a child because of the singsong nature and repetition. You can find on the internet for days of the week, months of the year, planets in order and so on, but you can also make up a song for daily tasks like going to the bathroom or getting dressed. These songs can include physical movement like jumping or skipping, which creates harder activities for the child to promote independence.

baby-song-sleep

Games like I Spy or guessing games help expand descriptions but also develop focus to note these expanded descriptions. I Spy allows an object to be described as much as possible and allows the child to process all of the given clues before coming to a solution. I Spy strengthens the use of the sense of sight because the more descriptive the clue is, the easier it is to conclude. Guessing games aid sensory stimulation because the child can close his or her eyes and touch or hold an item to figure out what it is. For nonverbal children, you can provide pictures of objects and allow them to select which object they had. This teaches children they need to use more than just sight to get the correct answer – they can use touch, smell and maybe even taste or hearing!

The most important thing with these activities is to keep the child physically engaged with hands-on activities; inappropriate behaviors usually begin with disengagement. The options are endless; have fun!

College is a dream many have, but some feel it may be out of reach because of a variety of disadvantages.

This is the story of Oscar Diaz and his pursuit of his college dreams:

Study book with glasses

​Oscar diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 4. He started elementary school in a normal kindergarten class but soon was relocated to a class that could “fit his needs.” Several of his family members thought this was a tragedy because it wouldn’t entitle Oscar to much, but it was the beginning of Oscar’s path to success.

 

Getting switched into the a different class opened Oscar up to ABA therapy and sooner than later things started looking up. It took Oscar six years to graduate elementary school, but it was worth it. No one, not even Oscar, thought elementary school graduation was possible, nor did anyone believe Oscar would be able to go to middle school without any ABA services. However, Oscar completed both middle school and high school without any service dependency.

Stack of books

Once his necessary education was complete, Oscar wanted more. He always dreamed of going to college but never thought it was possible because of his family’s economic status. So he took a year off after high school to devote all of his time studying for the ACT and SAT. After receiving an exemplary score, he applied to five universities in Florida and received a full merit scholarship to Florida State University. Oscar is now 24 years old and just graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree.  

This is only one of the many success stories that began with the believed constraint of Autism. But Oscar did not let the stigma hold him back, and hopefully neither will other children like him.