Applied behavioral analysis therapy (ABA) is considered the “gold standard” for autism treatment. But is ABA therapy harmful? Or is it helpful? Though ABA is backed by scientific research, misinformation still surrounds the practice. You may be considering ABA therapy for your child but have concerns. You might also simply want to know more about it before choosing it as a treatment option. Here we debunk five ABA myths to ease any lingering worries and to give accurate information so parents like you can make informed decisions.
1. ABA is only for children with profound impairments.
ABA therapy treats individuals with autism across the spectrum, not just those who have an intellectual disability, or those without functional language. Likewise, therapy will be different depending on the person. For example, a verbal person may work on conversing with peers while a non-verbal person may focus on basic communication through a PECS® (Picture Exchange Communication System) book or an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device. ABA providers assess the child and discuss working towards goals parents want achieved, regardless of their level of ability. Even if your child has a typical IQ and is verbal, there are a variety of methods within ABA that could help them engage in their environment and learn critical life skills. ABA therapy tailors to the needs and skill level of the client, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. At Healing Haven, we witness children with a wide range of abilities benefit from ABA.
2. ABA doesn’t work for older kids
Though many parents begin ABA early when their children with autism are young children, ABA most definitely helps older children and teens, even through adulthood. We know learning doesn’t stop in young childhood. Many older kids and teens on the spectrum may struggle with tasks and communication that younger children usually practice, such as dressing or asking for help. Therefore, ABA has much to offer kids in its wide variety of approaches. Whatever the age of the individual, any progress and success in independence is achievable and is worthy of celebration.
3. ABA is robotic.
This is a fairly common ABA myth. ABA is the most efficacious intervention for children on the autism spectrum when implemented properly. Therapists should give careful consideration to teach functional skills that the child can carry over outside of a teaching environment. When such consideration is not given, robotic behaviors may emerge. Children engaged in teaching programs that are highly repetitive and structured in an unnatural way are at a higher risk to exhibit this behavior.
Parents should look for ABA programming that selects target skills and behaviors that are relevant to the child and their life. They should also provide opportunities for their child to practice the skills in a natural setting. When done properly, children receiving ABA therapy acquire skills that are far from robotic.
4. ABA uses aversive techniques.
This myth comes from controversial practice when ABA first started. Unfortunately, back in the 60s, physical punishment was sometimes a part of the practice in teaching children to behave appropriately. Thanks to progression in science, this is far removed from ABA practice today. Science now fully embraces the importance of a supportive and encouraging teaching environment. Today’s ABA is much more focused on identifying functional behaviors to reinforce and thereby increase.
5. ABA is all the same.
ABA tailors to the child’s needs and goals. What may work for one individual might hinder another. BCBAs utilize a vast array of approaches including rewards, motivators, positive reinforcement, and much more to help a child learn and thrive. Research proves that ABA helps more than just one type of child. If ABA used the same approach for all, it would not hold the effectiveness it has garnered over the past 50 years.