Applied Behavior AnalysisIf your child has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, or you suspect that your child may have an autism spectrum disorder, chances are your child would benefit from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.

It may be that your child is already receiving services, but a clearer understanding of ABA and how it works will maximize those services for you and your child.

Applied Behavior Analysis is a research driven practice that has been proven effective in helping children with autism.

In ABA therapy, the family works with the support of the therapist to analyze the child’s behavior, looking carefully for the ABCs:

  • Antecedent
  • Behavior
  • Consequence

The antecedent is the event, emotion, or environmental trigger that occurs immediately before the behavior. The behavior is the child’s response, or what the child does and the consequence is what happens afterward. Here’s an example from the life of Christopher, a two and a half-year-old child with ASD:

Christopher was thirsty, so he pulled mom’s hand, led her toward the fridge and grunted. Mom took the bottle of milk out of the fridge, poured some milk into his sippy cup, and handed the cup to Christopher.

In this anecdote, the antecedent is Christopher’s thirst. The behavior is pulling Mom’s hand and grunting. The consequence was that Mom gave him a sippy cup full of milk.

The goal of studying the ABCs is to ultimately change the child’s behavior.

Mom confided to the therapist that she would like Christopher to say or sign “milk” to get his cup, rather than tugging at her hand. The therapist and Mom determined that Christopher is not able to say any words yet. However, he is physically capable of using his hands to sign “milk” using baby sign language. The ABA therapist used hand-over-hand prompts to teach Christopher to sign “milk,” an open-close gesture of squeezing the fist. She then handed him his cup, showing that the consequence for this sign is a drink of milk.

The most challenging part of ABA is consistently following through on expectations of new behaviors. That means that from now on, Christopher will not get milk by walking to the fridge and grunting, crying, or any other behavior. The only behavior to elicit the consequence (his sippy cup!) is signing “milk.”

This is challenging for the child, and challenging for the adult as well. Christopher may need some help at first, and that’s ok. The adult can help him sign, and gradually decrease the amount of help given until the child is executing the new behavior independently.

ABA is highly effective when practiced consistently. Although it can be challenging to exercise that consistency, it is highly rewarding to see improvements in your child’s behavior. It is that improvement that makes the effort so worthwhile.

By Chaya Glatt