Graduating from ABA Therapy Services: What's Next?

Celebrate triumphs with ABA therapy! Graduating from ABA therapy services and embracing growth on the autism journey.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 20, 2024
11 min read
min read

Understanding ABA Therapy

In order to fully appreciate the triumph of graduating from ABA therapy services, it is important to have a clear understanding of what ABA therapy entails. This section will explore the origins of ABA therapy and the principles that guide its practice.

Origins of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, was first developed in the 1960s by O. Ivar Lovaas. Lovaas believed that behavior could be analyzed, learned, and changed through reinforcement. His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for what would become an increasingly popular teaching method for individuals with autism.

The birth of ABA therapy can be attributed to Lovaas's impact in the 1960s. He believed that operant conditioning principles could be utilized to improve the behavior of individuals facing challenges. This led to the development of techniques such as positive reinforcement, environmental manipulations, rewarding systems, and skill-building, all of which remain fundamental in ABA therapy today [2].

Principles of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is grounded in the principles of behavior and motivation. Its primary goal is to increase positive behaviors while simultaneously decreasing negative ones. The therapy utilizes systematic and evidence-based approaches to address a wide range of issues and behaviors faced by individuals with autism.

One of the key principles of ABA therapy is the concept of reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is used to reward desired behaviors, encouraging their repetition, while negative reinforcement involves removing or avoiding a negative stimulus to increase the likelihood of the desired behavior occurring. This method helps individuals with autism acquire new skills, modify existing maladaptive behaviors, improve communication, and promote academic success.

Another principle of ABA therapy is the focus on breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable steps. This approach, known as task analysis, allows individuals to learn and master each step before progressing to the next. By providing clear and consistent prompts, cues, and feedback, ABA therapy helps individuals build a solid foundation of skills that can be generalized across various settings and situations.

The effectiveness of ABA therapy has been well-established through research and practice. In a study conducted by Lovaas in 1987, 90% of children who received ABA therapy showed significant improvements in social skills and cognition compared to a control group. Follow-up studies in 1993 demonstrated that these improvements were retained into adolescence.

Understanding the origins and principles of ABA therapy provides a crucial foundation for appreciating the positive impact it can have on individuals with autism. By implementing these evidence-based techniques, ABA therapy aims to empower individuals, promote independence, and pave the way towards a successful transition and graduation from therapy services.

Effectiveness of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, is widely recognized as the most common and effective treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and its related behaviors. Developed in the 1960s by O. Ivar Lovaas, ABA therapy is grounded in the principles of behavior and motivation to increase positive behaviors while decreasing negative ones.

Applications of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy has proven to be effective in addressing a wide range of behavioral conditions beyond autism. It has been used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, phobias, and other disruptive behaviors.

One of the key strengths of ABA therapy is its versatility. It can be tailored to address individual needs and target specific behaviors. ABA therapists work closely with individuals to develop individualized treatment plans, focusing on areas such as social skills development, communication improvement, and academic success. ABA therapy can also be utilized to teach essential life skills, including tasks such as grocery shopping or preparing meals [1].

Success Stories with ABA Therapy

Through the implementation of ABA therapy, many individuals with ASD have achieved significant successes in their lives that they may not have otherwise been able to achieve. Success stories are abundant, showcasing the positive impact ABA therapy has had on individuals and their families.

These success stories highlight various achievements, such as improved communication skills, enhanced social interactions, increased independence, and academic advancements. With the help of ABA therapy, individuals with ASD have been able to learn new skills, modify existing maladaptive behaviors, and overcome challenges that hindered their personal growth and development. The individualized approach of ABA therapy allows for targeted interventions that lead to positive outcomes and improved quality of life.

The effectiveness of ABA therapy in addressing the unique needs of individuals with ASD and other behavioral conditions is supported by a wealth of research and personal accounts. Its evidence-based approach, combined with the dedication of trained professionals, has made ABA therapy an essential tool in helping individuals with ASD lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Access to ABA Therapy

Access to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a crucial aspect of supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, several factors influence the availability and accessibility of ABA therapy services. Disparities in ABA accessibility can impact the opportunities for individuals with ASD to receive this beneficial therapy.

Factors Influencing ABA Access

Various factors contribute to the access or lack of access to ABA therapy for children with ASD. According to research published on PubMed Central, the following factors can influence ABA access:

  1. Location: The geographic location of a family can affect their access to ABA therapy services. Disparities in availability may exist between different states or regions, leading to differences in access to ABA therapy.
  2. Income and Education: Caregivers with higher household incomes and higher levels of education are more likely to receive ABA therapy for their child with ASD. Financial resources and educational background can play a role in accessing ABA services.
  3. Caregiver Employment Status: Caregivers who work full-time, part-time, are homemakers, or unemployed are more likely to have their child receive ABA therapy compared to those who are disabled. Employment status can impact the ability to access and afford ABA therapy.
  4. Caregiver Empowerment and Belief in Treatment: Caregiver empowerment, belief in treatment, and comfort in accessing services are significant factors in determining whether a child with ASD receives ABA therapy. Caregivers who have greater levels of empowerment, belief in treatment, and comfort in accessing services are more likely to pursue ABA therapy for their child.

Understanding these factors can help identify barriers to ABA therapy access and guide efforts to improve accessibility for all individuals with ASD.

Disparities in ABA Accessibility

Disparities in ABA accessibility have been observed among different states. For example, caregivers from Delaware reported a significant disparity in ABA accessibility compared to Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This difference might be attributed to the availability of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in each state.

Addressing these disparities is essential to ensure that individuals with ASD have equal opportunities to benefit from ABA therapy. Efforts should be made to increase the availability of ABA services in underserved areas and provide support to caregivers who may face financial or educational barriers.

By understanding the factors that influence access to ABA therapy and working towards bridging the gaps in accessibility, we can strive to provide equitable opportunities for individuals with ASD to receive the beneficial treatment they deserve.

Transitioning from ABA Therapy

After receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may reach a point where they are ready to transition away from intensive therapy services. This transition marks an important milestone in their journey towards independence and growth. In this section, we will explore the goals that come after ABA therapy and the process of graduating from ABA therapy services.

Post-ABA Therapy Goals

The primary goal after ABA therapy is to support individuals with ASD in their continued development and integration into various aspects of life. One of the key objectives is transitioning back into a school environment, preparing children for classroom settings by mimicking a school day, teaching classroom etiquette, social skills, and effective communication.

Additionally, the focus shifts towards teaching essential life skills that are crucial for independence. These skills include activities of daily living (ADLs) such as personal hygiene, meal preparation, and household chores. Life skills classes or independent living programs are common ways to teach these skills, usually led by teachers or therapists. It is important for these skills to be taught in natural environments that are relevant to the individual's future living situation, such as learning cooking skills in a kitchen or laundry skills in a laundromat [5].

Graduation from ABA Therapy Services

Graduating from ABA therapy services is a significant milestone for individuals with ASD. The duration of ABA therapy can vary depending on the individual's progress and needs. Therapy intensity typically ranges from 5-10 hours per week to 30-40 hours per week, with children often receiving services for 2-3 years. Over time, as progress is made, the intensity of therapy gradually fades out.

The decision to graduate from ABA therapy is based on recognizing progress and achievements. Therapists track developments, reassess skills, and evaluate the ability to maintain progress even after therapy stops. This assessment helps determine if a child is ready to transition out of intensive ABA therapy.

The transition from intensive ABA therapy to post-ABA therapy support involves a tailored approach based on the individual's evolving needs. This may include reducing the frequency of therapy sessions, transitioning to less intensive support, moving to group therapy, or focusing on maintaining skills across various natural environments. The goal is to provide ongoing support while empowering individuals with ASD to thrive independently [4].

Transitioning from ABA therapy to the next phase of development requires a collaborative effort among therapists, educators, and families. By setting appropriate goals and providing the necessary support, individuals with ASD can continue to embrace growth and achieve their full potential.

Life Skills for Individuals with Autism

Developing life skills is crucial for individuals with autism as it enhances their independence and enables them to navigate various aspects of life with confidence. By learning and practicing life skills, individuals with autism can gain tools for increased self-esteem, leading to more happiness in different environments such as home, school, and the community [5].

Importance of Life Skills

Learning life skills is an ongoing process that usually begins at a young age and continues through adolescence and adulthood. These skills are essential for individuals with autism to become more self-sufficient in daily activities. They cover a range of areas, including:

  • Self-care activities: Teaching individuals how to dress themselves, brush their teeth, take a shower, and manage personal hygiene.
  • Cooking: Developing cooking skills to prepare meals and snacks independently, ensuring proper nutrition and food safety.
  • Money management: Teaching individuals about handling money, budgeting, and making purchases.
  • Shopping: Nurturing the ability to navigate stores, make choices, and interact with store personnel.
  • Room organization: Encouraging individuals to keep their living spaces neat and organized.
  • Transportation: Providing skills for using public transportation or driving, promoting independence in getting around.

It's important to note that life skills also encompass executive function skills such as organizing, planning, prioritizing, and decision-making. These skills play a vital role in daily life and should be integrated into the teaching of other life skills [5].

Teaching Life Skills

Teaching life skills to individuals with autism should occur in natural environments that are relevant to where they will use these skills. For example, cooking skills can be taught in a kitchen, while laundry skills can be learned in a laundromat. This approach ensures that the skills are practical and can be easily transferred to real-life situations.

The process of teaching life skills can follow a three-step approach:

  1. Assessing current skills: Evaluating an individual's current abilities and identifying areas where improvement is needed. This assessment helps to determine the starting point for teaching and setting appropriate goals.
  2. Using visual supports: Incorporating visual supports such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual prompts to aid in understanding and carrying out tasks. Visual supports provide clear instructions and help individuals with autism navigate through the steps of a specific skill.
  3. Trying different strategies: Implementing various strategies and techniques to enhance independence. This may involve breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable steps, providing positive reinforcement, and using repetition and practice to reinforce learning.

It's important to remember that every person with autism is unique, and the pace and specific life skills taught will vary based on individual capabilities. By focusing on developing life skills to the best of a child's ability at a young age, there is a significant positive impact on their independence as they grow older.

Supporting Individuals with Autism

After graduating from ABA therapy services, individuals with autism require ongoing support to ensure a smooth transition into the next phase of their lives. This support is crucial for their continued growth and development. Two key areas of support are post-ABA transition support and integration into the school environment.

Post-ABA Transition Support

Transitioning from ABA therapy can be a significant milestone for individuals with autism. It marks a new chapter in their lives, and appropriate support is essential during this period of change. Organizations like Easterseals play a vital role in providing post-ABA transition support for individuals with autism.

Easterseals offers various programs and services to support adults with autism as they navigate life beyond ABA therapy. These programs focus on enhancing independence, promoting self-determination, and fostering community participation. Some of the key post-ABA transition support services provided by Easterseals include:

  • Job Training and Assistance: Easterseals provides job training and assistance for adults with autism, helping them develop the skills necessary for employment. They also collaborate with businesses to facilitate the recruitment and hiring of individuals with autism.
  • Day Programs: Easterseals offers day programs for young adults with autism who remain at home. These programs provide opportunities for socialization, recreational activities, and community participation while requiring minimal assistance with daily activities.
  • Residential Services: To support individuals with autism in their transition, Easterseals provides residential services that enable them to live in their community in a living arrangement of their choice. These services ensure independence while offering necessary support as needed.
  • Community and Recreational Activities: Easterseals organizes community and recreational activities for adults with autism, including social outings, recreational programs, and camping sessions. These activities aim to foster independence, build friendships, and overcome challenges.

Integration into School Environment

For individuals with autism who are still of school-going age, transitioning from ABA therapy to the school environment requires careful consideration. It is important to ensure a supportive and inclusive educational setting that meets their unique needs.

Most children with autism are eligible to receive special education services through the school system until the age of 21. Easterseals, being the largest provider of services for individuals with autism, offers support for this transition. Their services focus on assisting individuals with autism as they move out of the school system and into the next phase of their educational journey.

During this transition, it is crucial to collaborate with educators, support staff, and therapists to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) that addresses the specific needs and goals of the individual. The IEP should incorporate strategies and accommodations to facilitate a successful integration into the school environment. This may include specialized instruction, assistive technology, and social skills training.

Furthermore, creating an inclusive and supportive school environment involves fostering understanding and acceptance among peers. Educating classmates about autism and promoting empathy can contribute to a more inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. Encouraging social interactions and providing opportunities for collaboration between students with autism and their neurotypical peers can also help promote integration and social growth.

By providing post-ABA transition support and facilitating integration into the school environment, individuals with autism can continue to thrive and reach their full potential. The ongoing support and resources provided by organizations like Easterseals are instrumental in ensuring a successful transition and promoting a fulfilling future for individuals with autism.








steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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