Key Questions to Ask about ABA Therapy

Navigate ABA therapy with confidence. Essential questions to ask about ABA therapy, decoded here.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 27, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding ABA Therapy

When considering therapy options for children with autism, one of the most frequently discussed is Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy. This section will cover the basics of ABA therapy and highlight the key strategies used in this approach.

Basics of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is a scientific and evidence-based approach that helps people with autism learn and develop skills to improve and manage their behaviors. Notably, it is particularly beneficial as an early intervention approach for children with autism, allowing them to acquire skills that they will use for the rest of their lives Behavioral Innovations.

The therapy focuses on using tactics derived from behavior principles to improve socially significant behavior. Experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior improvement, making ABA a science that helps individuals with autism understand their behaviors and how to enhance them.

ABA therapy involves seven core concepts, known as the seven dimensions of ABA, to ensure that children with autism receive effective treatment. These dimensions include generalization, effectiveness, technological aspect, applied nature, conceptual systematics, analytics, and addressing behaviors both externally and internally Behavioral Innovations.

Key Strategies in ABA Therapy

A key strategy in ABA therapy is using positive reinforcement, which encourages positive behavior change by rewarding a valued behavior with meaningful rewards like praise, toys, books, or access to preferred activities Autism Speaks.

Additionally, ABA therapy applies the understanding of how behavior works to real situations to increase helpful behaviors and decrease harmful behaviors. It uses an approach known as the "A-B-Cs" – Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence, which aids in teaching and understanding behaviors effectively Autism Speaks.

These strategies are implemented in individualized ABA programs designed to meet the needs of each learner. The focus of these programs is on helping individuals work on skills that promote independence and success in the short and long term Autism Speaks.

In summary, ABA therapy is a versatile, evidence-based approach that can make a significant difference in the lives of children with autism. By understanding the basics and key strategies of ABA therapy, parents can make informed decisions about the best therapeutic approach for their child.

Benefits of ABA Therapy

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, therapy has garnered significant attention and recognition over the years due to its effectiveness in helping individuals with autism. Let's delve into why ABA therapy is considered beneficial.

Individualized Programs

One of the primary benefits of ABA therapy is the development of individualized programs. Every individual diagnosed with autism is unique, with varying strengths, limitations, interests, and goals. ABA therapy recognizes these differences and designs customized treatment plans accordingly.

These individualized programs help children learn new behaviors, improve social skills, and increase intellectual aptitude. As a result, many individuals have seen improvements in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills, and social functioning.

An early intervention report by St. John Fisher College further highlights the benefits of these individualized ABA therapy programs, leading to faster recovery rates and improvements in areas such as achieving better results on IQ tests [2].

Evidence-Based Practice

Another substantial benefit of ABA therapy is that it is an evidence-based practice. The therapy has undergone rigorous scientific tests to ascertain its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness. The therapy has been endorsed by state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health, as a safe and effective treatment for autism.

ABA therapy gained popularity as a treatment for autism following a study by Ivar Lovaas in 1987, where 9 out of 19 autistic children who underwent intensive ABA therapy for 40 hours per week showed significant improvements. Since then, thousands of studies have been published supporting ABA as an effective treatment for autism. Reviews in 1972 and 1996 concluded that ABA interventions show consistent positive results in treating autism [3].

In conclusion, the benefits of ABA therapy are extensive and well-documented. The use of individualized programs ensures that each child's unique needs are taken into consideration, while the evidence-based nature of ABA therapy ensures its effectiveness. These factors make ABA therapy a top choice for many parents seeking effective treatment for their children diagnosed with autism.

Implementing ABA Therapy

When exploring the implementation of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, there are two critical factors to consider: the training and supervision of the therapist, and the customization of the treatment plans. Both of these elements play a significant role in the effectiveness of the therapy and the progress of the child undergoing treatment.

Therapist Training and Supervision

ABA therapists are usually well-trained professionals with a master's degree or higher in behavioral analysis. Most ABA programs are supervised, follow clear guidelines, and document progress thoroughly.

In the ABA treatment process, the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) supervises approximately 10% of the child's treatment. Meanwhile, the majority of the treatment plan is implemented by a registered behavior technician (RBT) who works directly with the child over weeks and months, executing each step of the plan and reporting back to the BCBA [4].

This level of supervision ensures that the therapy is delivered consistently and accurately, while also allowing for adjustments to be made based on the child's progress and individual needs.

Customized Treatment Plans

A child's ABA treatment plan is customized based on their needs, age, and other key factors. This includes setting goals for treatment, outlining steps to achieve each goal, establishing timelines, and conducting regular progress assessments every six months. Anecdotal data from the BCBA, RBT, and parents is also considered to adjust the treatment plan [4].

ABA programs are personalized based on each child's individual needs. Therapists tailor the programs after thorough observation and evaluation, focusing on areas where specific help is needed, including social, academic, and other skill sets.

Additionally, the treatment program is designed to be highly customized based on the child's specific needs and developmental milestones. ABA therapy professionals use flexible tools to ensure accurate assessments and appropriate planning for the next stage of the treatment program.

The customization of treatment plans in ABA therapy highlights the individual focus of this therapeutic approach, emphasizing the importance of tailoring the therapy to meet the unique needs and strengths of each child. This personalized approach can enhance the child's engagement in the therapy, contribute to their progress, and maximize the overall effectiveness of the treatment.

ABA Therapy Techniques

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy uses a variety of techniques to encourage positive behavior change. In this section, we will explore three fundamental techniques employed in ABA therapy: positive reinforcement, discrete trial training (DTT), and modeling.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a key strategy in ABA therapy. It encourages positive behavior change by rewarding a valued behavior with meaningful rewards. These can include praise, toys, books, or access to preferred activities.

When something of value is given after completing a task or demonstrating a skill, the child learns to associate that behavior with the reward, making them more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. Over time, the reward is faded out, encouraging the child to continue the new skill even without receiving the reward [5].

ABA therapists also utilize reinforcement systems to teach individuals the consequences of their behaviors. Positive behaviors are often rewarded with praise, tokens, snacks, toys, or special privileges, while reinforcement may be withheld or prompts given for inappropriate behaviors. This system helps individuals understand the outcomes of their actions and encourages positive behavior change.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a technique within ABA therapy that involves one-on-one controlled environments where therapists prompt desired behavior, provide reinforcement, and repeat the process until the behavior is autonomously displayed. This method is commonly used to help individuals with autism develop social and behavioral skills [6].

With DTT, a clear instruction is given, and the child's response is observed. If the response is correct, it is reinforced with a reward. If the response is incorrect, the correct response is modeled, and the trial is repeated. This structured approach provides a clear and consistent learning environment, making it easier for the child to understand and learn the desired behavior.


Modeling is another technique employed in ABA therapy. Here, therapists demonstrate desired behaviors through in-person, video, or audio examples. This technique is particularly effective in developing social and communication skills in children, such as teaching them to shake hands or say thank you in specific situations [6].

In modeling, the therapist (or model) performs the desired behavior, and the child is then encouraged to imitate it. When the child successfully imitates the behavior, they receive positive reinforcement to solidify the behavior. Over time, this can help the child learn and internalize a wide range of social and communication skills.

Each of these techniques plays a vital role in ABA therapy, offering different ways to promote positive behavior changes. By understanding these techniques, parents can better comprehend the process their child is going through and provide support where necessary.

Effectiveness of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy has proven to be quite effective in a number of areas. This effectiveness is particularly seen in the behavior improvement strategies used and the reinforcement systems employed. However, one must keep in mind that the effectiveness can vary based on the individual's unique needs and responses.

Behavioral Improvement Strategies

The use of behavioral improvement strategies in ABA therapy has shown significant effects in a number of areas. A meta-analysis of 14 randomized control trials found that interventions based on ABA showed significant effects for socialization, communication, and expressive language in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it's important to note that no significant effects were observed for general symptoms of ASD, receptive language, adaptive behavior, daily living skills, IQ, verbal IQ, nonverbal IQ, restricted and repetitive behavior, motor, and cognition. (NCBI)

Research supports ABA as an effective treatment for autism, with thousands of studies published. Reviews in 1972 and 1996 concluded that ABA interventions show consistent positive results in treating autism. (Health Central)

Reinforcement Systems

A key strategy in ABA therapy is positive reinforcement, which is used to encourage desired behaviors and skill development. This method has proven highly effective in helping children diagnosed with autism learn new behaviors, improve social skills, and increase intellectual aptitude. (Applied Behavior Analysis Programs)

In fact, a report by St. John Fisher College highlights the benefits of early intervention with ABA therapy for autistic children. This includes faster recovery rates and improvement in areas such as achieving better results on IQ tests. (Applied Behavior Analysis Programs)

ABA therapy, classified as an evidence-based practice by the American Psychological Association, is utilized to treat communication issues, motor skills, and behavioral disorders. This is especially true for individuals with autism spectrum disorder who learn and think differently. (Regis College)

When considering ABA therapy, it's important to ask about the specific behavioral improvement strategies and reinforcement systems that will be used. Understanding these details can help parents make informed decisions about whether this therapy is the best fit for their child's needs.

Considerations in ABA Therapy

While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy has many benefits, there are also several considerations to bear in mind. These include the time commitment involved, the cost of the therapy, and the qualifications of the therapist. These factors should be thoroughly evaluated before deciding to proceed with ABA therapy.

Time Commitment

A significant aspect to consider in ABA therapy is the time commitment. Therapists often recommend up to 40 hours of therapy per week [2]. This level of commitment can be stressful for both children and parents, and may not be feasible for all families.

However, it's essential to note that effective programs can also be implemented with fewer hours per week. This flexibility allows families to tailor the therapy schedule to their individual needs and circumstances.

Cost Considerations

The cost of ABA therapy can be prohibitive for many families. As seen in Lovaas's 1987 study, children received 40 hours of therapy per week, a level of intensity that many school districts lack the resources to support.

Moreover, insurance coverage for ABA therapy varies significantly, making it unaffordable for many families. It's crucial to thoroughly investigate potential funding sources, including insurance coverage, school district funding, and grants from autism organizations, to help offset the cost of therapy.

Therapist Qualifications

When considering ABA therapy, the qualifications of the therapist are of utmost importance. ABA therapists should have specialized training in applied behavior analysis and experience working with individuals with autism.

In addition, the therapist should be certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) or a similar accrediting organization. They should also engage in ongoing professional development to stay current with the latest research and techniques in ABA therapy.

Parents should ask potential therapists about their educational background, certification, and experience working with children with similar needs. This information will help ensure that the therapist is well-qualified to provide effective, individualized therapy for your child.

In conclusion, while ABA therapy can provide significant benefits for children with autism, it's crucial to weigh these benefits against the time and cost commitments, as well as ensuring the therapist's qualifications. By asking key questions about ABA therapy, you can make an informed decision that best meets the needs of your child and family.








steven zauderer

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

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