Is ABA Therapy Harmful? Or Is It Helpful?

Learn the answer to the common question, is ABA therapy harmful or helpful? Keep reading to find out!

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
January 11th, 2023

Is ABA Therapy Helpful Or Harmful?

When it's performed effectively, ABA therapy is helpful for children with autism. In fact, ABA therapy has a 90% success rate according to recent studies.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy was first developed in the 1970s by Psychologist Ivar Lovaas and Robert Koegel at UCLA. Their goal was to help children on the autism spectrum learn how to improve social and behavioral skills.

Unlike some other types of behavioral therapies, Applied Behavior Analysis uses and relies on a variety of different principles that have evidence to back them up.

Just like with most things, ABA therapy needs to be implemented correctly, and for most people that find it harmful, there were outside factors that contributed to it not working effectively for their children.

Keep reading to learn how ABA therapy is helping children with autism across the world.

Read More: Benefits Of ABA Therapy

Important Steps To Do Before Starting ABA Therapy

Even though ABA therapy is a proven type of therapy that can help children with behavioral issues, it is still important to make sure that your child's therapist is qualified to provide ABA therapy.

Many parents who believe that ABA therapy is harmful had it done by a professional that was not knowledgeable about ABA therapy, which can cause the therapy to be ineffective or even create new behavior problems.

If you are looking into ABA therapy for your child, you should look closely at the credentials of your child's therapist.

Any therapist that is providing ABA therapy should have some sort of certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Depending on where you live, each state has different rules when it comes to who can legally provide ABA therapy, and a therapist is required to show you their credentials at any time upon request.

However, having the credentials is not the only thing that a therapist needs to effectively administer ABA therapy.

For ABA therapy to work properly, there has to be a positive relationship between your child and the therapist.

If your child is not comfortable with the therapist, the ABA therapy could have an inadvertent effect on your child's behavior, which could make it seem like ABA is not a viable therapy solution.

Once you decide to go with ABA therapy and find the right therapist to work with your child, you need to know some things to expect.

First and foremost, you and the professional therapist should sit down together and discuss and set goals that the therapist wishes to work with your child on during their ABA sessions.

Plus, the therapist should communicate and explain these goals with you upfront before ever working with your child.

One part of ABA therapy is that it helps parents to learn about their child's disabilities and how to cope with them.

When the goals have been set, you should pay close attention to the techniques that the therapist plans on using.

One of the reasons ABA therapy is effective is because it can be individualized to each child by using different qualified techniques and learning styles that will work with your child.

This type of therapy is also capable of being changed, as needed.

An ABA therapist should be adept at taking scrupulous data during their sessions to find out if the intervention being used is effective or not, and if it is not effective, they should come up with alternative interventions that will work effectively on your child.

Why ABA Therapy Is Not Abusive

When dealing with autistic children, parents and therapists must understand that they may not respond to some things like other children with behavioral issues.

However, when ABA therapy is performed effectively, it can be helpful for children with autism. In fact, ABA therapy has a 90% success rate according to recent studies.

Unlike most children who experience behavioral issues, a lot of children with autism have difficulties expressing what they want or need, which is the backbone of their behavioral issues.

Think about it, when you are upset, mad, happy, or anxious, there are a thousand ways that you might express these emotions.

However, a child with autism might not have the same methods, which can make them aggressive or prone to throwing tantrums.

With ABA therapy, therapists can choose from different techniques, like pivotal response training to help them deal with these emotions.

Types of Techniques Used That Make APA Therapy Helpful

When you first start speaking with an ABA therapist, you should understand that there are several types of training modules that a therapist might use in their sessions with your child.

Here are three of the more popular training modules that are used in ABA therapy, but there are many others.

Discuss with your therapist what types of training modules they plan to use with your child while in your initial goal discussion meeting with the therapist.

Pivotal response training

Pivotal response training is one technique that many ABA therapists use when working with children with autism.

This training is a naturalistic intervention model that has had over 200 research articles about its effectiveness.

aba therapist with patient

This training model focuses on four development areas: responding to multiple cues, self-regulation, motivation, and initiation.

PRT is not always the best option for every child, but that is why ABA therapy is helpful for many autistic children.

It incorporates a lot of techniques that have been proven to work, but it gives the therapist options to figure out what will work best with the individual child.

Functional communication training

FCT is a training technique that some ABA therapists use to help children to replace one behavior with another.

It helps a child with behavioral problems to express their frustration by using appropriate phrases or other ways of communication.

This type of training is usually done in a set of stages, which means it can take some time for it to show the appropriate progress.

However, this does not mean that it is not working.

If your ABA therapist speaks with you about this type of training for your child, you should understand this going in and make sure to ask questions when you are setting goals for your child with the therapist before they begin working with your child so that there aren't any misconceptions of expectations.

Why some people say ABA therapy is harmful/abusive and why they're wrong.

Some parents have not had a positive experience with ABA therapy, and many times, they look at ABA therapy as being a harmful form of therapy. However, this is not true.

That being said, this doesn't mean that their experience wasn't bad or that the ABA therapy sessions didn't work for their child.

Several factors could have caused this experience, and it doesn't have to do with the actual ABA therapy itself.

Many times, when ABA therapy fails it has to do with not having the right ABA professional working with your child.

Making sure that the therapist you use has the proper credentials is essential for your child to truly benefit from ABA therapy.

It is also important that you remember that ABA therapy will only work if your child and the therapist are on the same page and have some sort of connection, especially in children who suffer from autism.

Many children with behavioral issues can also have social issues, as well, which means that they might not respond to new people well or at all.

Children with these issues need to warm up to new people, and if the proper time is not given to ABA therapy, it might seem harmful or that it doesn't work, when in fact, it would but the right techniques have not been found yet.

Therefore, if you are considering ABA therapy, before you write it off, go over it with your ABA therapist and find out what is not working or what you can come up with together to get the best outcome for your child.

All in all, ABA therapy has proven to work in many research cases, but it might require trial and error for the therapist to figure out which techniques will work best with your child's individual needs.


  1. TodaysParent
steven zauderer

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

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