Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a precise, data-based approach to developing skills and addressing the needs of individuals with autism. Every skill is broken down into small steps and taught systematically in a one-to-one teaching session and small groups. The individual is provided with repeated learning opportunities that present clear, simple cues; prompts to enable success; and immediate and consistent rewards for correct responses. Skills are also generalized across environments. Skills such as observing, listening, following directions, and imitating provide the foundation for teaching more complex skills such as communication and social interactions. Behavioral excesses (such as tantrums and aggression) are not reinforced. Instead, more appropriate behaviors are taught in their place.
The most effective intensive behavioral programs for autism:
- Starting upon immediate diagnosis, can be started at any age.
- Continue across the life span.
- Provide the individual with intensive instruction for 30 hours per week at home/school/community.
- Rely heavily on positive reinforcement.
- Teach individuals how to learn.
- Are directed or supervised by individuals with advanced training in ABA, BCBA, experienced clinician.
- Important for the entire team to be involved including parents, siblings, teachers, Speech Language Pathologists, peers, etc.
The effects of intensive behavioral programs can be profound. Many individuals develop skills that enable them to attend regular school programs and to be more successfully included in their communities than they would otherwise. For families, every step the individual with autism makes towards appropriate developmental functioning provides a solid basis for optimism about the individual’s future which leads to independence.