Spectrum Warriors: Life Through The Autism Spectrum

What is ABA and How is it Used in Autism Therapy

During our discussions over the last few weeks on the changes to the Early Intervention changes in New Brunswick, there was also a lot of side conversations about what kind of therapy our kids would benefit from. Below, we bring you a guest post written by Lindsay Farrell, a mom and autism advocate. Lindsey is raising a 9-year old son with autism and has been involved in the (local) autism community for a number of years helping connect parents with resources and advocate on behalf of parents and kids.

The provincially-funded model uses Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). This the application of operant and classical conditioning that modifies human behaviors, especially as part of a learning or treatment process.*

The reason that people get confused and concerned about what ABA is, stems from the difference between the“pure” and “applied” science and the “names” associated with the teaching methods.

  • “Pure” behaviourism uses basic principles of behaviour, which include reinforcement, prompting, fading, shaping, schedules of reinforcement, etc. – pure science of behaviour analysis
  • “Applied” is the application of the science of the behaviour

The science is one thing, made up of these principles of behaviour. The applied science is another, made up of strategies based on those principles. The reason that people say there are different “kinds” of ABA (which is an incorrect statement) is because people hear about “Lovaas,” “DTT” “NET,” “AVB,” etc. What those distinctions actually describe are different applications of the same science.

There are other differences in applications, such as the type of prompting that’s done, the ratio of table-time to teaching done in the natural environment (NET), and the presentation of skills (larger trials of one target rather than several targets within one program at a time versus combining a number of different skills all at once).

There are as many different applications of the science of behaviour analysis as there are home and school ABA programs. So basically, when someone asks if you are doing “ABA,” you can say yes, whether you’re doing a Lovaas program or an AVB program. It’s all the same if you are teaching based on the principles of behaviourism.

For those who say that they don’t like ABA – I think what those people mean is that they actually dislike Lovaas’s application (or whichever they’ve seen), not the science of behaviour itself.

Not much to argue about really:

  • Ideas that we do things more often when they have positive consequences = reinforcement.
  • We don’t know how to do something we need help to learn how = prompting.
  • Help needs to be lessened/removed as we are able to do the skill on our own = fading
  • We get better and better at things as we practice them more = shaping.

Below is a comparison of several different models **

ABA Methods

There is far more to argue putting a young child in a chair for 40 hours a week, requiring eye contact and sitting still. From what I see, is the over generalized/misinterpretation of a strict Lovaas application of the science of behaviour.

– Lindsay Farrell

Thanks Lindsay for such detailed information and a great comparison of some of these models. I definitely learned something from reading these.

For those of you choosing not to do ABA, what application did you try and what do you find is working or not working?

For more information on how to start in-home ABA therapy, please check out some of the below links:

Talk About Curing Autism (TACA)

What is ABA and what is needed

Online Parent Training (not free)

Institute for Behavioral Therapy e-Learning (not free)


* Source: Wikipedia

** Source: www.lovaas.com

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