So what is ABA???

By ABA therapist Gina Hughes.

ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is a scientifically validated approach to understanding behaviour and how it is affected by the environment. On a practical level, the principles and methods of behaviour analysis have helped many different kinds of learners acquire many different skills – from healthier lifestyles to the mastery of a new language.


ABA treatment for Autism


Since the 1960s, therapists have been using Applied Behaviour Analysis to help children with Autism and related developmental disorders. ABA can even be used for very young children, but it is more play-based and developmental in style.

ABA is one of the oldest and most fully researched of any Autism treatment and is believed by many to be the most effective treatment there is.

Through decades of research, the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis has developed many techniques for increasing wanted behaviours. Since it started in the 60’s, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with Autism – from toddlers through to adulthood.

These techniques can be used in structured situations such as a classroom lesson as well as in everyday situations such as family dinnertime or the neighborhood playground.

Some ABA therapy sessions involve one-on-one interaction between the behaviour analyst and the participant while group instruction can likewise prove useful. Effective ABA intervention for Autism is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and should never be viewed as a ‘canned’ set of programs or drills.

What is ABA

On the contrary, a skilled therapist customizes the intervention to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner.

A number of recent studies confirm that ABA techniques are effective for building important life skills in teens and adults with Autism.

Studies have also shown that many children with Autism experience significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability when they participate in high-quality ABA programs.

Some preschoolers who participate in early intensive ABA for two or more years acquire sufficient skills to participate in regular classrooms with little or no additional support. Other children learn many important skills, but still need additional educational support to succeed in a classroom.

Competently delivered ABA intervention can help learners with Autism make meaningful changes in many areas. However, changes do not typically occur quickly. Rather, most learners require intensive and ongoing instruction that builds on their step-by-step progress.

Also, the rate of progress – like the goals of intervention – varies considerably from person to person depending on age, level of functioning, family goals and other factors. Some learners do acquire skills quickly. But typically, this rapid progress happens in just one or two particular skill areas such as reading, while much more instruction and practice is needed to master another skill area such as interacting with peers.

Unfortunately, neuropsychological reports are sometimes poorly communicated to educators, resulting in a gap between what a report recommends and what education is provided.

It is not yet fully understood whether treatment programs for children lead to significant improvements after the child grows up, and the limited research on the effectiveness of adult residential programs shows mixed results.

Like many treatments, although ABA has amazing advantages, it also has potential disadvantages, so before deciding whether this treatment is right for your family, it’s a good idea to become aware of the pros and cons of ABA.


The advantages are:
  • No other developmental or behavioural treatment has been in use longer than ABA.
  • The approach works well with consistency, experienced by many people with Autism.
  • More research and support is available for ABA than for any other type of Autism therapy.
  • ABA therapists typically follow clear treatment guidelines and are required to keep extensive notes on therapy progress.
  • Numerous studies show improved learning, social skills, cognitive function, self-help skills, and communication in autistic children treated with ABA.
The disadvantages of ABA are:
  • The Guidelines require autistic children receive 15 to 40 hours of ABA each week depending on which country you live, which can be inconvenient and extremely expensive.
  • Poorly trained ABA therapists may inadvertently cause robotic behavior and speech patterns in autistic children undergoing the therapy.
  • ABA is behavioural, not academic. It focuses on the response of the child but not necessarily the cognitive process that elicits the response.

Critics of ABA are concerned that this type of therapy encourages a child to suppress true emotions and self-expression, which can ultimately be harmful.

Deciding whether or not ABA is right for your child should involve a conversation with your child’s Autism specialist or psychologist.

It is also important to mention, many people on the Autism Spectrum have significant strengths. These may include a good eye for detail, a high level of accuracy and reliability, an excellent memory for facts and figures, and the ability to thrive in a structured, well-organized work environment. Some also have considerable creative talent. Because of this, some individuals with Autism do not consider Autism to be a disability but a neurological difference. Therefore it can only be decided on an individual basis whether ABA is needed or wanted.

Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe, effective treatment. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health. Over the last decade, many countries have seen a particularly dramatic increase in the use of ABA to help persons with Autism live happy and productive lives.

In particular, ABA principles and techniques can foster basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, as well as complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective.

By Gina Hughes

Have you used ABA with your child? If so comment below and let us know your experience, would you recommend it?