Behavior Therapy

Full Video – 7 minutes

Hello. In this video we are going to learn about behavioral treatment for autism – sometimes called behavioral intervention. 

Behavioral treatment is the most effective approach to helping children with autism – and for children who may be showing signs of autism but have not had a diagnosis.  

Behavioral treatment is based on the science of applied behavior analysis, or ABA. When it comes to autism treatment, you will hear the term ABA quite often. 

You will also hear the term “evidence-based treatment.” An evidence-based treatment is one that scientific research has been proven to work. 

If someone is advising you to use a treatment that is not based on ABA, ask them to show you the scientific evidence that it works. Even when well intended, stories about what worked for a friend or neighbor is not scientific evidence. 

Behavioral intervention, using ABA, is an evidenced-based treatment. That’s because scientific studies have consistently shown that behavioral intervention works for most children with autism – even infants and toddlers. Children with autism may also benefit from other evidence-based therapies, such as speech therapy and occupational therapy.    

Behavioral intervention is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General as the best treatment for autism. Behavioral treatment is widely accepted among health care professionals and is used in schools. There is no evidence that any other treatment can reliably help reduce the symptoms of autism. 

In toddlers and preschool age children, intensive behavioral intervention can sometimes eliminate the symptoms of autism completely. 

Behavioral therapy should be delivered by a licensed behavioral therapist. However, the behavioral approach can be used by any parent or caregiver. Later in this program you are going to learn about specific behavioral intervention skills  and see demonstrations to help you put them into practice. 

If an MCHAT screen has indicated your child is at risk or if your kiddo has an autism diagnosis, immediately get in touch with your doctor or nurse about behavioral services. 

If your child is under three years of age, you can get help from your local early intervention agency.  Programs are available in every state and territory. These publicly funded programs provide services for free or at reduced cost for any child who is eligible

Your nurse or doctor should be able to direct you to an early intervention agency in your area. You can also find a list of early intervention agencies by state at the CDC website in the Learn the Signs – Act Early section, or Google “Early Intervention Agencies Near Me.” 

A doctor’s referral is not necessary to contact or begin services at an early intervention agency.  

Tell them, “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated to find out if he/she is eligible for early intervention services. If your child is over three years of age, contact your local school system. 

The non-profit Global Partnership for Telehealth, at GPTH.org, may also be able to help find services for your child that can be delivered online.   

To teach new skills to a child using behavioral intervention, the target skills are usually broken down into small, manageable steps. As the child learns each step, a more complex skill or step is introduced until the whole task – such as using a spoon, bruising teeth or putting on a jacket – are mastered. 

One of the most critical behavioral techniques used to teach new skills is positive reinforcement. 

Positive reinforcement means giving your child their preferred toy or activity immediately following the behavior that you want them to do . 

Positive reinforcement is used in behavioral treatments for autism because learning typically does not come easy for children with autism, so we need to motivate the child to pay attention and respond to instructions. 

Another important part of an effective behavioral treatment program is the number of learning opportunities. A good behavioral program will incorporate many opportunities for the child to practice the target skills in many different situations and with many different people.

Finally, a good behavioral program will include parent and caregiver training to teach those close to the child how to support and practice the new skills. 

Later in this program you are going to learn about specific behavioral intervention skills  and see demonstrations to help you put them into practice. 

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting behavioral treatment for autism, many parents choose to pursue other intervention methods for their children instead of or in addition to behavioral therapy. 

If you decide to investigate or pursue other interventions methods for your child, it is very important to thoroughly research the treatment to determine whether it is an evidenced-based approach that can support its claims with scientific data. 

Research shows that the earlier your child can begin behavioral ABA treatment – even if you provide it yourself while waiting for access to a therapist –  the better the outcomes will be for your child.

So, if you suspect your child may have autism, start using behavioral approaches immediately. And please don’t wait to contact a qualified licensed psychologist or early intervention agency. 

Please remember the information in this program is not meant to diagnose or treat. It should not take the place of consultation with a qualified healthcare professional.

1. ABA for Autism Isn’t “One Size Fits All”

A professional behavioral therapist, trained and certified in ABA, will develop an individualized plan for the specific needs of each child. In all cases, however, they will measure the child’s observable progress learning specific skills, such as making a snack or using words. The behavioral therapist will chart these observable results to clearly see what is working and what is not.

ABA can help improve children’s communication skills, sharpen focus and attention, develop social skills and more. It is a fully customizable approach that allows therapists to be creative and adjust to the needs of the child, which increases the possibility of bringing about meaningful and positive change.

2. Progress Is Measured Over Time

When a child with ASD first begins a behavioral treatment, or ABA, plan, his or her therapist will identify individual goals. Therapists typically begin with simple, manageable goals, and then move onto more complex goals.

As the treatment plan progresses, therapists record specific results – or data, which they share with other advisors, as well as with parents and caregivers.

The data shows the therapist and parent how well the child is progressing, and how and when adjustments should be made to the treatment plan.

Consistently monitoring children’s progress is a key factor in ABA’s success. As their needs fluctuate, a child’s treatment plan is adjusted.

3. Learning Happens Everywhere

Although parents and caregivers may bring children to a clinic or may get therapy services in their home, it’s important to know that learning happens everywhere and all the time. This is a crucial part of the ABA philosophy.

Children can perform a task or skill with the support of their therapist, and should then practice their newly acquired skills in a variety of different environments. Going out into the “real world,” like the library, the playground or a restaurant gives children the chance to transfer their new skills to real life. This is what’s known as “generalization” and it’s a very important part of success.   

Parents are absolutely crucial to the success of an ABA or behavioral intervention program because they spend more time than anyone with their children and they know their children better than anyone else. 

Parents and caregivers must understand the skills their children are learning and should help the child generalize those skills.

4. ABA Isn’t About Punishment

Boiled down, ABA rewards preferred behaviors and gives consequences for undesired behaviors. Some people misunderstand what “consequences” means in this context.

It’s especially important to understand that ABA for autism is not about punishing children with autism when they demonstrate undesired behavior.

ABA therapists often use positive reinforcement to reward desired behaviors, but consequences might simply be the withholding of that positive reinforcement or reward. Learning within the ABA environment should be positive and enjoyable, helping children want to learn and grow.

5. Parental Reinforcement of ABA in the Home is Crucial

Parental involvement in ABA therapy is critical to its success. Sharing insight on the behaviors, triggers, responses, and preferences of your child will enable your child’s therapist to create an effective treatment plan and guide adjustments to the treatment plan ongoing.

Parents are crucial to helping their kids generalize the skills they are learning. Parents are in the best position to expose children to real-world situations in which they apply their newly developed skills. 

Many ABA therapy programs will offer regular sessions for parents, during which they train parents to support their children’s learning and skills maintenance at home.