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Applied Behavior Analysis and Children with Autism
By Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) methodology is the application of basic behavioral practices (positive reinforcement, teaching in small steps, prompting, and repeated practice) to facilitate the development of language, social interactions, and independent living skills. It can also help reduce both everyday social problems and serious behavior disorders.

Through the media and the Internet, parents often hear about many different types of procedures to treat autism, such as special diets or programs of sensory stimulation. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of these procedures. ABA is the exception. Its procedures are rooted in scientific research.

ABA includes ongoing collection of performance data to help guide teachers in making decisions regarding how to best individualize instruction for each unique child. Data collected and analyzed at the May Institute support the findings of hundreds of other studies that indicate ABA is the most effective method to teach children and adolescents with autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and other developmental disabilities. ABA practices have been endorsed by the Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Association for Science in Autism Research.

The principles of applied behavior analysis can be used to teach a variety of skills and positive behaviors, including functional living skills, language, reading, social skills, positive peer interactions, academic engagement, and independent play skills. ABA methodology is also effective in decreasing challenging behaviors such as noncompliance, tantrums, bed-wetting, feeding problems, aggression, and self-injury.

ABA can be effective in working with individuals of all ages; moreover, research shows that skill development programs that are provided to children at a young age can have very positive outcomes.

ABA techniques can be used both in the home and at school. The first step is to ensure that services are provided by qualified professionals, ideally those with Ph.D. or Psy.D. licensure, board certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), and a number of years of supervised direct experience working with children.

The professional should evaluate the child to identify his or her specific needs for intervention and instruction. Next, goals and objectives are chosen, and systematic instructional procedures are determined. Therapists and other instructors are then taught the procedures and a plan for ongoing monitoring is developed.

What most attracts parents to an ABA program are its positive and reinforcing tone, its strong focus on teaching new skills, the documentation of progress in reports and charts, its foundation in research, and the manner in which it is individualized for every child. Parents who feel their children might be helped by ABA-based procedures should visit local programs and talk with program administrators and other parents. In addition, parents need to make their needs known to the special education personnel in their local school districts.

May Institute offers early intervention services, home-based and school consultation, parent information, and federally funded research and education programs. May operates schools for children and adolescents with autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and other developmental disabilities as well as community programs for adults in Chatham, Randolph, West Springfield, and Woburn, Mass., and in Freeport, Maine. For more information, contact May Institute at 800-778-7601 or www.mayinstitute.org

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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