Every child is unique, and for those with neurodevelopmental differences, finding the right therapeutic approaches can help them thrive. One such approach that has shown to be beneficial for many children is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.  

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)? 

ABA is a therapeutic approach that can support learning and skill growth in those with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences. Rooted in the principles of behaviorism, ABA seeks to understand and modify behavior through a combination of observation, assessment, data-driven decision-making, and intervention through individualized treatment plans. 

A therapist and a young child in a therapy session high-fiving.

What happens during an ABA session? 

A board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is a professional with a master’s degree who has extensive training and experience in ABA therapy. They are responsible for creating and overseeing ABA treatment plans tailored to each child's needs. 

ABA sessions can take place at home, community, or in a clinic, depending on what works best for the child and their family. Activities during a session are designed to target specific goals, such as improving communication, social skills, self-care, motor skills, learning, and play and leisure. 

Naturalistic ABA 

At Cortica, we take a naturalistic approach to ABA therapy, creating a comfortable and supportive environment for children to learn and grow. Naturalistic ABA is an approach that emphasizes the use of real-life situations and settings to promote learning and skill development. This method incorporates ABA principles and techniques within the child's everyday environment, allowing for a more organic and engaging learning experience. Here are some key aspects of naturalistic ABA: 

  • Child-led learning: In naturalistic ABA, the child's interests and preferences guide the therapeutic process. By following the child's lead, therapists can capitalize on their motivation and create a more enjoyable and meaningful learning experience. 

  • Integration into daily routines: Naturalistic ABA seamlessly integrates therapy goals into a child's regular routines and activities. This approach helps children apply the skills they learn in therapy to various aspects of their daily lives, promoting generalization and long-term success. 

  • Family involvement: Naturalistic ABA encourages family members to take an active role in the therapeutic process. By involving caregivers in therapy sessions, children can receive consistent support and reinforcement across all environments, fostering skill development and behavior change. 

ABA Strategies and Techniques 

The “A-B-C" model is a central concept in ABA therapy. It stands for antecedent (what happens before a behavior), behavior (the observable behavior itself), and consequence (what happens after the behavior).  

As an example of the model, the therapist may observe that a child has a tantrum (behavior) after being asked to share a toy (antecedent). The therapist may then teach the child alternative ways to respond, like taking turns or using words to express their feelings. As the child practices these new skills, the therapist provides positive reinforcement (consequence) to encourage the desired behavior.  

There are a wide variety of approaches to ABA. Some widely used approaches include 

Discrete trial training (DTT): This structured teaching approach involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps. The therapist presents a specific instruction, the child responds, and the therapist provides immediate feedback or reinforcement based on the response. DTT can be particularly useful for teaching new skills and behaviors. 

Incidental teaching: This technique capitalizes on naturally occurring situations to create teachable moments. Instead of using structured prompts, therapists encourage a child to initiate communication or engage in a targeted behavior within their daily activities. This approach can help promote the generalization of skills across different settings. 

Pivotal response training (PRT): PRT is a play-based, child-initiated intervention that focuses on enhancing motivation and responsiveness. By targeting pivotal areas such as social interaction, self-initiation, and responsivity to multiple cues, PRT aims to produce widespread improvements in a child's behavior and communication

ABA often includes techniques to improve social skills and peer interactions. Social skills training can involve role-playing, video modeling, and social stories to help children better understand social norms and expectations. 

Visual aids, such as schedules, social stories, or visual cues, are commonly used in ABA and can help clarify expectations and support comprehension. These tools can be particularly helpful for children who struggle with transitions, routines, or understanding abstract concepts. 

A caregiver holding his daughter up in his arms in the air.

ABA at Home and Caregiver Participation 

Caregiver involvement is essential for the success of ABA therapy. By implementing ABA strategies at home, caregivers can help reinforce the skills learned during therapy sessions, identify triggers in the home environment, and work with therapists to develop behavior intervention plans. ABA may be incorporated at home by establishing clear routines, reinforcing desired behaviors, using token systems, offering praise and rewards, and providing visual support.  

The Duration of ABA Therapy 

The length of ABA therapy varies depending on the child and their specific circumstances. Factors that can influence the duration of therapy include age, type of neurodevelopmental difference, specific behavioral difficulties, and frequency of therapy sessions. By working closely with an ABA therapist, you can develop a tailored plan that best supports your child's growth and development. 

ABA therapy is a powerful tool that can help children with neurodevelopmental differences reach their full potential. By understanding the principles of ABA and implementing strategies at home, caregivers can play a vital role in a child’s progress.