ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis is the oldest, most established method of intervention for children on the autism spectrum.
ABA embraces the idea that we do everything in life to either get a positive outcome, or to avoid a negative outcome, and that all human behavior can be traced back to this root.
Good behavior analysis involves knowing what a child perceives as positive and negative to gradually shape a child's behavior and learning. A good ABA therapist can identify what works and what doesn't, and can flow with moment-to-moment changes in a child.
In ABA, skills are chunked down into smaller tasks, with each task taught individually. Then the tasks are tied together again, creating the larger skill. During a typical ABA session, a child can work on any number of different tasks and skills, from just a few to many, depending on the child's present level, abilities, and tolerance.
Most teaching is done one-to-one, in discrete trial form. Each discrete trial means one try at a task, and each task is repetitively taught a number of times. So if you teach a task say, 10 times, then you've done 10 discrete trials. Results are marked and scored to determine if a child has learned the task or not. Children are reinforced during trials for correct responses, thus motivating them to respond correctly.
Of course there's way more detail to this than what I'm writing here, but that's the basic idea. You can use ABA principles in everyday life too, but most of us think of discrete trials when we talk about traditional ABA.
ABA can be a good method for teaching concrete and procedural skills, such as focus on task, understanding directions, answering questions, some early language skills, self-help, behavioral problems, and academics. Many unfocused early learners start learning with ABA and can move on to other teaching methods as their focus and skills improve. When it's done with a skilled and fun teacher, ABA can serve children well in these areas, particularly early learners.
Of course, no single intervention can do everything. The areas that persons with autism continue to struggle with, such as unscripted social skills, back-and-forth conversational skill, and flexibility are not addressed by ABA. These skills are much better served by RDI, or Relationship Development Intervention.
As parents, we're dealing with the whole child, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Each intervention touches on different areas, and we select our interventions based on the needs of the individual child. In the hands of a great teacher, ABA offers some wonderful learning experiences for many children, specific to its strengths and limitations as a teaching method. – Sandra Sinclair, Autismvoice.com
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