What is ABA therapy and how can it support my child?

By Kate
Behaviour Support


Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an evidence based treatment approach that involves reducing/ eliminating challenging behaviour as well as improving language, social, self-help and academic skills. Applied behaviour analysis involves using learning principals to bring about lasting positive changes in your child’s life. For example using the principal of ‘reinforcement’ to increase the likelihood that desirable behaviour will happen in a similar situation in the future. ABA therapy is most commonly known for it’s use with children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ABA therapy has been shown to be effective as a treatment approach for a broad range of children and adults. It can support individuals with language difficulties, delays in self help skills, developmental disorders (e.g. ADHD) and children with behaviour difficulties. 

When you start an ABA therapy programme your child’s therapy plan is put together following an assessment of their skills. This is completed by a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) or a Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCaBA). For details on where to find a BCBA in your area please check the behaviour analyst certification board website. For an early language learner a therapy plan may include some of the following goals:  

1.       Receptive language skills- ABA therapy supports receptive language skills/ how your child listens to language and follows through on what you ask them to do.

(i)                  How your child listens to language and responds to what they are asked to do.

(ii)                How your child follows through on instructions e.g. touch your nose, give me the blue car, open your book onto page four.

(iii)               How your child identifies a target item following your command e.g. give me the cup, give me the spoon, where’s the elephant? (when shown an array of targets).

(iv)               How your child responds to their name being called on a one to one basis and when engaged in a group activity.

2.       Expressive language skills– spoken or expressive language skills- how can ABA therapy support these skills?

(i)                  Developing echoing/ imitation of sounds, words and sentences.

(ii)                Developing manding or requesting of a preferred item, activity or person.  

(iii)               Naming items across a range of vocabulary class e.g. naming animals, food, objects around the house, objects in the classroom.

(iv)               Asking and answering questions e.g. what/ who/ where/ when and why questions. Can your child discriminate the type of question they are being asked and give an appropriate response

3.       Social language skills– how does your child use language to interact with other people. Some of these skills may include:

(i)                  Asking for part of a game from a friend.

(ii)                Asking a friend to play with you.

(iii)               Asking a friend a simple question.

(iv)               Answering a question asked by a friend.

(v)                 Sharing an item with a friend.

(vi)               Giving an instruction to a friend e.g. to help them to follow through on a game.

(vii)             Following an instruction from a friend.

(viii)           Greeting another person e.g. saying ‘hi Ahmed’ when coming into a room.

4.       Self Help Skills – ABA therapy can help your child develop the following skills:

(i)                  Toileting – following through on all the necessary steps to go to the toilet independently.

(ii)                Eating and drinking- introducing a wider variety of food and drinks to their diet.

(iii)               Dressing- can your child select the items they are going to wear for the day and follow through on putting them on herself/ himself independently.

5.       Academic skills– how is your child participating in classroom activities? Some skills that we work on relevant to the classroom include:

(i)                  Supporting participation in classroom tasks e.g. participating in circle time, waiting for their turn in a question activity in class,

(ii)                Supporting requesting skills e.g. asking for attention/ asking for help by putting their hand up to get teacher’s attention.

(iii)               Knowing when it is appropriate to ask a question/ listen to teacher in a group activity.

(iv)               Supporting transitioning between different activities.

(v)                 Supporting completion of a number of tasks on a schedule e.g. first circle time, then art and craft group activity then it’s time for snack.

6.       Reducing Challenging Behaviour – are some behaviours limiting your child’s ability to participate in group activities, interact with friends and family members? ABA therapy works on reducing these challenging behaviours and replacing them with more appropriate behaviours. Some challenging behaviours that are worked on in therapy may include: biting, throwing, kicking, shouting, refusal and ignoring instructions.

In reducing your child’s challenging behaviours ABA therapy also works on strengthening more appropriate behaviour e.g. if your child screams to get your attention, a replacement strategy may involve coming to you and asking for your attention: ‘look at me’, ‘let’s play’ or getting your attention in a non- verbal way e.g. by tapping you on the shoulder or gesturing to you to join them in an activity.

For your child to benefit from their therapy programme a plan should be put in place that supports their individual needs.

If you have any feedback we would love to hear from you!

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