What to Expect From a Typical ABA Program

What to Expect From a Typical ABA Program

When your child is enrolled in an ABA program, trained ABA practitioners will be utilizing the methods of ABA to teach your child various skills and reduce challenging behavior problems.

Before starting an ABA program, your child will be assessed on his strengths and weaknesses. This will help the behavior analyst come up with appropriate goals for your child. A behavior analyst will also assess your child’s problem behaviors and will come up with a plan to reduce them.

Once goals are decided upon, it’s time to get to work!

Where Does ABA Take Place?

Technically, an ABA program can be implemented anywhere, but usually takes place in the child’s home.

The Schedule

Expect for a professional to work with your child 2-3 hours a day, every day or a couple times a week, depending on your child’s need.

The Structure

Usually, there is one person who develops the ABA program for your child (the supervisor) and a separate therapist(s) who actually works one–to-one with your child on a daily basis. Typically to start with the child will work with the therapist at a table in an enclosed space, although some children can learn in a busier environment. No matter where the child starts, the goal is always to get the child to display appropriate behavior and skills in a variety of settings. For example, the child may initially learn to label picture cards in his room at the work table but eventually this skill will be generalized so that he will also be labeling actual items around the house.

Your child’s therapist will break down goals into small parts, and teach those parts one at a time. This is called discrete trial teaching, or DTT. This teaching style is sort of like a drill, and is repetitive in nature, because the more opportunities the child has to learn something, the better!

But a good therapist will know how to make learning fun for your child. There should be lots of laughing, tickling, playing games and being silly!

The Extinction Burst

When an ABA program is first implemented, challenging behaviors usually get worse temporarily. In ABA lingo, we called this an extinction burst. Basically, if a child is used to acting a certain way, and it’s been working for him, when practitioners and family members all of a sudden stop responding to that behavior, the child will try even harder to get their attention! For example, if a child normally throws 3 tantrums a day, he might tantrum 10 times a day for a few days while adjusting to the new rules. If your child is used to pointing at things to get what he wants, and you start requiring him to “use his words” he may get frustrated more often. These effects should be short lived. It’s also not uncommon for behavior problems to resurface as new goals are added to the program. However, with patience, creativity, and consistency, your child will get through it.

The Curriculum

A list of all of your child’s goals as well as the data sheets will be placed in a binder. Here, the practitioner(s) will record how your child is doing on her goals. Goals for a home-based ABA program for a 4 year old child with moderate autism, for example, might include things like potty training, accepting “no” without engaging in destructive behavior, sharing toys with a peer, requesting items using a full sentence, learning colors, and naming familiar objects around the house.

In order to help your child master these goals, the ABA therapist will initially provide your child with a lot of support, called prompts, to teach your child the correct answer to a question, or how to behave in a given situation. The therapist will reinforce desired behaviors and responses by rewarding the child with lots of fun stuff like praise, toys, games, and favorite snacks. Your child will also be reinforced for trying. However, the practitioner will withhold reinforcement when undesired behavior occurs, such as aggression. Most children learn quickly that appropriate behaviors will bring them “good” things and inappropriate behaviors will not result in anything “good” for them. Over time, rewards are gradually removed, because in the real world, your child will not get a reward every time he gets an answer correct, or chooses not to hit when he is upset. However, praise and natural rewards (such as getting dessert after dinner) should be long term!

Tears of Joy

I still remember the way my heart leaped the first time my very first client looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said, “Hi, Gray-gra!” (Allegra is a hard name for even adults to pronounce!) This was incredible because this child had struggled with making eye contact when he talked to people, and he rarely initiated greetings. Many kids with special needs struggle with the most basic of things, such as playing with a friend, brushing their teeth, and even talking. It’s simply amazing when you witness a child doing these things for the first time.

Tears of Frustration

Watching a child learn and grow is very rewarding. But ABA is not a walk in the park! It’s hard work. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, stubborn behaviors persist, and some kids may really struggle with certain goals. Persistence and creativity on the part of the behavior analyst is a must! I remember working with an autistic child who was struggling with learning his colors. Nothing was working! At 7 years old he was making progress in other areas, but he did not know his colors. It took 3 different behavior analysts to finally come up with a strategy that worked for him.

Go Team Go!

The best ABA programs are a team effort! This means that professionals and caregivers work together to come up with appropriate goals. This means that parents (and siblings if possible) should also work with the child on his or her goals.

As a team, the child’s progress should be discussed at least once a month. This is where you talk about what’s working and what isn’t working. Overtime, goals are refined, added, and removed.

An ABA program is an exciting adventure for everyone involved. When done correctly, your child will have lots of fun, and you should see progress both inside and outside of therapy sessions.