"As I am researching Autism Spectrum Disorders, I hear a lot about ABA therapy for children with Aspergers. What is ABA exactly, and is it something I should look into for my Aspie."
It is often difficult to understand why a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism behaves the way he does. However, there is a reason for his behavior, and applied behavior analysis helps us understand the behavior and determine a method of support for the child so that he no longer needs the behavior to meet his needs.
Using Applied Behavior Analysis, you can determine the antecedents to behavior, identify the behavior, and identify the consequence for the behavior, or what is currently maintaining the behavior. Using this process, you can determine alternative behaviors that are more appropriate, yet will meet your child's needs, without displaying the inappropriate behavior. This aids parents in understanding their child better and helps outline a method to change his behavior.
ABA treatment can include any of several established teaching tools:
1. discrete trial training
2. fluency building
3. incidental teaching
4. pivotal response training
5. verbal behavior
In discrete trial training, an ABA therapist gives a clear instruction about a desired behavior (e.g., “Pick up the green toy.”). If the youngster responds correctly, then the behavior is reinforced (e.g., “Good job! Have a sticker.”). If the youngster doesn’t respond correctly, the therapist gives a gentle prompt (e.g., places the youngster’s hand over the green toy). The hope is that the youngster will eventually learn to generalize the correct response.
In fluency building, the therapist helps the youngster build up a complex behavior by teaching each element of that behavior until it is automatic or "fluent," using the ABA approach of behavioral observation, reinforcement, and prompting. Then, the more complex behavior can be built from each of these fluent elements.
Incidental teaching uses the same ideas as discrete trial training, except the goal is to teach behaviors and concepts throughout a youngster’s day-to-day experience, rather than focusing on a specific behavior.
Pivotal response training uses ABA techniques to target crucial skills that are important for many other skills. Thus, if the youngster improves on one of these pivotal skills, improvements are seen in a wide variety of behaviors that were not specifically trained. The idea is that this approach can help the youngster generalize behaviors from a therapeutic setting to everyday settings.
Lastly, an ABA-related approach for teaching language and communication is called verbal behavior or VB for short. In VB, the therapist analyzes the youngster’s language skills, then teaches and reinforces more useful and complex language skills.
Social and behavioral skills can be taught, even to profoundly autistic kids, through the ABA method. Many - if not most – young people who receive ABA training learn to behave appropriately at least some of the time, and some even lose their Aspergers diagnosis after a few years of intensive therapy.