Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s reciprocal social interaction, communication and presents with rigid, restrictive and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors may include hand flapping, head rocking, tip toeing and lining up of toys, just to name a few. In addition, children on the autism spectrum are often found in isolated play. They may struggle to read the emotions of others and have difficulty regulating their own emotions. Many children with autism miss various developmental milestones such as learning to speak and performing self-care tasks as well as occupational duties involved in independent living.
Parents with an autistic child are often left grappling with many fears and concerns about the future for their child. Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, is a type of treatment that has decades of research support and is commonly recommended for autistic individuals. ABA therapy is focused on improving overall functioning of an individual by decreasing problematic or potentially harmful behavior and increasing social and communication skills. Furthermore, ABA therapy understands the practical side of living and the behaviors involved to make functionality possible. In fact, ABA therapy only focuses on socially significant behavior, meaning those behaviors that make life meaningful and contribute towards overall quality of life for the child and those around the child.
Many therapies aimed at treating autism focus on the symptoms, not the behaviors. For example, speech therapy focuses on missing speech, and psychotherapy may focus on anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder, common co-occurring conditions with autism. ABA therapy, however, will focus on behaviors such as asking for needed or wanted items, learning to brush one’s teeth, tying shoelaces, pouring cereal, or being able to tolerate triggering environments like crowded places or travelling in an airplane. ABA teaches new behavior and finds the root of negative or potentially harmful behaviors. This then improves quality of life for the child, their parents, and other extended family. That is why it is said that ABA is centered around socially significant behavior. In this way, ABA is a vital therapy for any successful autism treatment plan.
ABA helps families in the areas with which they need the most assistance. This means that it is tailored to personal and individual issues experienced by a family with a child on the spectrum. A common feature within therapy is the ultimate goal of helping the child and parents function independently in areas previously considered in deficit and needing attention. As such, ABA therapy fosters a healthy and functional dynamic within the family system by creating independence aside from the therapist, and in many instances, between parent and child.