Let’s Conquer ABA Myths

As you all know, we are very active in the community working side by side with professionals and parents/caregivers alike while “giving back to the community.”  Throughout our work in the community, we are given strong indications that parents and professionals alike do not understand what ABA is or what ABA has to offer.  More concerning than not knowing about the benefits of ABA or misunderstanding ABA, we are given the indication that many parents and professionals still believe some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding ABA.  Many of these parents and professionals will not ask questions or confront us about these myths/misconceptions.  Because of these myths/misconceptions, children who could benefit from ABA services are not receiving the services they need.  As a result, we are going to address some of the myths/misconceptions surrounding ABA.  If you have heard of a myth/misconception about ABA which is not addressed, please don’t hesitate to email us so that we may address them.

Some of the top myths/misconceptions about ABA are listed below and followed by factual information.

ABA only works on dangerous and inappropriate behaviors.  Behavior is anything a person does or can do.  ABA is the science of changing behavior.  ABA applies the laws and principles of learning and behavior to teach and/or increase socially appropriate and functional behaviors as well as decrease dangerous inappropriate behaviors.  ABA is utilized to decrease maladaptive and dangerous behaviors to include but not limited to:  elopement, aggression, tantrums, noncompliance, property destruction, self- injurious (self-harm) behaviors.  ABA is successful in increasing and/or teaching socially appropriate and functional behaviors to include but not limited to:  communication, expressive  receptive language, social skills, on-task behaviors, toileting, food acceptance, independent living skills, recreation/leisure skills, gross motor skills, and direction following.

ABA only benefits children with Autism.  Autism is a Developmental Disability.  Research has proven for decades that ABA can benefit individuals with Autism, Developmental Delays, and other Developmental Disabilities such as: Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disabilities, Fetal Alcoholism, Cerebral Palsy, etc.  The principles of ABA apply across individuals of all abilities and ages, across settings, and across all behaviors (dangerous/inappropriate and socially appropriate/functional behaviors).

ABA is new and not a scientific proven treatment or therapy.  Decades of research have proven that ABA benefits children with Autism, other Developmental Disabilities, and Developmental Delays.  The Surgeon General states, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.”  ABA is endorsed by:  Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, The American Medical Association, Surgeon General of the United States, Autism Speaks, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, as well as The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Anyone can practice ABA.  The Behavior Analyst Certification Board sets forth stringent criteria for anyone who hopes to practice or practices ABA, the scope of their practice, ethical standards, and supervisory and educational requirements. https://www.bacb.com  As with all professions, some practitioners are better than others. A list of questions to ask perspective providers is located on the blog section as well.

Discrete Trial is the “bread and butter of ABA”, is all ABA is, and makes a child sit at a table and work on the same thing over and over.  DTT is just one of the techniques a therapist may use to teach a skill but should not be the only technique utilized.  DTT involves presenting material or a direction, prompting the correct response when needed, and reinforcing the correct response.  DTT may involve mass trials (working on same target multiple times) and may involve working at a table.   Repetition and controlling variables while learning a new skill may be needed by some clients.  Mass trials should lead into mixed trials (rotating various targets) depending on the client.  When teaching complex skills, a therapist may work at a table presenting the task and reinforcing the correct response; however, once the skills is learned, a good therapist will generalize the skill across, people and environments.  We all benefit from practicing new skills a few times in isolation at times.  A good ABA provider utilizes many individualized techniques to teach skills.  These techniques include but are not limited to chaining, shaping, discrete trial, natural environment teaching, incidental teaching, prompting/prompt fading, error correction, errorless learning, positive reinforcement.  When teaching a skill, a good ABA provider will add a generalization goal where the client will be able to perform the behavior or task in various environments, under various conditions, and across multiple people.

ABA teaches robotic responses.  When teaching a skill, sometimes it is important to teach one specific response under one specific condition; however, once the response is learned the direction, question, and conditions should be varied as well as multiple responses taught.   A child may learn the response “19 Smith Drive” when asked “what is your address” by the therapist but should also learn to answer “19 Smith Drive” when asked by a police officer “where do you live?”  A child should be able to wash their hands when told or when their hands get dirty.  A child should be able to wash their hands in their home with bar soap and with soap from a dispenser in a public bathroom.  A child should be able to greet various people in various ways and in various environments.

ABA therapists always give children rewards of food and candy.  Edibles are only used as a last resort when nothing else interests the child or when the child is working on requesting and they prefer edibles.  A good therapist will use “pairing” to produce more reinforcers if the client has limited interests.  Reinforcement is anything put into the environment or taken from the environment which increases the chances of the behavior happening again in the future.  Positive reinforcement is very powerful tool in teaching new behaviors.    A good therapist utilizes many types of reinforcers such as but not limited to:  praise, high fives, play time, toy, happy dance, pounds, stickers, wink, song, reading a book, etc.  Remember, reinforcers are individualized.  What one person likes, another may not!  A good therapist will utilize a preference assessment to determine various possible reinforcers to ensure that food is not the only reinforcer.  By having multiple reinforcers, the chance of satiation (occurs when a reinforcer has been utilized so much it temporarily loses its value) is minimized.  When learning a behavior, yes, it is important to reinforce the behavior immediately and every time at first. This is known as a continuous schedule of reinforcement.  A good therapist will thin the reinforcement schedule to increase the time or number of responses between reinforcement.  An intermittent schedule of reinforcement may be utilized and the schedule of reinforcement should eventually mimic reinforcement in the natural environment.

What myths/misconceptions have you heard?  Do you have questions regarding the information above?  Do you have questions about what “good” ABA should look like?  Don’t hesitate to contact us via email, Facebook, in person at our events, or by phone. Remember not all ABA models and companies are the same.  Paragon Autism Services provides award winning ABA services to children and individuals under 21 diagnosed with Developmental Delay and Developmental Disabilities (including autism) who are covered by Medicaid.  Call us today and find out for yourself why Paragon Autism Services has been voted 2018 and 2019 FredParent’s Family Favorite Special Needs Resource for our ABA services and 2019 Runner Up for our Outreach endeavors.