Takeaway: Before your child starts any kind of treatment, you want to make sure that it can help them. ABA therapy is no different. While there is no way to guarantee certain outcomes, there is plenty of information about the effectiveness of ABA therapy.
In this post, we’ll explain the ABA therapy success rate, including factors that might influence your child’s experience with therapy. Let’s dive in.
What is applied behavior analysis (ABA)?
ABA therapy is a treatment that is designed to help people with challenging behaviors. It draws on our understanding of learning theory and behavior theory in order to help people increase helpful behaviors and decrease undesired behaviors.
One of the main ideas behind ABA therapy is that all behaviors, even challenging ones, have meaning or express unmet needs. A major goal of applied behavior analysis is to understand where behaviors come from and create meaningful shifts to help learners become happier, safer, and more connected in their everyday life.
ABA therapy is most commonly used to support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Many young autistic children and kids with similar behavioral problems have difficulty communicating due to developmental differences, which can lead to disruptive or unsafe behaviors.
The American Psychological Association (APA) lists applied behavior analysis as an evidence based behavioral treatment. This means that ABA therapy has a solid research base behind it, supporting its effectiveness.
Techniques used in applied behavior analysis
ABA therapy looks different from person to person. With that being said, there are many common research based strategies that an ABA therapist might use to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease unsafe or inappropriate behavior. Here are just a few examples.
Much of ABA therapy is centered around the concept of positive reinforcement. As the name suggests, this technique is focused on rewarding adaptive behavior. ABA therapists provide positive rewards such as treats and/or verbal praise when children successfully demonstrate desired behaviors. This encourages the child to continue using the new skill.
Discrete trial training (DTT)
In DTT, an ABA therapist breaks down a new skill into smaller parts to help the child understand and learn the new skill. DTT typically takes place in a controlled environment to limit distractions and help the child learn each component of the new skill. Your child’s provider will give positive reinforcement each time your child successfully demonstrates each part of the new behavior.
Natural environment teaching
Unlike DTT, natural environment training (NET) occurs within the child’s natural environment. NET uses objects, settings, and situations that are already familiar to the child to help them learn and practice new behaviors. As with DTT, behavior analysts use positive reinforcement to encourage children to continue demonstrating the new, desired behavior.
Picture exchange communication
Using a picture exchange communication system (PECS) can be extremely helpful for an autistic child or for any child who struggles with expressive language. PECS supports language development and communication skills by allowing kids to use pictures of objects instead of words. When the child hands their therapist a picture of the object they want they receive positive reinforcement in the form of the object itself.
What can children learn in ABA therapy?
Each child has different goals for therapy based on their behaviors, capacity, strengths, and needs. Your child’s ABA provider will work directly with you and your child to collaborate on a treatment plan that is tailored to them. Here are just a few examples of what your child could learn in ABA therapy.
Daily living skills
Many children with autism and other behavioral challenges struggle to complete tasks of daily living, such as showering, brushing teeth, and picking up after themselves. ABA therapy can help children learn daily living skills that allow them to be more independent in their everyday life.
Communication skills can be difficult for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Many studies show that ABA therapy can help children with autism learn important social skills that can help them connect with others more effectively. Learning social skills can help kids with autism understand others, express their needs, and enjoy better relationships
Applied behavior analysis can teach kids academic skills, such as attention and focus, to help them succeed in normal educational settings. Research suggests that ABA therapy can also improve intellectual functioning in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Who can provide ABA therapy services?
There are a few different types of applied behavior analysis providers. The behavior analyst certification board BACB outlined specific criteria that professionals need to meet in order to provide ABA services. Each provider must meet certain requirements for education, complete training, and pass an exam in order to earn their credentials.
Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) have a high school level of education, while a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) has an undergraduate level of education. Both must practice under the supervision of an applied behavioral analysis professional with more training and experience. Finally, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) has a masters level of education.
What is the ABA therapy success rate?
There is no definitive number that indicates the effectiveness of ABA therapy. There are many factors that can influence how effective applied behavior analysis is, including the child’s capacity, the therapist’s skill level, and many more.
However, there is a significant amount of research demonstrating ABA therapy success. Dr. Ivar Lovass, widely considered to be a pioneer of modern ABA therapy, conducted several studies that show how effective applied behavior analysis can be.
His study from 1973 suggests that engaging in ABA therapy at an early age can be extremely beneficial for children with an early diagnosis of autism. Another study conducted in 1987 showed that nearly 90% of children who received ABA therapy services saw some level of improvement.
These studies helped to establish ABA as an effective treatment for children with autistic symptoms and diagnosis. Many other more modern studies have also demonstrated how helpful these services can be.
However, it’s important to remember that your child is a unique individual and research cannot always capture their specific needs and strengths. Collaborating with your child’s treatment team is the best way to get a sense of what treatments could be most effective for your child.
How effective is ABA therapy for autism?
Children with autism spectrum disorder are the main consumers of ABA therapy. As described above, many research studies demonstrate that ABA is one of the most effective treatments for kids with autism. It may also help people of all ages with autism spectrum disorder.
However, there are other uses for ABA as well. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also be able to benefit from this treatment due to similar behavioral challenges. While further study is needed, some early research suggests that ABA therapy can also be helpful for treating other disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) also indicates that behavior analysis can be applied to many other areas beyond developmental disability and mental illness. Some examples include organizational wellness, sports psychology, sustainability, and public health.
Factors that influence effectiveness of ABA therapy services
ABA isn’t a one size fits all treatment. ABA therapists use many of the same techniques with all of their clients, each child responds differently. There are many factors that can influence how helpful ABA therapy is for any one individual child. Here are just a few considerations to keep in mind.
Frequency of therapy sessions
In most cases, children who are receiving intensive ABA therapy can expect to see greater results. Having more frequent therapy sessions provides children with more opportunities to learn and practice their new skills.
However, not all children need intensive therapy. Keep in mind that your child’s therapist will make recommendations based on their professional assessment. In addition, some families also face barriers in accessing treatment, such as their insurance company only covering a certain number of therapy hours per week. Remember, some ABA therapy is often better than none.
There are many individual factors that can impact how effective ABA treatment is for any one particular child. The intensity and nature of your child’s problem behaviors, their capacity and strengths, and amount of engagement from family members are just a few examples of individual factors that can influence treatment outcomes.
Aside from factors that are unique to each individual and family, there can be structural factors beyond your control that can influence ABA’s effectiveness. For example, having few providers of ABA therapy in your area can reduce the frequency of services that your child can access.
While ABA therapy people with autism spectrum disorder at all ages, research suggests that early intervention can be beneficial. One study with toddlers under the age of four showed that early intensive behavioral intervention contributed to significant improvement. in many different areas including communication skills, motor skills, and skills that can help with learning.
Keep in mind that while early diagnosis and intervention tend to be most helpful, they are not necessary in order to benefit from ABA treatment. People with autism may be able to benefit from ABA at any age, even into adulthood. It’s never too late to try.
Measuring success in ABA therapy
When discussing ABA therapy success, it’s important to consider how you define success itself. Remember each child is unique and has different abilities and goals. What is considered successful for one child might be out of reach for another, and what is difficult for one child might be your child’s baseline. You, your child, and your child’s therapist we’ll work together to determine what is realistic.
ABA therapy in Oklahoma can help your child be successful
While there is no guarantee that ABA will work for your child, it’s certainly worth it to try. We’ve seen firsthand how most children with autism tend to benefit from ABA services, and we’re firm believers in the process.
We have years of experience providing ABA therapy in Edmond, OK. Whether your child needs more learning skills to help them in school or wants to improve social functioning to better connect with peers, we’re here to help.
If you’re interested in starting ABA therapy for your child or simply have more questions about the process, we encourage you to reach out. Together we can help your child gain the necessary skills to have a safer, more fulfilling, and happier life. We look forward to connecting with you and your family.