Myths about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

iStock_000047364122XLargeBy: Melanie Shank

“My child doesn’t have Autism, ABA won’t work on them”

ABA is an effective treatment for children diagnosed with Autism as it focuses on the use of reinforcement and punishment procedures to increase appropriate behaviors and decrease inappropriate behaviors.  Additionally, ABA programs typically involve breaking down skills, repetition of learning and maintenance trials, prompting and fading, and generalization of acquired skills.  All of these areas of focus can be used when working with individuals with or without disabilities.  In fact, most ABA providers use ABA with their staff and even when working with parents!  In short, ABA works on reinforcing and increasing “good behaviors” and punishing and decreasing “bad” behaviors, regardless of a diagnosis or not.

“My child is given candy all the time during his/her ABA therapy sessions.”

Many ABA therapists often use preferred edibles, especially during the first weeks of treatment for one simple reason: We don’t have to teach your child to enjoy and like these edibles!  Food is known as an unconditioned reinforcer, meaning that there does not have to be a learning history for the child to want these items.  Most “typical” reinforcers such as praise, stickers, money, etc. are known as conditioned reinforcers, meaning that they need to be taught that these items are reinforcing.  For example, children need to learn that when you earn money for engaging in appropriate behaviors they can later exchange it for access to other preferred items.  Even with the use of edibles, the goal is to gradually fade away these reinforcers so the child is engaging in appropriate behaviors to gain access to more naturally occurring reinforcers.

“ABA will teach my child only one way to respond to questions.”

To learn the basic concept of a goal, ABA therapists will often teach the child one specific answer to allow opportunities to prompt the child with the correct answer.  For example: “What do you eat?” may start with one answer such as “chicken nuggets”.  In the beginning, the therapists will be able to prompt the correct answer if your child does not answer correctly the first time.  Once this target has been mastered, ABA programs work on teaching the child various answers to the same questions, therefore targeting generalization.  Now your child will be taught to answer with other foods they eat (e.g. cookies, pizza, and cheese).  Generalization will also occur across teachers and environments, in which your child will be taught to answer this question when asked by other people (e.g. mom or peer) and in other places (e.g. school and home).