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Sunday, June 15, 2008

How does ABA work?

How does ABA work?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the foundation for an evidence-based, intensive education therapy for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is scientifically proven to be effective and is the most preferred method of treatment for ASD around the world.

It helps children to develop the social, academic, self-help and behavioural skills needed to interact with others and to cope with the challenges of everyday life.

ABA therapy takes the form of a highly structured program designed to meet the individual requirements of each child, while building the foundations for life-long learning.

An ABA Program involves one-on-one interaction between the therapist and the child, focusing on the development of:

Verbal and non-verbal communication
Academic and self-help skills
Social skills and appropriate behaviours

An ABA program focuses on all areas of development including communication, play, self-help, fine and gross motor as well as academic skills. It also addresses problematic behaviors' including self-injury, tantrums, as well as socially inappropriate behaviours'.

With early intervention and treatment, a significant number of pre-school aged children with ASD can achieve normal educational and intellectual function and become indistinguishable from their peers.

Research has shown that with intensive ABA therapy it produces long-term benefits and retention of skills well into adulthood.


An ABA program can be a-home based or centre based program where therapists work one-on-one with children for many hours per week. The therapists are supervised by program supervisors or ABA Consultants.


Typically, an ABA program is aimed at children between 2 and 6 years of age.

This does not mean that ABA is not effective for older children, adolescents and even adults; but ideally, the ABA program is carried out before children start school.

The success of any ABA program, regardless of the child's age, is also based on full family involvement.


ABA programs are individualised to suit the child's age and skill level.

Each program is broken into tasks or 'drills' that a child is required to perform.

An internationally recommended 10-20 hour week program usually involves 2-3 hour sessions each morning and afternoon, 5 days a week.

A session of 2-3 hours may seem a long time for a young child to concentrate, but the session includes many play breaks. Typically, a very young child is only working with the therapist for 1-5 minutes at a time. The child is then free to have a short 1-5 minute play break whilst the therapist records his/her data and prepares for the next task. About once an hour, the child is given a much longer break of about 10-20 minutes.

Remember, part of the success of any ABA program requires that the therapy session is fun for the child. Therapists are required to use lots of positive reinforcement to motivate the child to want to learn.

During a session, the therapist is responsible for following a detailed program which has been designed by an ABA Consultant or program supervisor. The therapist is also responsible for collecting detailed data on your child's progress.

Every 2-4 weeks, the ABA Consultant or program supervisor will organise a group meeting with the parents. The ABA Consultant or program supervisor will analyse the data which has been collected by the therapist/s over the last few weeks. The ABA Consultant or program supervisor will carryout the drills with the child to ensure the child has mastered the drills taught by the ABA therapist.

These meetings usually run for about 2-3 hours and are held to review the child's progress, make program changes where necessary and to provide feedback to therapists on their teaching skills and to teach parents how to generalize the drills mastered by the child everyday.


The role of parent/s in their child's ABA programs is crucial in terms of the child's overall progress. Parents need to be aware and fully informed about all areas of their child's program so that they can help their child generalize and apply the skills learnt during therapy to every-day life situations.

This is a STRICT requirement of Learning Ladders.

There is usually a long waiting list for children requiring ABA therapy.

We do not believe in wasting the child's learning and development time and parent's money.

Parents who do not get involved with their child's program is just wasting their time and money and will also be taking up the precious learning and development time of another child who needs it most.

Some parents do ABA training so that they can implement some of the therapy hours themselves. This helps in keeping them up-to-date with the program and to reduce program costs.

However, some parents feel uncomfortable doing therapy work. The most important aspect of the parent's involvement is keeping track of what their child is learning and encouraging them to use the skills they have learned outside of therapy time.

Parents are also responsible for timetabling therapists (only for Home based programs), maintaining their child's folder, and buying, making or borrowing materials for their child's program.


All the materials you need are available for members to borrow at no cost from Learning Ladders.

Parents are important members of the ABA team. You can make a big difference by participating and reinforcing your child's therapy. At all times, Learning Ladders will continue to support your understanding of autism and ABA through personal support, training and coaching.


Research shows that children maximize their benefits within two to three years of ABA.

Not all children respond to ABA. In fact, ABA could cause harm to children who do not respond positively. We don't know if a child will respond to ABA before beginning the program. Hence, it is important that the ABA program be run by a Certified ABA Consultant who is extremely experienced and qualified to monitor a child's progress or identify and determine if the child does not respond positively to the program.

Your child will be assessed on a regular basis to ensure that he or she is receiving the right number of hours of therapy, and to determine when he or she is ready to "graduate."

This is based on a number of considerations:

  • Your child may reach a point where he or she is learning new skills without special programming.
  • Your child may be displaying less incidents of behaviors that interfere with learning.
  • Your child may have achieved skill levels consistent with his or her ability to learn.
  • Your child's medical condition may not allow them to take part in an ABA program (for example, uncontrolled seizures).
  • ABA may not be the right approach for your family, given the methods used and the time required.
  • Your child's progress may level off and he or she may no longer be benefiting from intensive therapy.
  • Your child may have other issues (such as sleep problems or severe food allergies) that make it difficult to make significant gains with ABA.

When your child is ready to graduate, or if it is determined that ABA is not an effective therapy approach for your child, Learning Ladders will assist you with connecting to other community supports and services.