What is ABA therapy for autism? Your questions answered
Trying to choose and fund the best support for a child that has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be an overwhelming and stressful experience. The good news is that there are many treatments and care packages available. One of the most well-known treatments for autism is ABA therapy. But what does ABA therapy stand for? What is ABA therapy for autism? How does ABA therapy work? And how much does ABA therapy cost?
Here, we answer some of the most important questions that you might have about ABA therapy techniques and services, and why this type of ASD treatment can be the best choice to help your child thrive.
What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
So, what is ABA therapy, exactly? ‘ABA’ stands for Applied Behavior Analysis, which is a long-established type of therapy that uses a scientific approach to understand and change behavior. ABA can be used to treat a range of conditions – from eating disorders to dementia – but it is commonly used to help patients diagnosed with ASD.
ABA therapy employs a range of strategies to develop a patient’s language and communication skills, social skills and learning skills, as well as to help manage problematic behavior. The main approach is designed to encourage positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. ABA does not involve prescribing medication – it is purely a behavioral intervention, and one that has been recognized as an effective treatment for ASD by numerous federal and state agencies, including the US Surgeon General and American Psychological Association.
How does ABA therapy work?
ABA therapy works by identifying and understanding the causes of certain behavior and then using interventions to encourage or discourage it. The most important ABA therapy technique is positive reinforcement, where a behavior or skill that is desirable is subsequently acknowledged with a reward. The reward can be anything that the patient values, from undiluted praise to a toy or book, or extra time doing the things that they enjoy the most. Over time, repeatedly reinforcing constructive skills and behavior with a positive consequence can lead to lasting change for the patient.
What can ABA therapy help with?
ABA therapy can help to improve the overall quality of life for a child who has been diagnosed with ASD, and their families. It isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution, as the treatment plan will be tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Therapy sessions may focus on communication skills and language development, for example, or on improving academic and learning skills. ABA therapy can also help with play, leisure and social interactions with peers, as well as developing daily life skills such as personal grooming or cleaning up.
What does an ABA program include?
An ABA program includes a range of tailored steps and strategies. Each child who enters ABA therapy will have their own set of strengths and challenges, so it’s essential to create a personalized caring plan that meets their individual requirements.
The ABA therapy program begins with an initial assessment. Here, the clinical team can determine the learning skills that need to be developed and the behaviors that it would be desirable to change. The therapy services will then be delivered by a combination of Registered Behavior Technician (RBTs) and Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs).
ABA therapy sessions can take place in a wide range of settings, including in the home or in the classroom, and the child’s progress will be monitored and the goals adjusted as often as necessary to deliver the best outcome. The ABA therapists will collaborate with teachers and other members of your child’s team to ensure the care that your child receives is consistent and coordinated.
What training do ABA therapists have?
The training that ABA therapists have received is indicated by the certification that they have achieved. More than 30 states have now passed legislation to regulate behavior analysts, with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) being the principal provider of behavior analyst certification across the US since 1998.
To achieve the BACB Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) certification, a candidate needs to have a high school diploma, finish 40 hours of training and complete an initial RBT competency assessment, in addition to other requirements stipulated by the BACB. Once a candidate is approved and has passed the RBT certification exam, they must have ongoing supervision from an RBT Supervisor or RBT Requirements Coordinator.
There are several routes to becoming a more experienced and highly-qualified Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Each requires a minimum of a degree, 500-2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork and successful completion of the BCBA certification examination. Once they are certified, a BCBA can oversee the work of an RBT.
How much does ABA therapy cost?
The cost of ABA therapy for ASD will be influenced by a range of factors, including the level of treatment that is required, the ABA therapist’s experience, how many hours of ABA therapy are needed and insurance coverage. Fees can vary, but you’re typically looking at around $120 per hour with an RBT. Funding options are available though, and you might qualify for school-funded ABA therapy, a scholarship or a charitable grant.
With private insurance, families may have to meet a certain deductible and co-insurance, as well as a co-pay per service type or day. Illuminate also offers fee-for-service or private pay, as well as serving families through Medicaid and state-funded programs.
Is ABA therapy covered by insurance?
ABA therapy is often covered by insurance once a diagnosis of ASD has been made by a medical doctor (MD) or PhD. Many states require health insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of autism. You’ll still need to pay the agreed deductible for your health insurance plan, but that works out to be a lot less expensive, especially if your child is recommended to have many hours of ABA therapy each week. Your ABA therapy provider should be able to help you with the process of getting authorization for their care services.
Does ABA therapy work?
‘What is ABA therapy?’ might be your first question, but ‘Does ABA therapy work?’ is likely to be your second. While there is currently no cure for ASD, ABA therapy is widely recognized as an effective treatment that can improve the lives of children living with autism. It is a therapy that has been successfully used for decades and is validated in published studies, including those by McEachin, Smith, & Lovaas (1993); and Maurice, Green & Luce (1996). A 1999 report by the Surgeon General, David Satcher, MD, PhD, concluded that “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 therapy techniques have evolved in the 20 years since that report, and today’s progressive ABA therapy programs are designed to offer a flexible and fulfilling foundation for your child’s future success.