Is an ABA Center the Right Option for Your Child on the Autism Spectrum?
It’s no secret that autism diagnoses of children are growing. In a new study just published in the journal Pediatrics, one in 40 children has autism spectrum disorder, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnoses of boys outnumber girls nearly four to one (1/37 boys versus 1/151 girls).
While there is an increasing range of options for helping individuals with autism—including everything from using laser lights to chiropractic adjustments—Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, has become one of the most important methods of treatment.
ABA is a systematic approach that uses well-defined strategies to increase desirable targeted behavior skills. Since it first emerged as a therapy for individuals on the spectrum in 1987, ABA has grown and matured into the only scientifically validated and most effective behavioral treatment for autism.
ABA therapy is generally used by two types of trained experts: Registered Behavioral Technicians (or RBTs), who often work one-on-one with children daily, and Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), who oversee RBTs. BCBAs are also responsible for reviewing the broad arc of how a child is progressing, how well the child and RBT are connecting and what can help RBTs—and children—improve the learning process.
Although ABA therapy is often applied in a home setting, its use in a clinic or center is proving to have many more advantages. Here are a few of them:
- ABA centers have complete control of the environment with all professionals, including BCBAs, working together to support the child’s needs, as well as different individuals available to help ensure generalization.
- Children learn to incorporate social skills with other children, compared to a home setting where socialization is limited to siblings or play dates (which can be quite challenging).
- ABA Centers help improve attending to tasks in a busier environment but can also utilize the designated space for 1:1 discreet trials. At home, the only way to create a busy environment is to go out into the community where maladaptive behaviors often occur.
- ABA Centers help children focus on making the transition between discreet 1:1 trials and group activities; they also provide “breaks” from difficult 1:1 work to help prevent boredom.
- Just as important, a good ABA Center can offer access to a variety of reinforcers compared to a home setting where much of the reinforcement is always the same.
However, all ABA Centers are not created equal. Choosing the right one requires evaluating a wide range of crucial factors.
First and foremost, have a good feel for how well your child and his/her RBT interact. Is there a good rapport between them or does the RBT seem hesitant when trying to connect with your child? If your child exhibits aggressive behaviors, a skilled, seasoned RBT won’t be intimidated. He/she will change the dynamic so they can steer the interaction with your child.
You should also be able to see progress quickly and consistently. In other words, is your child learning new behaviors that can be applied in and out of your home? If the answer is no, then maybe that particular ABA center isn’t the right one for your child.
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A quality ABA center should be designed to offer a broad range of experiences and not be limited to a series of rooms or a set space. To that end, look for an organization that can offer a variety of environments.
For example, does the center have a partnership with an equine center where children can work with horses, which has proven to be especially effective for individuals on the spectrum. Is there a robust art studio or a pool? These different settings are especially important because they provide a wider range of reinforcements to help children quickly improve and grow.
As you evaluate ABA centers, their ability to help your child grow and improve must be the number one priority. However, you should also consider whether the organization you’re considering provides additional services and resources to help you navigate what can be an extremely challenging journey.
For instance, are there resources dedicated to helping you with complicated insurance issues? Does the front office staff streamline the application process so you can quickly get support for your child?
Although ABA centers offer many advantages in helping children on the spectrum, they’re not right for everyone. For example, a child with significant attention deficits may find the stimulation of a center overwhelming and may not quite have the necessary attending skills.
The key for parents is to reach out immediately to start this critical process. Studies show that the earlier autism is addressed (as early as two years old), the more likely your child will be able to find ways that enable him/her to be fully integrated into a school setting—as well as society—as he/she grows.
This article was featured in Issue 90 – Practical Ways to Build Skills for a Lifetime