Autism Parenting Magazine has revealed more than a third of autism caregivers use an ABA therapy provider to support a child on the spectrum.
In a survey sent out by Autism Parenting Magazine (APM) to more than 160,000 email subscribers, over a third of responders confirmed they are using an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy provider for their child.
In fact, a substantial 36.5% of caregivers reported that they use an ABA therapy provider and 93.7% of these individuals would recommend ABA to other autism caregivers.
A total of 72.4% of respondents identified themselves as autism parents, while the remaining participants were grandparents, full-time carers, teachers, therapists, doctors, or individuals on the spectrum.
How does ABA therapy support children with autism?
ABA therapy can support children on the autism spectrum in many ways, including the development of social skills, life skills, stronger communication, and adapting challenging behaviors.
From the ABA users surveyed by APM, 79.2% said they have seen an improvement in their child’s meltdowns, while 89.9% have seen improvements in their child’s communication.
“Within the autism community there are mixed feelings about ABA. But, research has shown time and again that ABA is the most effective treatment for autism for reducing problematic behaviors and increasing adaptive skills. When correctly implemented, ABA can be life changing, not just for your child, but for your entire family,” says behavior analyst Angelina Macdonald, MS, BCBA, LMFT.
“ABA can be used as an intervention strategy not only to understand certain behavior better but also to change or modify behaviors through scientifically-based principles,” adds Carol Tatom RBT, an autism mom and behavior technician. “The basic principles of ABA therapy are designed to help alter challenging behaviors over time into more functional and ‘appropriate’ behaviors.”
Why parents are choosing ABA therapy
A total of 71.7% of ABA users surveyed stated they were recommended ABA by their doctor. The main reason for choosing ABA for those surveyed was to target challenging behaviors including meltdowns, as well as to teach socially acceptable behaviors while building life skills.
“The main goal of most autism parents is to teach self sufficiency and independent living. Life skills become so important and, if you’re doing ABA, it has to follow you home,” comments autism mom Katrina Walsh, BHR.
ABA therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic
APM’s survey revealed a huge surge in parents signing up for ABA therapy since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A total of 31.6% of ABA users stated they started ABA sessions during the pandemic, while a significant 49.2% found they have needed more ABA sessions since the pandemic began.
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Possible reasons for this might include increased anxiety among autistic children during these turbulent times as well as challenges around changing routines, lack of structure, and being confined to the home.
Age of children and level of autism support needs
ABA is generally selected as an early intervention therapy, so it was not surprising that 68.8% of ABA users surveyed by APM said their child started the therapy under the age of five years old.
The majority of the children undergoing ABA therapy required “substantial support” with their daily living. A total of 42.9% of respondents identified their child as “requires substantial support”, while 39.3% said their child “requires support” and 17.9% answered “very substantial support”. 61.74% of all survey respondents were from the USA.
Advice for parents considering ABA for their children
There is much controversy surrounding ABA therapy, with some members of the autism community disagreeing with the concept of adapting behaviors. However, a whopping 93.9% of survey respondents said they believe their child has benefited positively from ABA.
A total of 87.9% also said their child enjoys their ABA sessions and a huge 94.2% said they believe their ABA provider has their child’s best interests in mind.
Some top tips to bear in mind when considering ABA and choosing a reputable provider include:
- Find out who is overseeing the treatment and their qualifications
- Ensure the provider is using an individualized approach
- Find out how challenging behavior is addressed
- Ensure that everyone involved is well trained and informed
“Yes, some studies show early intervention is beneficial, but my personal advice would be to slow down before jumping to the first service provider you find and take a look at your child. What do you truly feel would be best for him/her? Would your child cope in a strict behavioral setting, or does he/she require a more fluent and easygoing therapist?” says Karla Pretorius, M. Psych, a Research Psychologist in the field of autism.
“As a parent, I thought choosing an ABA organization was similar to choosing a pediatrician or a dentist: they are board-certified, so they must know what they are doing. Surprisingly, because the field of ABA is new (unlike the general medical profession, which has been around for more than 25,000 years), just because someone is board certified in ABA does not necessarily mean he/she is a seasoned clinician, adds Carla Gross, MA, LPEC, Development Director of the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence which accredits ABA providers.
“At the end of the day, organizations that have committed to continuous improvement and quality standards are the ones that have always stood out to me as a mom.”
While ABA therapy is a controversial topic, it seems it is growing in popularity and – as with any therapy solution – the quality and benefits depend on the provider and each individual child. Overall, the autism caregivers involved in the survey spoke positively about ABA therapy and 86.7% said it has helped them to better understand their child’s needs.