What is ABA and How Can it Make a Difference in Your Child’s Life?
Updated: Aug 5
When a parent sees their child struggling to reach a developmental milestone – whether it’s a slight speech delay or signs of severe autism – nothing matters more than helping their child catch up.
As a child gets older, if skills deficits have not been addressed effectively, the developmental delay increases, making it much harder to teach kids the skills they need to effectively reach future milestones. This is why early intervention is key. Science clearly shows that when we reach children with developmental delays early on – ideally between birth and 5 years - we have an incredible opportunity to successfully help them catch up to their peers.
And that’s where ABA comes in.
What is ABA?
Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is a science-based intervention method that influences a child’s behavioral response to his or her environment. It works to help children gain new skills and to turn negative behaviors into positive ones. The use of ABA has a long history of helping children who have developmental delays acquire skills that they did not acquire naturally or in the ways that a typical-developing child may. It started gaining momentum in the 1960s and 70s, but its theory and the scientific research to support the theory stretches back to the 1920s when behavioral scientists first started to understand that our environments have a significant influence on our behavior. Nearly a century later, ABA interventions are now leading the way to help children reach critical developmental milestones.
When a Behavioral Analyst begins a new program with a child, they start by assessing the cause of their milestone delays and any negative behaviors to uncover what environmental factors are at play. This understanding gives us a clear picture of the needs and strengths, and once we know these, we can craft interventions that influence the behavior and create more positive outcomes.
The Four Contingencies of ABA
We look at ABA through a lens made up of four contingencies. These contingencies let us pick apart and evaluate how a child’s environment and the motivators in that environment influence behavior. Here’s how the four contingencies break down.
1. The Antecedent – what happened right before the behavior occurred
2. The Behavior – the behavior the child provided as a result of the antecedent
3. The Consequence – the actions or response that followed the behavior
4. The Motivation – the environmental circumstances that influence behavior
A classic example to demonstrate these contingencies is the toddler tantrum. If a toddler recognizes that screaming leads to her getting a particular toy, then she’ll learn very quickly to scream when she wants that toy – or anything else. In this case, the child is motivated to scream when she wants the toy because history has taught her that this behavior is an effective method for achieving her goal. In other words, she’s rewarded for screaming.
ABA interventions give us a series of tools that we use to change a child’s behavior from disruptive to constructive; from negative to positive. In our example, the correct series of ABA interventions will eventually teach the child that reaching the consequence they want - getting the toy - can only be done when displaying a positive behavior - asking calmly.
The Beauty of ABA & Why It Works
Every child is unique, and so too should be the ABA interventions they receive. The beauty of ABA is that, while there are core interventions based on ABA theory and scientific research, the data from a child’s response to the interventions drives the way the clinician individualizes the intervention for each unique child.
Why is this so important? For a few reasons. First, every child’s environment is different. If we look at behavior as the result of a response to our environment, then we have to look at each environment before we can expect to determine the cause of a behavior and ultimately influence it.
Second, most behavior challenges in young children with delays are actually communication skills deficits. Without the ability to effectively communicate, we lose control of our world. This creates frustration and opens the door for negative behaviors to emerge. Many times, when we teach a child how to communicate, we see incredible developmental leaps forward and behavioral challenges reduced or even eliminated.
It’s not always easy, though. ABA, like any method used to create change, takes time, dedication and a consistent effort on the part of the child and the parents. But, when the right interventions pair with up with a child’s core needs, real change takes place and you start to see that child light up inside. Every day we see ABA’s science-based interventions create pure magic.
What You Can Expect When Your Child Receives ABA Intervention?
Changing behaviors through ABA interventions does not happen overnight. At Swank Early Skills Development, we see our kids every day. Most spend about four hours with us Monday through Friday, either in our Lancaster-based Center or in their homes. However, the intensity or duration of services for each child is determined by the assessment and can vary from ten to forty hours per week. Despite the intensity of most ABA schedules, treatments are disguised as playtime and special attention.
Just as important as the interventions we provide to our children is the support we provide to parents. A parent is the most important person in a child’s treatment. Empowering parents and teaching them how best to support their child makes their child’s skills development and/or behavior change more effective.
Parents can expect to find support through other parents, too. Connecting with parents can help dissolve feelings of physical and emotional isolation that too often come with raising a child with a disability.
Most of all, expect to find relief. When a child begins an ABA intervention program, parents can see the differences in behavior unfolding before their eyes. Watching their child display positive behaviors, learn to effectively communicate, and start to smile is, for many parents, the equivalent of witnessing a miracle.
We welcome you to explore how a center-based ABA intervention approach can help your child meet developmental milestones so they can reach their full potential. Contact us today.