Autism and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

A sad little girl sitting in a red high chair

Ideally, children with autism and other neuropsychological disorders need to be under the care of a pediatrician experienced in the treatment of neuropsychological disorders and also need to be evaluated and followed by a pediatric neurologist. Additional evaluations and treatment by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech language pathologists, and psychologists are usually necessary as well. (Many kids with autism and other neuropsychological disorders do not make eye contact or follow directions.) Parents often wonder if there is something wrong with their child’s hearing. Usually, this is not the case, but children with autism do need a hearing evaluation just to make sure.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and a handful of drugs are the most effective ways to manage behavior problems in children with autism and other neuropsychological disorders. Parents can contact an ABA therapist in their area for help. (Visit the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy website to locate ABA therapists.)

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) programs begin with a behavioral assessment. This insures the right match between the behavioral intervention and the specific behavioral problems. In the behavioral assessment we want to accomplish four things:

  1. Define the behavioral problem in behavioral terms.
  2. Take a baseline of how often or long the behavioral problem occurs.
  3. Note the antecedents of the behavioral problem.
  4. Note the consequences of the behavioral problem.

Defining the behavioral problem in behavioral terms simply means that we are going to find a way to count the frequency or time the occurrence of the behavioral problem whenever we observe it. For example, if a parent says a child is aggressive, this is not a behavioral term. We cannot see or measure the aggression. However, if a parent says a child hits a sibling, then this is a behavioral term. We can see the child hit a sibling and count the frequency that the child hits a sibling.

A baseline is a representative sample of the behavioral problem over a short period of time-for example, the number of tantrums the child has each day or how long the child stays on task. Once we have a baseline we will begin our behavioral intervention and continue to monitor the frequency with which the behavioral problem occurs. After a reasonable period of time, we can then compare changes in the frequency of the behavioral problem to the baseline to see if our behavioral intervention is working. Obviously, if the behavioral intervention is not working for some reason, then we will try something else.

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