Applied Behavior Analysis: A Therapy for Children with Autism
Parenting Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis: A Therapy for Children with Autism


Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face challenges that can significantly impact their daily functioning. These challenges include difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communicative behaviour, and developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Additionally, children with ASD may exhibit repetitive-restricted behaviours and sensory sensitivities. These challenges affect various areas of the child’s journey, specifically in academics, personal, and social domains.

All these challenges become significantly more intense and severe when intellectual disability comorbid with autism, this dual diagnosis profoundly affects the speech, language and adaptive behaviour or functioning of children with autism. Treatment and intervention plans for autism spectrum disorder necessitate a multifaceted approach with various techniques tailored to the individual needs and requirements of the child with ASD.

Read More: 4 Autism Therapy Techniques for Parents

Essential components include:

  1. Speech and Language Therapy: This addresses the communication deficit.
  2. Behaviour Therapy: This helps understand and control maladaptive behaviours, promoting adaptive behaviour strategies to effectively address repetitive and restricted behavioural patterns.
  3. Psychological Interventions: These support social-emotional and mental health, as children with autism may suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Occupational therapy plays an important role in developing fine motor skills and daily living activities, while special education provides individualized educational-based strategies to accommodate learning differences. Among all these interventions applied behavior analysis has always been a matter of concern both for the parents and professionals.

Applied Behaviour Analysis

ABA is an evidence-based therapy that applies the principles of learning and behaviour to bring changes in children’s behaviour. The basic idea of this therapy is that behavior is influenced by the environment so the behavior can be modified through reinforcement. Dr Ivar Lovaas, a psychologist was the very first person who came up with this research-based intervention for autism in the 1960s, showcasing that intensive behavioural plans or strategies could lead to improvements in children who have mild, moderate or profound autism.

Core Principles of ABA Therapy

1. Positive Reinforcement

ABA therapy is centred around the behavioural modification technique that is positive reinforcement, it involves giving rewards every time the child shows the desired behaviour to ensure the occurrence of the behaviour. For example; making kids desire food every time the homework is completed on time or permission to watch television when the food is fully finished is a classic example of positive reinforcements that Indian mothers are particularly aware of.

2. Discrete Trial Training 

Discrete Trial Training is an evidence-based technique used in ABA therapy which is about breaking the skills into small components. Systematically, the professional teaches skills to the child one after another which is accompanied by reinforcement or reward if the child does it correctly and if not is supported through the process. For example; the professional might teach the child the concept of colours by picking one colour and then instructing them to spot the colour taught. This requires three rounds, then one by one all the colours will be taught. Reinforcement in the form of desired food or toys is provided with every right answer.

Seven Verbal Operants of ABA Therapy

1. Visual Performance 

In ABA therapy, visual performance aims at refining the visual motor skills of children with autism. The therapist presents various visual stimuli to the child such as objects, pictures, and patterns. Then the child is asked to perform based on instructions provided by the therapist which include tracking the moving object, matching images, differences between two image shapes or colors etc. 

2. Receptive Language 

Receptive language is about giving verbal instructions for understanding and improving the language. Receptive language is about following instructions after listening. Example; give me that toy, point your lips, where is your car.

3. Tact 

In the tact session, the child is taught about labelling objects, people, animals, and many other things. The therapist provides the child with a card or picture for them to label them effectively. It has been very effective for children with ASD. For Example, number of pictures are shown to the child and the therapist might ask the child to label the work they are doing, gender, and family person. 

4. Imitation 

ABA therapy involves an imitation intervention plan that focuses on teaching the children to imitate the actions or behaviors of others which is an important skill for learning and social engagement. The therapist shows the child a specific action, like clapping hands, stacking blocks, or waving, and asks the child to imitate the behaviour.

5. Mand (demand)

In the aba therapy, the therapist also includes the session of mand which is creating a situation for the child to make demands for themselves. Children with autism often fail to express themselves like normal children do, this technique is very helpful and effective. For example: the therapist might lock the door at the end of the session and only open it when the child demands it or only give the child reinforcement (social or food-based) when the child demands it. 

6. Intravocablary 

The intravocablary session in ABA therapy aims to improve the child’s engagement in the conversation and respond effectively to the statement or question even if the object is not shown or the statement is not explained. Example: what do you eat for breakfast? Tell me something that flies. 

7. Echolalia 

In ABA therapy, echolalia aims at helping the child move from slow and less repetition of words or phrases to meaningful and effective communication. Echolalia, in which the child repeats what others say immediately, can be a targeting point in language development.

Benefits of ABA Therapy

  1. Social Skill: ABA therapy has been very effective in showing results concerning the social skills of children with autism. Children with autism spectrum disorder have a hard time with social interaction and social-emotional reciprocity, therapy specifically ABA is very effective in terms of these deficits.
  2. Communication Skills: ABA therapy helps children develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills, making them capable of expressing their concerns, ants, and ideas more clearly.
  3. Improves Fixtative Behaviors: ABA therapy detects and aims to improve behaviours that interfere with learning and daily functioning, with the help of reinforcement to encourage desirable behaviours and reduce unwanted ones.
  4. Promotes Independence: ABA therapy teaches important and effective life skills, which are self-care, daily routines, and academic tasks. ABA therapy increases the children’s ability to function all by themselves at school, at home and in the community.

ABA therapy is an effective and evidence-based therapy that improves the lives of children with autism spectrum disorders at any spectrum. Aiming to improve communication, social skills, and adaptive behaviours and ensure the reduction of fixations, ABA therapy has proven its effects on greater independence and quality of life for children with ASD. 

References +
  • Ithriyah, S. (2018). Effectiveness of ABA therapy for children with special needs of autism: A study of psycholinguistics view. Ethical Lingua: Journal of Language Teaching and Literature, 5(2), 149-158.
  • Peters-Scheffer, N., Didden, R., Korzilius, H., & Sturmey, P. (2011). A meta-analytic study on the effectiveness of comprehensive ABA-based early intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(1), 60-69.
  • Hodgson, R., Biswas, M., Palmer, S., Marshall, D., Rodgers, M., Stewart, L., … & Le Couteur, A. (2022). Intensive behavioural interventions based on applied behaviour analysis (ABA) for young children with autism: A cost-effectiveness analysis. Plos one, 17(8), e0270833.
  • Principles of Behavior Analysis and Modification 4th edition Lee W. Daffin Jr., Ph.D. Washington State University Version 4.00 January 2021

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