In this informative video, two Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) moms, Heather and Trisha, share their personal experiences with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and how it has helped their children succeed. For more information about our ABA Therapy services visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-aba-moms
applied behavior analysis
Q&A About ABA Therapy for Children with Autism
FAQ for Caregivers
Was your child recently diagnosed with autism? Are you beginning to navigate treatment for your child? Before you get started, check out these FAQs about ABA therapy.
What is the goal of ABA therapy?
ABA therapy is designed to support autistic individuals and their families, achieve their identified goals, and improve their quality of life. ABA-based interventions are supported by decades of research and enhance social, communication, play, and adaptive skills. Services incorporate the needs and interests of the autistic individual and their caregiver(s). A behavior analyst delivers the ABA services with the help of behavior technicians, who often provide direct care to the autistic individual. Services are tailored to the individual’s unique needs, with their feedback, and evolve over time. Services for children may look quite different than services for adults, given the individuals’ needs differ over time.
What is “contemporary ABA” therapy?
At LEARN, we refer to our approach as “contemporary ABA.” It is an evolved approach to ABA therapy that promotes individualized treatment, naturalistic and play-based teaching, and is person-centered. LEARN provides a contemporary approach that acknowledges the evolution of ABA, values the individual and their family, and creates space for individuality. Practicing contemporary ABA therapy means that our behavior analysts deeply understand their responsibility to positively and meaningfully impact the lives of the individuals served.
How many hours of ABA therapy will my child receive?
Your child’s hours will be determined between you and your behavior analyst. Your behavior analyst recommends hours based on assessing your child’s needs, other therapies received, and your feedback as the parent/caregiver. Focused programs range from 10-25 hours per week, and comprehensive programs range from 30-40 hours weekly. At LEARN, we provide home-based, center-based, and community-based services, and you can reach out to your local clinical director to find out which services are available in your area. Check out this video to learn about the number of hours clinically recommended for your child.
Are your ABA therapy services individualized?
Absolutely! Each autistic person we serve is unique, and we believe that should be celebrated. Our goal is to promote individual interests and incorporate those into ABA therapy. Behavior analysts make individualized recommendations for services, including hours based on the child and customized goals that fit their needs. Behavior therapists receive training on how to understand the preferences of their clients and include those in sessions to make them fun, rewarding, and engaging.
How is neurodiversity integrated into your approach to ABA therapy?
Listening to the perspective of autistic folks has informed our approach to ABA therapy and led us to incorporate neurodiversity into our practice. Our goal is to elevate the autistic voices in our community, including the individuals we serve, our neurodivergent employees, and the greater neurodivergent community. We’re deeply committed to person-centered ABA therapy practices and promote assent-based care, meaning we validate the identities and experiences of neurodivergent folks and create space for autistic voices to be heard and upheld. Learn more about our commitment to neurodiversity here.
Will my child be required to do discrete trials and sit at a table?
Not all autistic folks benefit from discrete trials or table-top work. For example, a two-year-old child with lots of energy may benefit more from a play-based approach with the therapist sitting on the floor and embedding learning opportunities in play with their favorite toy. Behavior analysts overseeing the treatment plan take time to assess the individual’s needs and work collaboratively with the family to identify an approach to treatment that will work best for the child.
What if someone doesn’t want ABA therapy?
We understand that not everyone seeks ABA therapy, feels it’s the best fit, or perhaps, thinks it’s the right time to try. As with other medical services, the patient (along with their caregiver, if a child) has the right to decide when, if, and what treatment is right for them. Not all ABA therapy providers have the same approach, either, and LEARN supports a family’s right to choose a provider that meets their needs and is a good match for their treatment goals. We want families and our clients to be excited about services and encourage collaboration on our journey together.
Reviewed by Dr. Ashley Williams, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D, Sr. Clinical Director
To learn more about ABA, visit our website. You can also search our locations here.
How Neurodiverse Voices are Influencing the Evolution of ABA
Dr. Becky Thompson, Director of Clinical Services for the Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP), and Reux Lennon, Non-binary member of both the LGBT and Autism community and Lead technician with WEAP join us to share their work on the Person-Centered ABA team and the Neurodivergent Advisory Committee. Dr. Thompson leads LEARN’s Person-Centered ABA team, which is a group of clinical leaders within LEARN who are dedicated to compassionate and individualized ABA services. Reux shares how their work as one of the original members of the Neurodivergent Advisory Committee is creating change and including neurodivergent voices and perspectives.
For more information visit:
All Autism Talk (https://www.allautismtalk.com/) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (https://learnbehavioral.com).
Celebrating Women in Autism this International Women’s Day
For decades, women have played a crucial role in diagnosing, understanding, and treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As ASD becomes more prevalent, women continue to be instrumental in developing and refining treatment through vast areas of research. There is much to be recognized, not only for women’s incredible contributions to the autism field but also for their experiences living on the spectrum.
In honor of International Women’s Day, check out our top five All Autism Talk podcast episodes featuring notable women.
1. Dr. Temple Grandin – Navigating Autism
2. Dr. Ronit Molko – Girls and Autism: Diagnosis, Treatment, and New Research
3. Devon Sundberg – Women in Behavior Analysis
4. Jennifer Cook – Female Life on the Spectrum
5. Adrienne Bradley – Race and How it Impacts ABA and Our Community
All Autism Talk is a leading autism podcast that offers friendly conversation with inspiring individuals in the autism community. To learn more about All Autism Talk, please visit https://www.allautismtalk.com/
5 Tips for Navigating Autism Treatment for Your Multilingual Child
Maia Jackson, M.S., BCBA
Clinical Development Manager, LEARN Behavioral
Language development is a critical component of the day-to-day lives of young children. It is used within a variety of contexts, including playing with peers, building relationships, functionally communicating needs, etc. As such, there is a heavy emphasis on language and communication built into most applied behavior analytic (ABA) programs. Because such a heavy emphasis is placed on language, it is important that practitioners are mindful of the specific language or languages that are incorporated in the therapeutic setting. In order for ABA programs to be socially significant, services should represent and accommodate for the dominant language of the family. By doing so, children and their families will experience a variety of benefits.
By promoting the use of the family’s native language, children have an increased likelihood of communication opportunities with their immediate and extended families, friends, and community. In addition to having more opportunities to communicate, the quality of the interactions will be more meaningful as caregivers are more likely to effectively express their own emotions, hold their child’s attention, and more thoroughly discuss topics of interest when using their native language (Zhou, et al., 2019). There are also benefits to multilingualism outside of the familial unit. Research has shown that children who are raised in multilingual homes tend to demonstrate higher perspective talking skills than children who do not (Zhou, et al., 2019). Despite all of the benefits to speaking one’s native language, families often face a number of barriers, especially when seeking out autism-related services.
While we live in a culturally diverse country, English remains the dominant language in most regions of the U.S. When children turn on the TV, chances are the shows they watch are in English. When they go to school, they will receive a primarily English education and their peers will speak primarily English. Autistic individuals who receive behavior analytic treatment in the U.S. are likely receiving those services in English. Despite all of these barriers, there are ways for parents and caregivers to advocate for their bilingual children and family.
1. Look for providers who speak your native language.
One of the first measures to take when selecting a service provider is to request clinicians who speak your native language. Bilingual service providers can be hard to find and it may take time, but let your provider know your preference so they can attempt to hire and/or pair you with appropriate staff members.
2. Request translation services.
In cases where there are no staff members available to provide services in your native language, consider asking for translation services. Even if you are proficient in English, it may be easier or feel more comfortable for you to communicate in your native language. Per the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts, the clinician you are working with should make every effort to effectively communicate with you and provide you with the opportunity to ask questions and participate in the development and implementation of your child’s program.
3. Consider the assessment language.
If your child speaks a language other than English, it is important to discuss the benefits of your child being assessed in that language. Providers use assessment results as a tool to guide the clinical program and decision making. Having the results of the assessment in your child’s primary or dominant languages will give a more accurate picture of your child’s strengths and areas of need. The starting point of the program will be more representative of your child’s language abilities.
4. Ensure the program is visually representative of your child and your family.
Visual tools and stimuli are often used as prompts, supports, and/or reinforcement systems within many ABA programs. These visual supports may serve to outline a schedule for the day, visuals might accompany a short narrative or story describing a social scenario your child might encounter, or you might see visual images used as reminders or prompts of what steps come next in routine with multiple steps, such as hand washing. These visual items should be representative of your child and your family. Discuss incorporating your native language and culture into these items in order to promote their use and acceptance by your child. If your child accepts the stimuli and is motivated to use them, effectiveness of their intended purpose will likely increase.
5. Discuss your language and other cultural values with your team.
Per the Ethical Code for Behavior Analysts, your cultural norms, traditions, and expectations should be extended through all aspects of the ABA program. Social interactions, communication, play activities, and activities of daily living are areas that are addressed in many ABA programs and are going to be affected by language, culture, and traditions. Discussing the ways your language and culture impact your day-to-day routines and expectations will help the clinical team develop and implement a program that is best suited to your child and your family.
Serving as the navigator and advocator of your child’s services is a huge role. Advocating for language will often be just as important as advocating for hours, goals, or other supports. Use your team to provide support and to feel empowered to be the advocate your child and your family need.
Supports at LEARN:
- Document translation services
- Translation services
- Language Resource Library
- Staff training and tools related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Zhou, A., Munson, J.A., Greenson, J., Jou, Y., Rogers, S., Estes A.M. (2019). An exploratory longitudinal study of social language outcomes in children with autism in bilingual home environments. Autism, 23(2), 394-304.
A Closer Look at The BHCOE
Dr. Ellie Kazemi is the Chief Science Officer at Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE), an accrediting organization focused on improving the quality of behavior analytic services. She is also a professor at CSUN, where she founded the M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program. Dr. Kazemi joins us to share about the accreditation process and the importance of assessments and measuring outcomes in the field of ABA. As Dr. Kazemi discusses the value of connecting the perspectives of the families and the clients, and shares, “To measure outcomes you should see progress from different perspectives”.
For More Information:
All Autism Talk is sponsored by Learn Behavioral.
LEARN’s Kerry Hoops Uses Assent-Based Practice to Make COVID-19 Vaccination Comfortable for Kids with Autism
By: Katherine Johnson, M.S., BCBA
Senior Director of Partnerships, LEARN Behavioral
Vaccination visits can be terrifying for an autistic child – a new environment, unfamiliar sounds and smells, being touched by a stranger, and all of this culminating in a painful poke. Anxiety and unwillingness to sit for a vaccine shot can lead to parents and medical professionals winding up with a difficult decision: hold the child down against their will or forego the vaccine. At LEARN, we care about our clients’ health and the experience they have when receiving healthcare.
Recently, the Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP, a LEARN organization) partnered with the Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin in a series of vaccine clinics. These events were carefully designed to provide families with autistic children a positive experience while receiving their COVID-19 vaccines.
The clinics were held in a local children’s museum, and a pair of seasoned clinicians teamed up with each child, who had reviewed a vaccination social story before coming. Parents answered a questionnaire about their child’s experience with shots and specific interests in advance; clinicians used this information to build rapport with the child, make them comfortable, and provide distraction. Choice was built into the entire experience: children got to select toys, the type of bandage they received, and the body part where they would receive the shot. Clinicians also provided non-invasive devices to mitigate injection pain, like the Buzzy pain blocker, and shot blockers. The most intriguing part? Clinicians waited until the child indicated they were ready before giving them the vaccination.
The result was phenomenal: dozens of autistic children receiving their COVID-19 vaccine without a tear. Kerry Hoops, our Clinical Director at WEAP, said that one experience in particular stood out to her: a boy who was terrified that the shot would hurt, asking about it repeatedly. After assuring him they would not let the shot be a surprise, they spent some time doing one of his favorite activities: having races around the museum. They gave him the opportunity to watch his mother get the vaccine, and then took him to a sensory room in the facility where they watched wrestling (WWE) together. Getting him comfortable was a process that took nearly an hour, but the end result was a child who received his vaccine willingly, and left having had a positive experience. “The coolest thing is seeing the parents’ responses,” said Hoops. “They were so happy because they were not expecting the vaccination experience to go as well as it did.”
The procedures Hoops and our other clinicians at LEARN used are all evidence-based practices commonly used in applied behavior analysis (ABA) called “antecedent interventions.” Frequently, interfering behaviors (like screaming or bolting from a doctor) occur because the child is trying to escape from something uncomfortable or scary. Antecedent interventions are meant to create an environment that the child doesn’t want to escape from. “We’re trying to create a positive experience so when they go in for their next vaccine, they’re not going to be afraid,” says Hoops.
The most groundbreaking component of these vaccine clinics was it was not the medical professional who decided when it was time for the shot, nor was it the parent. It was the child. In addition to using antecedent interventions, our WEAP clinicians also had the medical professionals hold off on the procedure itself until the child had indicated they were willing to receive the vaccine – something known as “gaining assent.”
Assent, having a pediatric patient agree to treatment, is a practice that has been required for medical research since 1977, citing the need to respect children as individuals. Since then, some practitioners have extended assent procedures to their regular pediatric practice, asking for the child’s permission before they listen to their heart, for instance. The new BACB ethics code includes a provision for “gaining assent when applicable,” and proponents argue that Assent-Based ABA prevents difficult behavior and teaches children critical self-advocacy skills. The ability to determine what is and is not comfortable and acceptable for oneself is particularly important for children who struggle to use language, or who are at higher risk of being misunderstood because they are autistic. At LEARN, Assent-Based Programming is one part of our overall Person-Centered ABA Initiative.
Although Assent-Based practice doesn’t guarantee that every child will eventually agree to the procedure (2 children of the 73 children in the clinic did not assent to the vaccine), it was overwhelmingly successful. The impact was evident in the enthusiastic responses from parents afterward. One parent wrote, “Thank you for the BEST vaccination experience ever! Our family was overjoyed to have been part of this clinic.”
LEARN is proud to announce that WEAP and ASGW are planning on expanding their vaccine clinics to regular children’s vaccines in the coming year. For more information, check out the ASGW’s website.
Kerry Hoops, MA, BCBA, is the clinical director for Wisconsin Early Autism Project’s Green Bay region. Kerry began her career helping children with autism over 20 years ago when she was attending UWGB for her bachelor’s in psychology and human development. She fell in love with the job and chose to work in the field of autism as her career. Kerry furthered her education at the Florida Institute of Technology and Ball State University with a master’s in applied behavior analysis and became a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). She loves helping children and families in Wisconsin and internationally in Malaysia. Kerry also works at the Greater Green Bay YMCA for the DREAM program, focusing on events for socialization for adults with special needs. She has been on the board of directors for the Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin since 2014 and is the acting president.
LEARN more about LEARN’s Person-Centered ABA Initiative. And, to stay connected, join our newsletter.
Voices for All: Ash Franks Talks about Supporting Autistic People While Being Autistic and Her Role on LEARN’s New Neurodiversity Advisory Committee
In September 2020, LEARN convened a group of neurodivergent staff to form our Neurodivergent Advisory Committee. The committee reviews and gives feedback on matters relating to neurodiversity and other person-centered ABA topics and was instrumental in the content, messaging, and visual design of LEARN’s Neurodiversity Values Statement. We asked Ash Franks, a member of the Neurodivergent Advisory Committee, to share her thoughts with us.
HI, ASH! FIRST, I’D LIKE TO ASK YOU WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU TO BE AN AUTISTIC PERSON SUPPORTING OTHER AUTISTIC PEOPLE?
Supporting other autistic people while being autistic means listening to what they have to say, however they communicate it, whether it be through an AAC device, sign language, PECS, or verbal language. It also means giving them breaks if they need it, and allowing them to use tools to cope (e.g. stuffed animals, headphones, weighted blankets, etc.). Looking back on my experiences as an autistic child has been very helpful in trying to help children who are at AST.
HOW DOES BEING AUTISTIC INSPIRE YOUR WORK IN ABA?
Being autistic allows me to see different perspectives and ideas compared to neurotypical people, as they tend to think differently than I do.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE NEURODIVERGENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE AND HOW IT WORKS.
Basically, we are trying to re-vamp ABA materials through a more neurodivergent-friendly lens, so we can make our treatment as effective as possible. Having autistic people and other neurodivergent people look at ABA therapy through their eyes allows them to explain what works and what doesn’t work. This way, we can work to have treatment be as effective, safe, and as fun as possible for everyone involved. Having BCBAs see the autistic perspective is important because we have direct experience with what worked for us growing up versus what didn’t and might be able to help streamline the treatment to be as effective as possible.
CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF SOME FEEDBACK YOU HAVE GIVEN IN YOUR ROLE ON THE COMMITTEE?
I tend to give feedback on the more artistic and creative side of things, as I am very geared towards having an eye for creative things in the world.
FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO INCLUDE AUTISTIC PERSPECTIVES IN OUR FIELD?
Including autistic people in ABA is super important because we need to account for neurodivergent perspectives to make treatment as effective as possible. Since I am autistic, I can give a firsthand account of what has personally worked for me throughout my life, and what hasn’t. I myself was never in ABA therapy growing up, but I did other types of therapies that I also have found helpful from time to time.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER PLACES IN OUR SOCIETY THAT YOU THINK IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO LISTEN TO THE AUTISTIC PERSPECTIVE?
I think listening to autistic perspectives in the workplace would be very helpful. I think having a quiet room for staff that has sensory toys specific for staff would be very helpful, also maybe including a comfy place to sit with a weighted blanket would be good too. Another place it would be helpful to listen to autistic people is when it comes to shopping at malls, since malls can be overwhelming for most autistic people. I know some stores have “quiet” shopping hours where they reduce the lighting and turn off the music, and I really wish more places would do this.
ASH, THANK YOU FOR YOUR THOUGHTS AND FOR THE EXCELLENT WORK YOU’RE DOING ON THE NEURODIVERGENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE!
Ash Franks is a Behavior Technician for Learn Behavioral. Ash works in AST’s Hillsboro, Oregon location. Outside of work, she enjoys photography, cooking, video games, and spending time with family and friends.
What is Contemporary ABA?
RONIT MOLKO, PH.D., BCBA-D
STRATEGIC ADVISOR, LEARN BEHAVIORAL
It has been said that history is written by the victors. The colonists won the American Revolution, and so the war has been cast as a noble struggle to escape the yolk of tyranny. Had the British won, history books today would memorialize the conflict as the empire’s rescue from the clutches of ungrateful rebels.
Likewise, able-bodied people comprise the dominant culture in America; thus, we define “normal” along the contours of able-bodied activities. We consider, for example, an autistic mind or a visual impairment that enhances other senses to be of diminished value. In fact, they may simply be different ways of understanding and interacting with the world.
For many of the 60+ million Americans who have some kind of disability, this is a challenge. They are forced to fit their round life into the square hole of able-bodied culture despite the ease with which culture could accommodate everyone, including those with disabilities.
Ableism and Ableist Misconceptions
The inability of the able-bodied to recognize that not everyone is like them has given rise to a new label – ableism. This is the equivalent of the racism White Americans exhibit by failing to recognize the advantages they have versus people of color. We must be attentive to eliminating assumptions that reflect an able-bodied view of the world that does not pertain to everyone.
People with disabilities tell me that ableist thinking includes a variety of knee-jerk assumptions and misconceptions, including this one: that people with disabilities have no autonomy and constantly need help, even if they don’t ask for it.
Another version of this is the idea that people with disabilities must constantly explain themselves, for example by detailing how they became disabled, or that they have average or superior intelligence even though they do not communicate verbally. It is also an ableist misconception that all disabilities are visible. This perpetuates stigmatization and mistreatment of people with mental illness, which is, after all, no different from physical impairment except that it affects the brain. Taken together, these false ableist impressions accrue as barriers to inclusion and equity for disabled people.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), considered by many to be the gold standard of treatment for autism, has as its ultimate goal providing autistic individuals with the skills to function at their highest potential and live as independently as possible. The field of ABA has decades of empirical evidence to support its efficacy in teaching new and necessary skills and reducing challenging behaviors that interfere with learning.
Recently, ABA has increasingly become the target of much controversy as self-advocates are speaking up about their personal experiences with ABA and the rejection of the notion that teaching autistic individuals the skills we deem necessary without their input and self-determination is erroneous. Some advocates for this community argue that independence without happiness is a hollow goal, and that autistic individuals should decide what outcome they want to achieve. Becoming as much like everyone else as possible may not be it.
ABA, which is essentially the science of good teaching, has a long history and was originally developed in the 1960s by a group of researchers at the University of Washington. ABA was used to treat individuals with developmental disabilities and initially was a rigid, highly-structured and teacher-directed program which led to some of the negative experiences and associations with ABA. Historically, for example, ABA was used to reduce or eliminate “stimming” – repetitive physical movements and sounds that may soothe and reduce anxiety. We now better understand that stimming helps autistic individuals manage their sensory processing and their environments.
Just like in other areas of medicine and science, the field of ABA has advanced in a significant and meaningful way to become a play-based, naturalistic, family-focused and individualized, contemporary treatment that is tailored to the unique needs and goals of each individual. Another hallmark of a good ABA program is the collection and reporting of data to demonstrate efficacy. Most payors today require providers to demonstrate success, validated by parents, of the participant measured by obtaining and maintaining goals that are developed by the provider and family together. If your service provider is not providing a program that fits this description, you are likely not in the hands of a provider who is adhering to best and current practices.
As the ABA provider community has the opportunity to learn from more adults, something that was not available when this science was first being applied to autism, there are more and more opportunities to adjust and modify services to meet the needs to each individual. The idea that we discard a technology that has successfully treated thousands of individuals because of negative experiences is akin to suggesting that we eliminate an entire specialty of medicine because of some failures of treatment. Having said that, service should always be informed by the individual receiving them, and their advocates who have their best interests at heart.
Every negative experience is unacceptable and should be heard so that changes can be made to ensure an optimal experience for future clients. Good ABA programs are client-centered and solicit the consent and input of all involved. As you consider treatment for your family member or yourself, do your research and ask your provider the important questions:
o Will I participate in determining the goals of treatment for myself/ my child?
o How are your staff trained?
o How is my child’s program developed? Do all clients receive the same program or are they individualized?
o Will there be parent goals as part of my child’s program?
o How often is my child’s program modified or revised?
o How is data collected and reported? How often will I see data on my child’s progress?
Your child’s program should be client-centered and future looking which means that your family and relevant caregivers are providing input into your child’s strengths and challenges, and that you and your child are helping to guide the goals of his/her program based on your preferences and needs.
The science of ABA has a long history with decades of research to support its development and evolution. While ABA is most widely known in its application to autism, ABA was developed, and has been applied, to address many circumstances regarding behavior that matter to society. ABA is applied in many different areas including mental health, animal training, organizational behavior management, marketing, forensics, sports, and physical health, to name a few. Just as other areas of science and medicine advance and application of treatments change, so has the field of ABA. Many lives have been impacted by ABA for the better. It is incumbent upon the professional community to listen, learn, and evolve its practice so that their services are as relevant and effective as possible. After all, the purpose of ABA is to help consumers of these services achieve goals they define as meaningful and helpful.