Autism is a complex neurological disorder affecting millions of people around the world. While it cannot be cured, it can be managed. With early diagnosis and early intensive intervention, nearly 50% of children with Autism can be taught to the mainstream, allowing them to lead fulfilling, independent lives. Even if mainstreaming is not possible, with proper implementation, ABA can help over 90% of children make substantial gains (Lovaas, O. I. 1987).
Autism affects the way the brain processes information. It impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. This makes learning based on standard methods of teaching, through which a typical developing child learns, very difficult. People with Autism often exhibit behaviors and other impairments that may be difficult to address. Common deficits include:
• Impaired language and communication skills
• Impaired social skills
• Severe behavioral issues, including repetitive behavior
Teaching people with Autism is a very time-consuming and painstaking process. Due to the way in which they process information, very basic skills must be broken down to their most finite steps, with each step being taught individually, in order for the person to fully learn the skill. Although it requires a significant amount of time to teach a person with Autism, it is only through this kind of rigor that will lead to the person obtaining the level of functioning that of a typically developing peer.
This is where ABA comes in. ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis is an extremely rigorous and systematic method that uses behavioral principles to modify behavior. In simple terms, the goal of ABA is to use well-defined techniques (or strategies) to decrease undesirable behavior and increase desirable or targeted behaviors (skills). The power of ABA is in its evidence-based results. Ole Ivar Lovaas, dubbed as the grandfather of ABA, proved that with early intervention and intensive behavioral therapy, children, regardless of where they fall on the Autism Spectrum, can achieve 47% success (defined by Lovaas as being “indistinguishable from their peers”).
ABA intervention, although highly effective, is very a laborious and time-consuming intervention to implement. Because of the unique way in which a person with Autism learns, often, intensive one-on-one therapy (35 hours or more per week) is required in order to achieve optimal results. Depending upon the child’s progress, the number of hours of intervention required may be decreased and the programming setting changed from one-on-one intervention to group settings.
Another significant factor in ABA intervention is the need for customized programming. To be able to efficiently and effectively treat a child with Autism, areas of skill deficits need to be identified, a treatment plan developed, and a detailed curriculum created and constantly monitored (and modified as frequently as needed) to ensure that the child is always making progress. Considering all these factors, it is not surprising that the estimated cost of an intensive ABA program can exceed $50,000 per year. Methods can be put in place to reduce the financial burden and to increase the effectiveness of ABA intervention, however, this is ONLY possible with proper implementation. Direct care staff, clinical experts, educators, parents, and support staff all properly informed and trained on a uniform methodology can generate the best outcomes for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Lovaas, I. O. (1987). “Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children”. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 3-9.
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