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How Does Applied Behavior Analysis Help People With Autism?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an established and proven method for helping children and adults modify undesirable behaviors, including individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The techniques used in ABA are derived from scientific observation and analysis of human behavior. It usually takes a personalized process-based approach that incorporates various aspects of the subject’s domestic and social life. There are several ways practical application of behavior analysis can help people diagnosed with autism or other disorders that produce behavioral issues.

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Direct Behavior Modification

Rather than delving into the complex mental or developmental aspects of undesirable behaviors, applied behavior analysts focus their attention on present needs. ABA typically addresses undesirable behaviors, like disobedience or violent outbursts, by focusing on the specific stimuli, actions and consequences surrounding each event. Direct behavior modification based on operant conditioning is one of the few proven methods for reliably reducing the frequency of negative behaviors and increasing the rate of positive ones. It is highly flexible and can be targeted to address specific types of behavioral issues based on personal and environmental factors.

Learning and Skill Acquisition

The processes and techniques used in ABA aren’t just effective for changing socially unacceptable or dangerous behaviors, they can also be applied to help subjects acquire new skills. Some individuals diagnosed with severe forms of autism struggle to perform essential activities of daily living (ADLs), which makes it difficult for them to live independently. Behavior analysts can use discrete trial training and other therapy methods to help subjects build towards advanced skills incrementally, ranging from maintaining personal hygiene to writing by hand.

Personalized Treatment Strategy

Another reason ABA is such an effective treatment strategy for individuals with autism is that it can be completely personalized to fit each person. Behavior analysts examine all factors currently contributing to behavioral issues, including influences at home and school. They also devote a substantial amount of time to observation of the subject, so they can identify potential triggers and catalysts. Building a personalized program helps analysts prioritize their treatment to emphasize issues that have the biggest impact on quality of life.

A Measurable Path to Improvement

Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of applied behavior analysis is that it provides a quantifiable measure of success. Since therapy targets specific behaviors and addresses them over time, practitioners can ascertain the rate of progress towards specific goals. This helps subjects and their families develop a long-term plan with achievable steps, which makes the prospect of improvement a realistic goal. Quantifying progress also allows the psychologist to adjust the course of therapy to find methods that provide the best results, according to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

While there are many different opinions regarding diagnosis and treatment of behavioral disorders, there is little doubt that ABA is an effective tool for producing tangible results. There are many ways that applied behavior analysis helps with people autism overcome mental, social and emotional obstacles that hinder their overall development and life engagement.