Behavioral Therapy

What’s the sciene behind behavioral therapy? Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science and psychology behind your autistic child’s behavioral therapy. It’s not hypnosis, drug therapy, shock treatment or anything like that. It doesn’t involve needles, knives, electricity or strapping your child down. ABA could be just as easily applied to your neighbor or your spouse to affect their behavior. And Applied Behavior Analysis will certainly be a part of your child’s autism treatments. I’ve heard ABA called behavior modification more than once, and both are pretty much the same thing.

As they pertain to behavior the terms modeling, shaping, extinction, positive reinforcement, stimuli, and more originate in Applied Behavior Analysis. You’ll hear many of those terms and see many of them in action during your child’s behavioral therapy and some of these concepts will be used in his speech therapy.

Behavioral therapy will often use the principles of ABA. And at home you’ll learn to use many aspects of ABA yourself. In fact, you may not realize it but you’re already using them. For instance, let’s say Jimmy purposefully burps loudly at the dinner table. His brothers laugh and smile and give him attention every time, reinforcing the behavior. So, naturally, Jimmy burps loudly again. This time you tell his siblings not to laugh, but to just continue eating their food and ignore him. So Jimmy burps again, and notices that nobody is laughing. The laughter and attention Jimmy was getting was the reinforcer or the reason he burped at the dinner table. Now that his brothers don’t laugh at his burping Jimmy stops burping or at least does it less often. When a previously reinforced behavior (the burping) is no longer reinforced (laughing and attention), and it’s rate of occurrence decreases, this is known as extinction. Yes, the fact that no more Sabertooth Tigers exist on our planet is also due to extinction, but don’t get confused!
Autism symptometer guage
…Measured in meltdowns per hour. Haha!

Behavioral therapy may be used to increase or decrease any behavior. My son Braden, who has autism, grabs and hits people when he gets frustrated. We don’t want him hitting people, especially other children, so one goal in his IEP has been to use behavioral therapy to decrease his hitting. At the same time we want to teach him what to do instead of hitting that allows him to express his frustration. We don’t want him to feel frustrated so naturally we’re working to allieviate that as well. So when he uses words to tell us he’s getting mad we use positive reinforcement, like perhaps letting him do a preferred activity, in an attempt to get him to continue to talk in those circumstances rather than lash out at someone.

To accurately guage whether a behavior is increasing or decreasing baseline data must first be established. Baseline data are measures of the level of behavior as it occurs naturally, before intervention or therapy. Using my son’s hitting as an example, let’s say he hits people 5 to 6 times throughout a typical day. The behaviorist would observe that and conclude the baseline to be “Braden hits 5 or 6 times per day.” Now with the baseline data established the therapist will be able to determine the affect of the therapy by collecting data and charting progress.

Up until age 3 behavior therapy for my son Braden took place in our home. Therapists came out to work him for about 1.5 hours each day of the week. Therapy in the home is their natural environment. And it’s important for autistic children to receive services in their natural environment because it’s often hard for them to understand that the same behaviors are expected of them at home and at school and everywhere else. On the other hand socialization is also important and children don’t get much of that when they’re kept at home.

After age 3 Braden’s therapy was clinic based. Your autistic child’s clinic based behavioral therapy will look much like a controlled and nicely structured play session. To help with socialization other children with autism may be involved. It’s a win-win situation for all.