What is ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy for Autism?


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that teaches skills and behaviors through reinforcement. It is commonly known as the "gold standard" treatment for autism.

Many people support ABA because of its success in helping people with autism learn behaviors and skills. Others find it too difficult for children and force them to submit to other people's notions of "normal" behavior.

This article looks at how ABA works and what the pros and cons are.

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What is ABA Therapy?

ABA is a type of autism therapy that helps reinforce desired behaviors and discourages unwanted behaviors. To do this, therapists use rewards to encourage communication, language, and other skills.

There are several different types of ABA, depending on the age of the patient and the goals of therapy. It was created in the 1960s by psychologist Dr. Ivar Lovaas, but the methods used have evolved over the years.


Dr. Ivar Lovaas, a behavioral psychologist, pioneered ABA for the treatment of autism. He believed that children with autism could be taught social and behavioral skills.

His idea was that autism is a set of behavioral symptoms that can be changed or "extinguished." When autistic behavior was no longer evident, it was assumed that autism could be effectively treated.

Back then, the ABA also provided penalties for non-compliance, some of which could be very severe, including electric shock. Today, the ABA sanctions are not enforced and are considered morally unacceptable.

In general, "punishment" was replaced by "retention of prize". For example, a child who does not respond appropriately to a command ( command ) will not be rewarded with his favorite food.

Over time, therapists have studied and modified the Lovaasa technique, also called "cautious learning by trial." Today, therapists do not seek to cure autism, but to help patients learn to live fully and independently. The methods focus not only on behavior, but also on social and emotional skills.


ABA therapy was started by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, a behavioral psychologist. Therapy has evolved over the years, eliminating punishment and focusing on rewarding desired behavior.

Types of ABA strategies

Therapists can use different ABA techniques. Some examples of ABA strategies include:

  • Discrete Trial Learning – The Lovaas Technique divides lessons into simple tasks. Each task is rewarded with positive reinforcement for correct behavior.
  • Denver Early Beginning Model: For children 12 to 48 months of age, this therapy includes games and collaborative activities to help children with language, cognitive and social skills.
  • Basic Response Training: Children's main goals are to start a conversation with others, increase their motivation to learn, and control their own behavior.
  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention: For children under the age of 5, this therapy helps develop positive behavior and reduce unwanted behavior. Therapy sessions are conducted one-on-one with a trained therapist.

Advantages and disadvantages of ABA

Many healthcare professionals recommend ABA for its successful work in helping people with autism improve certain skills.

However, the therapy has also come under fire from some, including parents and autism advocates. It is concerning that therapy does not show respect for the person with autism.


ABA proponents point to the following benefits:

  • Research shows that it helps develop behavioral skills. Research has shown that ABA therapy is effective in helping people with autism acquire skills. For example, one study found that the Denver Early Start model helped children improve IQ and behavior. It also reduced the severity of her autism diagnosis.
  • ABA can be used to teach both simple and complex skills. For example, ABA can be used to reward children for brushing their teeth properly or for sharing toys with friends.
  • Provides parents with strategies for teaching children at home. ABA helps parents lead learning and measure progress. For example, you can help parents teach a language by breaking it down into syllables instead of whole words.
  • This shows that children with autism can learn. ABA helps children with autism show that they can learn and change their behavior. For some, this may include teaching them to sleep through the night or helping them learn to make friends.


Although punishment is no longer a part of ABA therapy, critics say the therapy can still be too harsh for people with autism. Some of ABA's criticisms include:

  • ABA focuses on behavior problems. Critics say therapists focus more on stopping what they perceive as behavior problems rather than developing skills like speaking.
  • Therapy tries to make children "normal." Another criticism is that therapy tries to get children to behave like everyone else. By telling children that their natural behavior is wrong, such as waving their arms or not staying still, they can ignore their own needs.
  • You are limited in what you can teach. ABA is not intended to develop emotional skills. For example, ABA can teach a child to shake hands or greet another person. However, this will not help this child feel an emotional connection to the other person.

Some of these problems have caused changes in therapy over the years. For example, ABA therapists focus on behavior change rather than a person's feelings or thoughts. The goal is to help people be as independent as possible, not to try to "fix" them.


ABA research shows that children with autism can acquire behavioral skills. However, critics also say that it is disrespectful to children, telling them that their natural behavior is wrong.

How ABA works

The most basic ABA therapy begins with "discrete trial" therapy. The discrete tests consist of the therapist asking the child about a specific behavior, such as taking a spoon.

If the child obeys, he receives a reward. It can be a gift, a high-five, or any other reward that means something to the child. If the child does not obey, he does not receive a reward and the test is repeated.

Therapy is based on the individual child, their needs and abilities. Therefore, a child who already knows how to sort shapes will not be asked to sort shapes indefinitely for a reward. They would focus on other more complex social or behavioral tasks.

Younger children (up to 3 years old) receive a modified form of ABA, which is much closer to play therapy. After practice, therapists introduce children to real-world conditions to use the habits they have learned.

ABA can also be used with older children, adolescents, and even adults. Many therapists also use ABA in vivo, such as playgrounds, cafeterias, and public spaces. This makes it easy for patients to immediately use acquired skills in a real-life situation.

ABA therapy timeline

Your therapist will help you plan your therapy sessions, including the goals and duration of the session.

The therapist will begin with an evaluation to look at the patient's medical history and previous procedures. Family members will be interviewed to learn more about your treatment goals. The therapist will also observe the patient during the first session. They will continue to periodically assess progress towards goals.

ABA therapy can be performed in a variety of settings, including home, school, residential programs, and community settings. Parents will also be trained to assist the patient in a variety of settings.

The number of hours of therapy will depend on the goals of the treatment. ABA treatments typically last 10 to 25 hours a week. Some severe programs may take longer hours.

ABA treatments can cost $ 125 an hour for an ABA-certified physician. Check with your insurance company to see if the costs are covered. Some states require insurers to cover ABA therapy.

Patients are generally seen every few months to determine how long treatment should be continued. Generally, the program will gradually reduce the number of services until the end of therapy.


ABA therapy can last 10 to 25 hours a week. Patients are examined regularly to determine how long therapy should be continued.

When to stop ABA therapy

According to the Council of Autism Treatment Providers, ABA therapy should be reviewed or stopped if:

  • The patient has achieved his goals in the program.
  • The patient does not meet the criteria for autism.
  • The patient does not show any progress in the program for several periods.
  • The family and the provider cannot resolve major problems in the treatment plan.

ABA can be beneficial for many people with autism, but not necessarily for everyone. Talk to your doctor or therapist about any concerns you have and how to switch to other treatments if necessary.


Research shows that ABA therapy can be effective in reinforcing desired behaviors in people with autism. However, some say that you are trying to change behavior without respecting the needs of the person with autism. Over time, this therapy has evolved, with less emphasis on treating autism and more on helping people live independently.

Get the word of drug information

Like many other approaches to autism, ABA certainly deserves a try. Before starting, make sure your child's therapist is trained and knows how and where they will work with your child. Work with your therapist to set measurable goals. Monitor the process and results carefully.

The most important thing is to know how your child is responding to the therapist and therapy. Does your child get excited when working with a therapist? Does your child respond to the therapist with smiles and interest? Is your child learning skills that help him in daily life?

If the answer is yes, you are heading in the right direction. If not, it's time to reconsider.

Frequently asked questions

  • ABA therapy can help teach behaviors and social skills to children with autism. Use rewards to reinforce desired behaviors and change unwanted behaviors. Therapists can tailor ABA therapy to individual needs and goals.

  • Many autistic adults who received ABA therapy as children say that the treatment is harmful. It has been described as conformity training that forces children to ignore their instincts. A 2019 study found that people who received ABA therapy were 86% more likely to meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

  • ABA therapy is time consuming. Although the specific therapy varies from child to child, the number of hours of therapy is typically 10 to 25 hours per week. The child's therapist will review the child's condition every few months to determine how long therapy should continue.

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