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Nine Myths About ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis can be a subject of disagreement among the community of people with autism and their families. Certainly, anyone who found ABA unhelpful or detrimental should be listened to and have their concerns taken seriously; however, many concerns about ABA are not relevant to how ABA is currently practiced, but rather to how it was used in the past.

ABA has come a long way since its inception and has grown and developed as the research has progressed. Because approaches have changed, let’s look at some common misconceptions about ABA and try to clear them up.

ABA is for young children only.

It is certainly true that childhood is an ideal learning time as the developing brain can more quickly create new neural pathways, and that is why children often learn new languages faster than adults, but it’s by no means true that it’s only for children. ABA techniques have been successfully used by adults and older children.

ABA is synonymous with Discrete Trial Instruction

Discrete Trial Instruction is a teaching strategy that is used in ABA. It usually involves an instructor asking questions and rewarding correct answers (e.g., pointing at the correct card) with a positive reinforcer (i.e., a small item that increases behavior). While this is all done in keeping with ABA concepts, it’s not the whole of ABA, which encompasses more than Discrete Trial Instruction such as naturalistic teaching strategies, Pivotal Response Training, or Applied Verbal Behavior approach, among others

ABA is only for very impaired individuals with autism

ABA is used to help a wide variety of people with autism. Because it is individualized to incorporate areas of strength and areas of weakness specific to each child, it can help individuals who fall anywhere on the autism spectrum.

ABA is only utilized for the short term

The treatment an individual receives in ABA is centered around their goals and needs. Just like each person is different the length of time that they will benefit from ABA treatment can greatly vary. ABA therapy may not be needed forever, but the tools and strategies used can last a lifetime.

ABA only teaches actions and responses, but not the reasons behind them.

This misconception comes from the fact that some forms of ABA training teach things like eye contact or rote interactions like asking, “How are you?” and always responding, “I’m fine.” It’s also true that social interactions should be taught within the contexts they’ll be used, but all kinds of learning, even at home, involve a certain amount of rote repetition and memorization, and a proper ABA program will teach the reasons and proper contexts for certain behaviors, not just the actions themselves.

ABA makes children robotic.

The goal of ABA when working with learners with Autism is to give them the social and communication skills to express their personalities, needs, preferences, and enable independence, not to try to turn them into robots with rigid behaviors.

ABA is always delivered in restricted spaces like cubbies.

Most ABA programs do involve some table or cubby work, but there are always other components. A successful program involves play and work at the table, around the house, at school, in the backyard, in group play sessions, and basically, anywhere the child goes. Making sure children enjoy their learning time is essential to a program’s success.

ABA is cold and impersonal.

This is sometimes also stated as “ABA is just dog training for people.” ABA is a methodology for understanding individuals feelings and motivations , and using those insights to help learners make better choices. It’s only to be expected that adults and children working to develop new behaviors would have some points in common with training pets, but the important thing is what’s different. ABA programs work on communication and complex emotions far beyond what animal trainers use.

ABA is not financially accessible.

Many ABA providers (including Beyond Boundaries) accept a wide range of insurance carriers to help families avoid having to pay out-of-pocket. We want to make ABA as accessible for as many families as possible.

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