• Cory Morrison

OPINION: ABA is often an effective therapy

Updated: Jun 13

What is Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)?


Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) has proved to be an effective therapy for people with autism. According to Autism Speaks, ABA is a therapy based on learning and behavioural science. Behavioural analysis helps people understand how behaviour works, how the environment affects behaviour and how learning happens. ABA's goal is to improve helpful behaviours and decrease harmful behaviours.


What are ABA's effective strategies?


According to Applied Behavioural Analysis Programs Guide, strategies ABA uses to improve learning and outcomes include:

  • Behaviour contracts: Therapists list a positive behaviour and remind the student what to do to get a reward.

  • Errorless teaching: Instructors can use hints to prevent errors from happening.

  • Generalization: Therapists can observe what a child has learned in one setting and help apply it to another.

  • Prompting: Therapists may use cues to help students understand what they are supposed to do.

  • Picture exchange communication systems: Students can pick a picture to express what they want or how they feel until vocabulary improves.

  • Peer-mediate social skills training: Instructors can involve other children as models for appropriate behaviour.

  • Positive and negative reinforcement: Positive reinforcement occurs when a therapist rewards a student for doing the right thing. For example, "You get a jelly bean for saying thank you." Negative reinforcement happens when a therapist punishes a student for doing the wrong thing. An example would be, "Since you're not sharing, there will be no ice cream this afternoon."

  • Task analysis: Instructors learn about a student instead of correcting or praising behaviours. The therapists can then assess what they can do to make future activities easier for them.

  • Video modeling: Visual learners may especially benefit from this one. Therapists can show students videos involving appropriate behaviours to remind them of what to and what not to do.

This video by the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association shows an ABA session involving verbal reasoning skills.



ABA also focuses on a child's unique abilities and challenges rather than using just one approach or concentrate on one problematic symptom. A therapy that focuses on a particular person can make a big difference.


What are the positive outcomes from ABA?


According to Autism Speaks Canada, many studies including age ranges from preschoolers to adults skills which ABA has helped people with autism increase, but are not limited to:

  • Conversing

  • Functioning in school

  • Gaining employment

  • Imitating

  • Looking

  • Listening

  • Participation in community and family activities

  • Play

  • Reading others

  • Self-care

  • Social relationships and

  • Understanding people's perspectives.

According to Sprout, despite past controversies with ABA, medical research has shown that modern ABA approaches work well for most people on the spectrum. For example, one peer-reviewed study indicated that 17 out of 21 ABA children who had got 35 to 40 hours of ABA per week took regular education instead of special education.

This video by the Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers outlines successes families have had with ABA.



What may convince people that ABA isn't effective?


Some parents may argue that ABA doesn't allow a person to be themselves. Depending on the family and individual's situation, while some may be uncomfortable with adapting to normal behaviour and feel fine the way they are, others may be willing to learn. ABA can still be helpful if therapists do it correctly and present it in a non-abusive, fun manner to the student. Students may also want to achieve normal behaviour this way.


How can people look at ABA?


People can look at ABA as a human behaviour course. This course can be a stepping stone for children and their parents who eventually want to achieve milestones their peers can accomplish. If one feels like they can't perform many things their peers can, it isn't a great feeling. Early intervention can ensure this may limit these feelings.


Overall, ABA is an effective therapy, which has helped improve many lives on the spectrum.


RELATED: Providing the missing link with ABA

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