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What is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based approach to help clients gain new skills and/or address challenging behaviors across environments so that they may become more involved and independent both with their families and in their communities.
ABA research dates back to the 1950s. However, a study in the 1980s on an intensive, 40 hours/week ABA program stands as the first, most influential publication supporting ABA programming. Others have replicated these findings using the same teaching strategies. Currently, research supports ABA intervention as the most effective treatment for autism spectrum disorders.
In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded: "Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior." In 2012, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described ABA to be "a notable treatment approach for ASD" that has become "widely accepted among health care professionals." Also in 2012, the American Psychological Association reported: "The field of applied behavior analysis has grown substantially in the past decade, enabling more children with autism and their families to obtain needed services. This growth appears to be related to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and to the recognition of the effectiveness of behavior analytic services."
Given this extensive research, almost all states have now passed insurance mandates that require coverage of ABA for those diagnosed with autism. It is important to note, however, that ABA has also been proven beneficial for individuals with various disabilities and across all ages. ABA interventions can help with many different challenges, ranging from sleep disturbances to teaching vocational and toileting skills.
ABA can look very different based on a number of factors: where it is being implemented (e.g., school vs. home), what skills are being taught, the client's current skills, etc. Although ABA is typically thought of as a structured, one-on-one teaching strategy, it is also utilized in the client's natural environment to ensure that skills are as functional and meaningful as possible.
Below are links with additional information about ABA along with a video, created by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, that provides an overview of the history and many uses of ABA.
Sources: Lovaas (1987), Sallows & Graupner (2005),
France & Hudson (1990), Pennington et al. (2014), Azrin & Foxx (1971)
Learn about what is required to become an ABA therapist and find a credentialed therapist in your area.
Read results from a comprehensive review of literature on effective interventions for autism (2009/2015).
Receive ongoing, up-to-date information on evidence-based treatments for autism as well as other helpful resources for parents and professionals.
Become familiar with how ABA therapy should look in practice along with the basics of insurance billing.
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