What is ABA therapy and why is it controversial?

Understanding ABA therapy

Applied behaviour analysis therapy is often referred to as ABA therapy or even just behaviour therapy.

It’s an evidence-based, effective form of therapy to help kids learn necessary, positive skills and reduce problematic behaviour.

Designed and developed to understand the individual client for lasting, effecting positive behaviour change this form of therapy is commonly used for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What’s involved in ABA therapy

Safe and evidence-based

ABA therapy is a proven, evidence-based therapy that is safe. At One Central Health, for example, all of our behaviour therapists are professional, trained clinicians who implement clinically designed programs. These programs are applied and adjusted according to direct observation by the therapist within the clinical, professional setting.

Behaviour improvement

ABA therapy is designed to improve a child’s social skills and/or reduce harmful behaviours that can affect them and others around them. From increasing levels of attention to reducing aggression, screaming and other forms of negative behaviour, this therapy includes a variety of techniques and methods to achieve the goals of the client and their parents.

Play-based therapy

Communication and play are very important parts of ABA therapy. To an outsider, therapy sessions can look like just regular play. However, this form of therapy involves the building, developing and encouraging of fundamental and basic skills through natural intervention treatments.

The theory behind it

The theory behind the design and development of ABA therapy is that people, children included, are all influenced by the events we experience and environmental stimuli we encounter. Because of this, positive consequences and experiences promote positive behaviour.

Why is ABA therapy controversial?

ABA therapy, like Autism Spectrum Disorder, is subject to a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings. Due to this, using it remains a controversial issue in many parts of Australia and around the world.

The controversy is understandable because there are many aspects of behaviour therapy that used to be true in the past but are no longer true.

Additionally, there is a certain stigma due to its association with the mental institutions of the past. Much like the unfortunate and unfair stigmas associated with mental health, autism, and therapy in general, this preconception is deeply misguided and inaccurate.

ABA therapy has developed and evolved in many positive, effective ways. Here are just important notes to bear in mind.

Focus on positive behaviour

In the past, ABA therapy used to use punishments for negative behaviour in addition to rewards for positive behaviour. This is simply no longer a feature of the therapy.

No more repetitious behaviour

Another reputation ABA therapy has struggled to shake is the thought that it includes the use of overly repetitious behaviour and activities. Nowadays, therapy is individualised, engaging, fun and interesting.

Building skills

ABA therapy today includes not just the eliminating of aggressive, negative or anti-social behaviour but the focus on building positive, social skills as well.

Reflecting a more wholesome understanding of autism

In the past, some practitioners were thought to attempt to use techniques to stop certain actions or behaviours of autistic people which were calming, enjoyable or of benefit to them. Whether this used to be practiced or not, it’s most definitely not a feature of behaviour therapy today.

The development of ABA therapy

Over the past few decades, ABA therapy has continued to develop. The shift continues towards reinforcement and function- based, positive therapy that is backed by evidence and strictly regulated. This is diametrically opposed to the controversial perception some people have about this therapy.

Completely safe

While it should be obvious by now, ABA therapy does not use punishments or force at all.

Part of the process of eliminating or reducing bad behaviour may cause short term discomfort for a child. After all, they may want to kick and scream, and the therapist is helping them to reduce such activities. But at no point are children and clients harmed, forced or compromise in terms of safety and wellbeing. ABA therapy is a gradual process of slow, caring and considerate desensitisation to the stimuli or factors which are otherwise intolerable for them.

What it REALLY is:

  • Safe.
  • Fun.
  • Effective.
  • Engaging.
  • Natural.
  • Positive.
  • Professional.
  • Widely used.
  • Data based.
  • Highly beneficial.
  • Well researched and backed by evidence.
  • Subject to high standards and regulation of practice.
  • Closely monitored.
  • Continuously adapted according to the client’s needs, situation and goals and what works.
  • About establishing a positive connection and bond between the therapist and the client as well as their support network, family etc.

What it REALLY includes:

  • The professional assessment of a child’s skills, behaviour and difficulties.
  • The setting of goals and objectives to enhance the client’s life and improve their positive behaviour.
  • The designing and implementing of an individualised therapy program.
  • The measuring of the progress and effectiveness of the program.
  • The ongoing evaluation of the therapy program and the adapting when necessary.

Find out more today

If you’d like to know more about ABA therapy at One Central Health or any of our other service, please contact us today.

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