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ABA Therapy

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is the method of teaching that we chose for Tristan based on its extensive scientific research and positive results www.lovaas.com. A 1987 study of 19 children with autism found that 47% of them after ABA intervention were able to function successfully in a typical first grade classroom and also tested above average on IQ tests. Some even lost their diagnosis. When they were re-evaluated several years later at the age of 13, blind examiners could not distinguish the autistic children from the others in the classroom. Reading about these studies encouraged us as his prognosis had offered little hope.
With ABA, skills are broken down into small components that are then taught using a systematic approach and one-on-one teaching in a structured setting. Repetition of each task is key and correct responses are positively reinforced usually with a tangible reward in the initial stages. It is important that the child finds that learning and interacting with others is fun and rewarding. Each program should be tailored to meet the specific needs and interests of each child.
Structure was important for Tristan initially and we began with a style of ABA called Discrete Trial Training. His sessions consisted of 5-10 minutes at a table working on tasks with his tutor followed by 15-20 minutes playing away from the table. From the perspective of a casual onlooker, the time away from the table simply looks like play, but tutors are actually using this time to teach specific play skills and target language development.
Tristan's program has now progressed to include a more natural setting approach with many of his language skills being taught through components of Verbal Behavior, a therapy style that utilizes a child's motivation for something desired as an opportunity intervene with teaching. As an example, if Tristan is motivated by a food item, it is a good time to work on language within the scope of the desired food item due to his motivation to respond appropriately to receive the desired item. The language components of Verbal Behavior (also known as manding- see www.drcarbone.net) have been the single most important aspect of Tristan's success in learning to communicate.
Another important aspect of a comprehensive ABA program is the focus on social development. ABC of NC www.abcofnc.org, the consulting group we have used since we began three years ago, was one of the few groups we found that offered an ABA curriculum that included programs designed to encourage social development. Tristan's program consists of using another child daily to encourage him to interact socially. Situations are "set-up" so that Tristan's reinforcement comes from the other child in order to encourage Tristan to associate friends with positive reinforcement.
ABA is a constantly evolving method of teaching and some programs now incorporate components of Verbal Behavior. Before deciding on a program that is best for your child, observe different methods and ask for information regarding the success of children in that specific program.

When beginning ABA -

It is not just a therapy. It is a new way of life! Therapy must occur 24 hours a day. Consistency is important and for optimum results, parents should use ABA techniques in every situation. The ABA team should consist of three integral parts, the consultant, the tutors and you.

Be involved. The more you learn as a parent, the easier it becomes to maintain consistency. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone and your input is invaluable when determining treatment directions.

Re-evaluate frequently and make changes as necessary. There are no absolutes. ABA is tailored to your child and if one direction is not proving effective, re-evaluate and change direction until progress is apparent.

Frequent meetings with consultant and all team members are crucial. It is important that the consultant knows your child well and monitors his or her progress regularly. Our team meets weekly to insure consistency and determine effectiveness of current targets and make changes as necessary. On our team, the consultant observes tutors monthly or more frequently if issues arise. Workshops and training sessions are held as program changes dictate.

You will lose your privacy but it is a small price to pay. Tutors, consultants, and peers (your child's play dates) come and go every day - at least 40 hours per week and 7 days a week. For the most natural therapy setting, it must be done at your home.
Determine the style of management that works for your family. Home ABA programs can be run as a business with the tutors working for you as employees or it can be like an extended family. There are pros and cons of both that you should consider carefully. We choose to view our tutors as an extended family. They have chosen to work very hard to change my son's life and are very dedicated and involved with each of his accomplishments. It is hard for me to think of them as anything other than family.
ABA is not easy but the progress is rewarding.