February 20, 2019

‘What is Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)?’

behavioral therapy“ Applied Behavioural Analysis is probably the best-known, best researched, and the only treatment for children that has produced significant and comprehensive improvements, up to and including recovery.”


Further down:

“ABA involves the breakdown of all skills into small, discrete tasks, taught in a highly structured and hierarchical manner … In an ABA program, lessons to be taught are broken down into their simplest elements. ABA focuses on teaching small, measurable units of behaviour systematically.

“At first, the child may be rewarded for doing something close to the desired response. Over time, as the child masters the lesson expectations are raised and primary reinforcers (like bits of food) are replaced with social reinforcers ( hugs, praise, etc.)”

One could be forgiven for thinking they were reading about dog training.

The fact that if the child does what is asked be it placing a puzzle piece, building block or the possibly uncomfortable if not painful task of making forced eye contact to be rewarded by food or physical contact is questionable.

Does that train the child to believe that if an adult commands them to do something no matter how nonsensical to them or uncomfortable they must obey believing they will be rewarded by titbits and pleasurable psychical contact?

Lastly under the heading ‘Is ABA effective?’

“It should be noted, however, that intensive behavioural is by no means a “ cure “ for Autism. No amount of behavioural therapy can cure the underlying and so far unknown etiology of Autism. Intensive behavioural interaction is effective in re mediating many symptoms of autism thereby recovering children in that their behaviour may become “ indistinguishable from their peers.”

Indistinguishable from their peers.

No longer distinguishable.

To close I leave you with the fully accepting parental view of Jane Johnstone.

“In my view once you embrace and accept your children as they are, the journey becomes life changing for everyone. My late husband and I always said that we would be very different people if the boys weren’t Autistic and we honestly believed that they made us better people. Our boys, like other human’s consist of a mind, body and soul. To change or work with just one element just simply cannot be consistent with accepting and respecting the Autistic person as a whole.”

 Editor’s Note:  Opinions expressed by Autism Daily Newscast Contributors are their own.

About the author 

Emma Dalmayne

Emma Dalmayne has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome along with Synthanesia. She has six children on varying degrees of the most spectrum so easily. When she is not writing exposes as an autistic advocate, her days are spent doing sensory play, reading, outings, and taking them to therapies e.g. play therapy, music therapy, speech, and language.

  • As you said, this is YOUR opinion. I find this article very one-sided and bordering on calling aba a form of child abuse. Which on my opinion is incredibly irresponsible of you as a journalist. If you are going to take a position on something. Just state that in the beginning. Don’t pretend to write an objective article and then deceive your readers.

    • I guess the fact that every adult autistic that has been through ABA therapy sees it as abuse means nothing, as long as the parents are happy dont matter how the kids feeling I mean their only autistic how could they possibly feel anything (((sarcasm btw)))

      • Lisa-I assume you are speaking for all autistic adults and or have interviewed all world wide?

        • Obviously not Robyn but considering every autistic person I have spoken to or came across that has had ABA have all said the same thing that its abusive, that pretty much says to me that its something to stay well clear of, even Carly Fleischmann believes that ABA caused her debilitating OCD

          • The article is very one sided as you stated, and it is somewhat ignorant On what ABA really is, and not necessarily at the fault of the author. One example of the ignorance of the article is when one of the people cited stated that aba is ‘cognitive’ which is very inaccurate. In fact, ABA is the opposite of cognitive focused.
            Sadly there are people out there who use the techniques of ABA very inappropriately, and even worse there are people out there who claim to provide ABA services who are not certified to do so. This is one reason why in the U.S. we are trying to get state licensure to ensure that unqualified people can not claim to practice ABA.

            my ultimate point is that yes there have been horrible and horrific ABA services provided to many people, and that is not ok; HOWEVER, ABA is an amazing field and helps many. I have met and worked with many individuals who have received ABA services and loved it. One person with autism actually had such a positive experience that he now volunteers at the company to give back. Rather than discounting ABA, a therapy that can be an amazing benefit to many, you should speak about the inappropriate use of ABA and call out those who are unethical in their use of ABA, so that individuals can receive quality appropriate ABA services in the future.

            Also keep in mind that many of the autistic community who had bad experiences are older. The ABA community has become much more organized over time, and the ethical use of ABA has become a priority. Things are different now than they were 20 or even 10 years ago. The same is true of other fields such as psychology. That does not mean the inappropriate uses of ABA in the past don’t matter, or are justified, it means that ABA has grown.

  • robyn,i think your being unfair to emma.
    i am the person who gave a first hand account what its like to have ABA in that article. i have suffered greatly from it,yes it helped with a lot of issues that were causing my functioning to be so low but at the same time i suffer greatly from flashbacks of the therapy and i also attack myself when the flash backs come in my head which then leads to needing PRN medication. i wish i had never been given ABA at any time in my life.

  • The experience described does sound horrific and I don’t doubt it happened, but it sounds like an extreme version of ABA. Most form of ABA at least here in the U.S. does not involve the form of physical punishment that is effectively being described (e.g. physically held down, people screaming, etc.). Here in the U.S. ABA is rewards based – you get rewarded and if you refuse to cooperate or throw a tantrum, you are ignored or simply not given the reward. It, along with variants of it with a touch of naturalistic and or relationship influences (e.g. JASPER, Floortime, ESDM) are the few therapies with proven results. Despite having a century head start, psychotherapy on the other hand has almost no support and in fact there are studies showing no effect (or worst detrimental effect).

    Again I’m sure the experience here happened but it is a gross/bias misrepresentation of what ABA is. It’s like me finding a few cases of broken bones during the game of basketball and concluding basketball is a blood sport, or finding a few violent autistic kids and concluding all autistic kids of being violent. Can’t believe this article would stoop to the very same fallacies that autistic children are so often subject to.

  • Hi.

    As you have mentioned my clinic, I believe ip I should reply to you. I have 3 boys that are not autistic, but they still don’t like doing their homework and projects, especially over the weekend, when they believe it is their free time. Furthermore, I remember myself going through exams and ending up in hospital of fatigue because I had overworked and over stressed myself. I personally believe that educating a child even though it might be something they might hate, doesn’t mean you do not care for them. That is my comment for general education (just so that I do not get misunderstood)
    As for ABA now. I have been working with children within the spectrum for the past 17 years and I cannot see myself doing anything else. They have taught me so many things and I feel extremely lucky to be working with those children. What you are describing in this post does not reflect ABA programmes, as we work very much on creating rapport and having fun with our children, way before we start putting any demands on them. Personally I believe that if by using ABA techniques we give voice to autistic people to criticise ABA that is a triumph for ABA. Moreover, I disagree with the idea that children with autism should be left to do whatever they like and should not be give then chance to learn as every other child who doesn’t have autism.

  • ABA is just one tool among many in a toolbox for teaching new skills. Like other tools, it will not work for everyone. Like other tools it is not just for children on the spectrum and has been used for other people, in other situations. In fact, compared to other tools this one is most widespread among those withOUT special needs. ABA encompasses a very wide range of strategies and interventions based on basic behavioral principles. Parents use ABA based strategies constantly as they parent their children- whether knowingly or not. Like other tools it can be overused or used inappropriately or abusively- and I support people speaking out against such practices! However, that should not change our opinion of the tool itself, since it comes in many other forms that are NOT abusive. Many have moved away from “discrete trial ABA”, a highly repetitive form of ABA used for children on the spectrum. Increasingly there is a focus on “positive behavioral supports” and more relationship- based and play- based ABA to help the child be focused, organized, happy and engaged while learning new skills. I have worked with hundreds of children on the spectrum- many have had “behavior plans” to help them change, stop, or increase a behavior or skill. We ALL have behaviors that we might wish to modify to make our lives easier. Right now I am working on increasing my daily exercise and, yes, I am using behavioral strategies to do it!

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