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Navigating the ABA maze – how to identify best practice

Teaching children with autism through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) continues to court controversy. Behaviour Analyst, Marianne Wooldridge, explains how to find approaches that you can really trust.

Behaviour Analyst, Marianne Wooldridge, blogs.
Behaviour Analyst, Marianne Wooldridge, blogs.

ABA is the most evidence-based, yet also the most controversial, approach to teaching children with autism. This is due to historic practice and modern misconceptions. Good, modern ABA is a positive, child-centred experience with an emphasis on motivation.

If you are looking for education solutions for a child with autism, this short guide should help you evaluate your options. Good quality indicators of ABA should include the following;

  1. Pairing
    Before placing any demands on a child, ABA professionals or tutors should spend time developing a rapport with that child, associating themselves with positive experiences and fun. Only once the child enjoys being around the practitioner should they start to slowly introduce demands.
  2. Establishing motivation
    Learning should always be fun and will not take place unless a child is motivated. A good ABA tutor will always spend time finding out what a child is motivated by before introducing demands. If the child is resisting the teaching situation, then he/she is not sufficiently motivated.
  3. Co-operation not compliance
    The emphasis should always be on establishing co-operation rather than compliance or control. The goal is that a child will choose to cooperate rather than be forced to cooperate. Forcing co-operation is a sign that the ABA tutor is not successfully paired and the child is not sufficiently motivated which can cause problems with learning in future.
  4. Function based interventions
    Any behaviour intervention should be based on the function of the behaviour (the reason) rather than what the behaviour simply looks like. Your ABA professional should spend time finding out what need or desire your child’s challenging behaviour is communicating and teach a replacement for this behaviour. Challenging behaviour is a person’s way of communicating a legitimate need so it should never be simply ignored or placed on ‘extinction’, a technical term for when the behaviour no longer gains the desired outcome.
  5. Skills development
    Good ABA emphasises learning skills rather than reducing challenging behaviour. Individuals with a diagnosis of autism have specific needs in line with the diagnosis (such as engaging in self-stimulatory behaviour) and there should not be a focus on simply extinguishing these behaviours.
  6. Asking for what they want
    An early priority must be teaching the child to ask for what they want (we call this manding.) Once it is clear what a child is motivated by, the next priority is to teach the child how to ask – verbally, using pictures or by signing.
  7. BCBA (Board Certified Behaviour Analyst)
    Your ABA professional should be certified or working towards the Board Certified Behaviour Analyst status. This means that they have gained specific training, including a minimum of an MSc in ABA and on the job supervised experience. BCBAs will have a varied level of experience but should always be working within the ethical and practice guidelines of the BACB (Behaviour Analyst Certification Board).
  8. Multi-agency working
    In order to gain the best outcomes for your child, your ABA professional should always work with all other agencies that are supporting your child including; nursery, school, speech and language, portage etc.
  9. Parent training
    ABA can’t just be left to the professional/s. Parents and carers must be completely involved, including with training and with decision-making. It is a team responsibility. Indeed, we have many parents who are delivering their child’s ABA teaching themselves, with the support of a Consultant or Supervisor.

If your child’s ABA doesn’t seem to be following these principles, you should ask some questions of your provider. Equally, if you are looking for support then these principles should provide helpful guidance.

Dimensions’ autism behaviour consultancy delivers ABA based programmes to young children with a diagnosis of autism or developmental delay. Children are assessed to see which skills they are currently able to demonstrate and an individualised programme of targets are implemented either by parents, student volunteers or ABA tutors.

We provide services to children around the UK and currently work with clients aged between 2 and 9 years of age. Many of our parents are running economical ABA programmes using a funding grant from Caudwell Children Charity.

To find out more contact; ABCD@dimensions-uk.org

Dimensions Best practice blog: 30/11/15