Applied Behavior Analysis: Opening New Doors

Shortly after an autism diagnosis is made, parents are typically recommended to navigate the tricky waters of behavioral analysis services for their child.

Applied behavior analysis (or ABA), is defined as “…the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It targets areas where core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder are usually expressed, namely in behavior patterns, communication, and social skills. It is useful when teaching children with autism behaviors that they may not adopt on their own (such as understanding sarcasm, or limiting repeated behavior). 

As ABA is one of the more common intervention plans for children with autism, it is understandable that there may be some misgivings in its application. Critics of the intervention program accuse it of ‘forcing’ children with ASD to be someone that they are not, meaning that they are being forced to behave and act differently than they would naturally.

However, those in favor of ABA intervention argue that there is no ‘forced’ change in the child at all. They insist that these treatment programs are tools to guide these children and they are helping them to learn to communicate and connect with their peers and those around them. 

Human connection is not just a want, but a necessary component for living a fulfilling life. By teaching these children specific behavioral, communicative, and social skills, behavior therapists are ensuring that these children will have the necessary skills to interact with people as they grow and develop.

Critics who argue against ‘forced’ social skills (insisting that many people with autism prefer to stick to themselves) don’t necessarily understand that by teaching these children how to interact and giving them tools which are necessary to socialize comfortably, they are also given a choice of how to utilize these tools- and a choice of whether to be social or to be more isolated. 

ABA need not teach children with autism to be someone else, but rather, to develop into a different version of themselves- a version where they have control over their own behavior, socialization and communication.

ABA can provide a child with a sharpened awareness of how others perceive them, and also give them a knowledge of behaviors, communication, and social skills that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up on on their own. 

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

Photo credit: www.zmescience.com