When your child starts ABA therapy, there are a lot of vocabulary words and acronyms that seem to get thrown around, and it can take some type to truly get a grasp on it all. Functional Behavior Assessment, or FBA, is the one we’re going to focus on here.
A Functional Behavior Assessment is one of the primary ways our behavior therapy team works to identify a certain problem behavior, and then we develop a plan to address them – ultimately eliminating them or at least reducing them to a point they aren’t so prevalent.
Going through the process step-by-step helps our Cleveland ABA therapy team to get to the source of the behaviors so that we can start introducing replacements. The problem with trying to tackle a problem behavior without an FBA is that then you lack the “why.” WHY were they engaging in that behavior in the first place? Every behavior has a function. Trying to effect the extinction of a behavior without first figuring out its function is going to create a gaping opportunity other difficult behaviors to take root in its place. An FBA helps us figure it out first.
FBAs can be used in IEPs or as part of an ABA program. We only initiate them when the behavior has become an impediment. We’ll be looking at it as a team – in collaboration with parents too – to assess whether it’s urgent (is there a risk of harm to self or others?), whether there’s an underlying medical reason, whether it’s cyclical, and if it appears to be new or if this is a long-standing issue that has maybe just gotten worse. Finally, we want to know if this is something that is happening on a consistent basis. If it was a random, one-off reaction to a substantial – and uncommon – change in the environment, we probably don’t need to develop a plan to treat that, though we may note it. In cases where there may be multiple unexpected and detrimental behaviors, we’re likely to target them one at a time, beginning with the one likely to have the most significant adverse outcomes.
Lots of families look forward to celebrating the holidays each year, with Thanksgiving being a particular favorite. But as our Brecksville ABA therapists understand, parents of children on the autism spectrum may be worried that such celebrations are far outside their kids’ comfort zones. After all, the goings-on are seemingly chaotic, and many of the faces, smells, and tastes are not part of the daily routine they’re used to.
The good news is that with some preparation, it is possible for everyone to enjoy these gatherings.
Mealtimes are awash in rich sensory experiences, with an array of smells, temperatures, textures, sounds, tastes and interactions. Most people enjoy mealtimes and sharing these experiences with loved ones. But our ABA therapists recognize that for children on the autism spectrum, mealtimes can present significant sensory challenges, leading to stress, sensory overload and meltdowns. Difficulties with communication can pose additional challenges for everyone.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for any child to be picky at times, but kids on the autism spectrum may be highly sensitive not just to something’s flavor, but its texture, shape, smell and color. They may have a strong preference for a very small selection of foods, and might even have an overwhelming need to eat those same foods on the same plate or in the same place at each meal.
You may notice that people with autism sometimes develop their own strategies to limit their sensory input during mealtimes. They may become:
- Overly selective in their foods.
- Inflexible in their mealtime routines.
- Refuse to eat/eat limited amounts.
- Prone to escape (elope, cover their ears, eyes, nose and/or mouth).
- Repetitive in their behaviors to self-soothe.
One of the most effective strategies our Akron ABA therapists utilize in therapy is positive reinforcement.
If you think about it, most of us respond well to this. We do things all the time in our everyday lives, anticipating the benefits we’ll receive. A teenager may work odd jobs in order to buy tickets to a concert. An adult may do yard work on the weekends because he or she likes the personal satisfaction of seeing their lawn looking nice. Students finish their homework so they can have the reward of playing video games afterward.
When they receive that positive reward, it “reinforces” their behavior. It makes them more likely to put in the work next time for the payoff they’ll get.
As our ABA therapists can explain, it’s the same with children who have autism and are receiving ABA therapy, although the goal, reward and process may look different.
The term “extinction” automatically conjures up mental images of long-gone dinosaurs and dodos. But our Cleveland ABA therapists are familiar with it for another reason. It’s a procedure we frequently use to reduce interfering behaviors for children on the autism spectrum or with other conditions.
“Interfering behaviors,” as noted by researchers at the at the M.I.N.D. Institute and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, are those that are disruptive or restrictive behaviors that can interfere with optimal development, learning and/or achievement.
“Extinction” is a formal term, but it basically means our ABA therapists want to get to the bottom of the function or cause of a certain behavior and then terminate access to that function in order to extinguish the behavior. We have to examine what is happening before and after the behavior in question to figure out how it’s being reinforced so we can understand why it’s still occurring. Then we cut off that reinforcement.
Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behaviors such as:
- Excessive scratching/picking.
One of the earliest clues that a child might have autism is a speech delay. As our Akron ABA therapists can explain, children with autism tend to be less socially motivated than their typically-developing peers, which is why many parents’ instincts about how to engage their children in speech often don’t work. But with a combination of intensive, early intervention therapy and parental involvement/consistency, many children with autism can and do learn to speak, socialize and function independently in society.
Discovering the best approach for each individual child is a big part of what our Akron ABA therapists do. A new study by researchers at Standford University revealed that pivotal response treatment that involves parents works better than many other approaches to engaging a child on the autism spectrum.
ABA Therapists Explain: What is Pivotal Response Treatment?
Pivotal response treatment, or PRT, is play-based, initiated by the child and based on the core principals of Applied Behavior Analysis/ABA therapy.