If your child is receiving Broadview Heights ABA therapy (also known as behavior therapy), you’ve likely heard the term “function of behavior.” It’s a common phrase in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA). As behavior analysts, one of the primary steps in behavior modification is identifying the function of behavior. In other words, we need to understand why a behavior is occurring in order to respond appropriately in a way that will help us elicit the desired response/action from the child.
What it comes down to is that behavior, at its most basic level, is a form of communication. Behavior elicits reaction from others. If a child struggles to communicate in appropriate ways (language, body cues, facial expressions, etc.), they may rely on behavior. We as adults and caregivers reinforce behaviors when we respond with their desired outcome. Unfortunately, some of the ways we’re used to responding to “bad” behaviors can end up unintentionally reinforcing them.
We need to ask ourselves, “Why is my child falling to the floor screaming because I told him we’re having grilled chicken for dinner?” “Why is my child hitting me repeatedly from the grocery cart seat?” “Why is my child having a total meltdown when it’s time to get dressed?”
It’s critical to understand that all behavior happens for a reason. If we want to change the behavior, we need to find out the function – the “why” – of it.
When your child is diagnosed with autism, there are so many unknowns. Families may feel as if they’re drowning in all the decisions with which they’re faced, compounded by the fact that few practitioners speak of long-term outcomes with any great degree of certainty. That said, early intervention – including ABA therapy – is one course of treatment on which most agree results in optimal outcomes.
When a parent asks, “When should my child start ABA therapy?” the answer is almost always going to be, “As soon as possible.”
What is Early Intervention?
Early intervention therapy refers to a multi-disciplinary approach geared toward children under age 3 but up to 5. It’s a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and sometimes physical therapy that is initiated with the understanding that a child’s earliest experiences play a critical role in a child’s brain development. We know that kids who receive early intervention therapy do significantly better when it comes to learning new skills, overcoming challenges, and increasing both their academic success and personal independence, we know that kids who do not receive early intervention therapy may be substantially disadvantaged.
ABA therapy is most effective the earlier it starts. One of the earliest studies on the benefits of ABA therapy found kids who started before age 5 had better outcomes than those who started after they turned 5. Kids can usually start ABA therapy as young as 2 (sometimes earlier), and research has found doing so leads to significant improvements in both cognitive and adaptive skills.
One analysis by the Institute of Child Health & Human Development revealed that when we intervene with a fourth-grader as opposed to a kindergartner, it takes four times as long to make the same progress – not only because of the explosion of brain development that occurs in those early years (and the plasticity of a young brain, which is primed to learn new things), but also because there is a substantial increase in skills kids are expected to have mastered by Grade 4.
In some cases, therapies can start in infancy, with goals and strategies of course tailored to the age and the individual.
By incorporating early intervention ABA therapy, kids can avoid more substantial learning challenges in the future.
How Does Brecksville ABA Therapy Help My Child With Autism?
When a child has autism, they typically have deficits in communication and social skills, and these go hand-in-hand with maladaptive behaviors. For all of us, behavior is a form of communication. Kids on the spectrum who lack many fundamental communication skills may use behavior in ways that are not expected to communicate their needs and desires. Families sometimes do more harm than good when they don’t understand the function of the behavior and end up reinforcing it. For example, a common motive for behavior is attention. It may not matter whether that attention is negative. When you respond to it with eye contact, physical contact and a heightened reaction – even an angry one – it may still be reinforcing the behavior. If the motive of the behavior is to evade and you put them in a “time out,” you are unintentionally reinforcing the behavior.
ABA stands for applied behavioral analysis, and it is where we deep dive into the “why” of the behavior. We ask, “What function does it serve?” and see if adjustments can be made to the antecedent or consequence that may result in altering maladaptive behaviors or encouraging expected behaviors. The earlier this process starts, the more adaptive children are to changing their behaviors. We can teach kids how to use functional communication to replace behaviors that are unexpected. We can also educate parents on how best to respond in ways that don’t unintentionally reinforce difficult behaviors.
What If I Don’t Want My Child to Be Labeled?
We recognize that one of the reasons some parents shy away from early intervention therapy is because of potential stigma and concern that an autism diagnosis might set them on a path that would result in a long-term, detrimental label.
One thing to keep in mind is that stigmas are shifting. There is more awareness and acceptance. People increasingly recognize that autism doesn’t just look a certain way. It is a spectrum, and individuals on it can indeed grow to be happy, healthy, highly-functioning and invaluable members of society. Early intervention therapy is what sets children up for success. ABA therapy is a critical part of that.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
More Blog Entries:
How Our Brecksville ABA Therapists Teach Flexibility, Sept. 17, 2021, Brecksville ABA Therapy Blog
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.