Parents are a key part of the puzzle when it comes to successful Cleveland ABA therapy for kids on the autism spectrum. Knowing how to work on the skills we target in therapy in a home setting is important for the sake of consistency, and helps those lessons to stick.
Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy, has been deemed the gold standard in autism treatment. It’s a branch of behavioral science that can be achieved either in-clinic or in-home by a trained therapist known as an RBT (registered behavior technician) and overseen by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA for short.
It’s an evidence-based intervention predicated on the principles of behavior science, focusing on how people learn, behave, and change. A core foundation is what we call the “ABCs of Behavior.” That is, we study the antecedent, behavior, and then consequence – before determining what interventions will be most successful in addressing unexpected behaviors and promoting expected/helpful behaviors. Successful Cleveland ABA therapy helps improve kids’ quality of life, teaches them important life skills, and helps reduce disruptive behaviors.
As professionals, we’ve spent a great deal of time and dedication learning the science and strategies. That said, one of our key goals is to empower parents to implement similar tactics at home. Here, we detail a few of the basic strategies you can employ with your child across settings.
This is perhaps the most common strategy in ABA. Positive reinforcement is the idea that when something positive happens after a behavior (what we would refer to as the antecedent), it can have a positive impact on whether that behavior is likely to be repeated.
So a behavior followed by positive reinforcement is more likely to happen again – and continue happening.
Lots of parents use this strategy all the time with neurotypical kids. For instance, they do a chore, you reward them with an allowance. That motivates them to keep doing it.
With kids on the autism spectrum (or other conditions for which ABA therapy is prescribed), the reward usually needs to be more immediate, and perhaps more tangible. (Money is tangible, but its concept is a little abstract for some kids.) We may start small, especially for younger kids. Let’s say the LOVE blowing bubbles. If the goal is to get them to make a request for something, you immediately give them access to a few rounds of bubble-blowing after.
Depending on the targeted behavior and age/skill level of the child, there different reinforcement schedules we could choose from. These are:
- Continuous schedule. The behavior is reinforced after every occurrence.
- Fixed ratio. Behavior is reinforced after a certain number of occurrences (every 3, every 4, etc.)
- Fixed interval. Behavior is reinforced after a certain amount of time (i.e., after 1 full week of expected behaviors).
- Variable ratio. Behavior is enforced after varied number of occurrences (after one occurrence, then after four occurrences, then after two, etc.).
- Variable interval. The behavior is enforced after a variable amount of time (after 5 minutes, then after 10 minutes, then after 2 minutes.)
You can discuss with your child’s ABA therapist what schedule they think would be most effective for targeting certain behaviors with your child.
Anytime you’re teaching your child something new, you can provide prompts. Lots of us do this naturally in parenting, but kids with autism and other conditions may need additional prompting to be successful.
There are many different kinds of prompts. For example, a physical prompt involves physically helping your child do something. A verbal prompt is telling your child something that will help them complete the task. If you provide a model prompt, you show them how to do it first. A visual prompt is a visual aid that helps your child complete the task. Gestural prompts are when you use body movements or gestures to help guide your child into completing something. Lastly, auditory prompts – like a stop watch or timer – that use noise can help support skill independence.
Some examples of prompts you can use at home:
- Setting a timer to help your child transition from one activity to the next.
- Providing your child with a visual schedule of the day’s routine, so they know what to expect.
- Physically assisting your child with brushing their teeth.
- Showing your child how to zip their coat.
- Pointing to an object you want them to retrieve.
If you need some help with planning your prompts, our ABA therapy team can help.
This is the idea that a behavior that was previously reinforced (often unintentionally) can be decreased if we stop reinforcing it. Essentially, the goal is for your child to stop engaging in a certain behavior because they are no longer experiencing the same outcome as before. (Again, we’re focusing on changing the antecedent, or what happens immediately after the behavior.)
Keep in mind: All behavior is a form of communication. Your child communicates their wants, needs, and aversions with behavior. They may be trying to avoid certain non-preferred activities or foods. They may be wanting your attention. or they may be engaging in the behavior as a form of sensory input/avoidance. A behavior can be unintentionally reinforced when a child gets what they’re looking for by engaging in the behavior.
So let’s say a child has a temper tantrum that involves throwing themselves on the floor, screaming and crying. To quiet them down in a public place, you give them your phone. The child learns that engaging in screaming, crying, and laying on the floor, they are rewarded with game time. If you stop providing them with the phone when they engage in this behavior, eventually, the behavior will stop.
(Keep in mind, though: Temper tantrums are different than meltdowns, and may need to be approached a bit differently.)
Here’s another example. While seated in a grocery cart seat, your child kicks and hits you repeatedly. You get upset, use angry words and raise your voice. It continues to happen every time you go to the store. Eventually, you talk to your child’s ABA therapy team and determine the goal of this behavior is to get your attention. It doesn’t matter that the attention you provide is negative; you are still unintentionally reinforcing it. To achieve operant extinction, you must start to completely ignore this behavior. And then when your child is behaving in a way that is expected – lavish them with LOTS of attention and praise. By shifting the reward cycle, you can often change behavior.
Cleveland ABA Therapy Team Urges Consistency
The whole concept of rules and boundaries is based on the basics of behavioral science. In ABA, establishing rules – and then staying consistent – is imperative if you want to achieve better behavior.
Have a clear set of rules for each setting. These can start off very basic, such as “No hitting,” “No jumping on furniture.” But they can start to be more complex as your child progresses.
Break it down as much as needed. For example, it’s not just “house rules,” but “bathroom rules,” “bedtime rules,” “breakfast rules,” etc. Use visual schedules and auditory prompting, if need be. And then stay consistent. Kids who know what to expect are going to have an easier time behaving in a way that is expected.
If you have questions, our dedicated Cleveland ABA therapy team can help.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Treatments and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
More Blog Entries:
5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, ABA Therapy Cleveland Blog