The Power of ABA

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Applied Behavior Analysis

YOU CAN  was formed to enhance the treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  We promote the use of evidence-based treatment of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).


 YOU CAN believes that families of children with ASD deserve to receive quality, early intervention.

What is ASD? Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a severe disruption of the normal developmental processes that usually occurs in the first three years of life.
The main areas of impairment are social communication and fixated interests and repetitive behaviour.
It leads to impaired language, play, cognitive, social and adaptive functioning, causing children to fall farther and farther behind their peers as they grow older.
The cause of ASD is not known, but evidence suggests biological or neurological abnormalities in particular areas of the brain.

Children with ASD do not learn in the same way that children typically  learn.  They seem to not understand simple verbal and nonverbal communication.  They may respond differently to sensory input such as sounds or textures and withdraw in varying degrees from people and the world around them. They show little interest in other children and tend not to learn by observing and imitating others.  They may become preoccupied with certain activities and objects that interfere with the  development of play.

Although children with ASD meet common diagnostic criteria, there are enormous individual differences.  Depending on the child, problems in each area range from mild to severe.  For example, some children may be non-verbal whereas others can talk but have very limited understanding of language, others seem to understand and use complex language but may speak in a monotone voice or have difficulty understanding jokes and sarcasm.

Also, there are differences socially: some children may reject all social contact, others may only be social around adults and have no interest in other children, or they may be interested in their peers but do not initiate or sustain interactions.

Similarly, there are differences in behaviours.  Some children may have excessive behavioural escalations or anxieties.  Some children may exhibit repetitive body movements while others line up objects, tap surfaces repetitively, or rewind a DVD to endlessly watch a particular scene.  Other children may not demonstrate any noticeable motor stereotypic behaviours but make up complex and obsessive rules such as driving to school the same route, or only drinking from a particular cup.

Despite the varying degrees of impairment and complexity of ASD, what is known about children with this diagnosis is that they have amazing potential to learn, with the right type of intervention.

What Funding is Available for Children with ASD?
The Australian Government’s “Helping Children with Autism” package, provided through the Department of Social Services provides some financial support to children with ASD and their families.
Children with ASD aged 0 – 6 years are eligible to receive government funding of up to $12,000 for multi-disciplinary services.
Up to $6000 per financial year across 2 years (total = $12,000)  can be used to access recognised and approved early intervention service providers, including some ABA service providers.
For more information on the “Helping Children with Autism” funding, visit
Some families accessing ABA through practitioners who are registered psychologists may be eligible for Medicare rebates.
Speak to your GP or Paediatrician regarding medicare rebates for Psychologists.  Some private health insurance policies also cover psychological services.

What is ABA? Applied Behaviour Analysis

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a field of psychology that focuses on applying learning theories to different people and situations.
One specific application of these techniques is intensive behavioural intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Three decades of research have demonstrated the effectiveness of ABA principles for children with ASD.
Teaching techniques based on ABA have been shown to significantly improve the abilities of children with ASD to learn and develop.
Fundamentals of ABA
Breaking complex tasks into smaller tasks that can be taught more easily
Providing many opportunities to learn and master new skills
Using reinforcement to assist in the acquisition of new skills
Understanding the functions of behaviours (e.g. communication, attention seeking, avoidance, etc.) and developing programs to meet the child’s needs
Making objective, data driven decisions to guide our evaluations of treatment progress
Utilising effective teaching techniques, such as discrete trial teaching (DTT)

It’s important to note that the techniques of ABA aren’t just for children with ASD, although it has the most established evidence for this population.

ABA is simply based on effective learning and teaching principles.

Walk into any well-run classroom, or observe a parent who is effectively managing their child’s challenging behaviour, and they are using ABA strategies!

Effectiveness Of ABA

Research has shown ABA to be effective in reducing disruptive behaviours typically observed in individuals with ASD, such as self-injury, tantrums, non-compliance, and self-stimulation.

ABA has also been shown to be effective in teaching commonly deficient skills such as communication, social, play, academic and self-help skills.

Additionally, thousands of studies have been undertaken since this time, which replicate these findings and provide additional support for ABA techniques.

Read “Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
Guidelines for Good Practice 2012”, Roberts & Prior.

FAQ's about ABA

Research shows that the younger the better (2 – 4 years of age), but it’s never too late to start. There is clear evidence that ABA can help individuals of all ages and abilities.

Not all ABA service providers are the same.  ABA practitioners come from a variety of backgrounds and the way they work with children and families will depend on their experience.

Likewise, not all ABA programs are the same with some applications being more rigid and others more contemporary with creative and flexible programming.

You should look for a program and a service provider that will address your concerns about your child as well as:

Aim to increase skills across developmental areas including behavioural, communication/language, social, play and self-help;

Is individualised for your child and acknowledges their unique strengths and difficulties;

Has an emphasis on quality and skill generalisation within home, school and community settings;

Utilises evidence-based strategies;

Includes parent skill building;

Is structured only as needed (some children need more structure and repetition to learn, but others do not);

Considers different learning styles; and

Works in collaboration with parents, teachers/daycare staff and other professionals where necessary.

It is important you feel comfortable with your chosen ABA service provider and can establish a positive, working relationship as they will guide you and your therapy team and directly impact your child’s development.

Absolutely!  A high quality ABA program should be individualised for each child and consider their unique strengths and areas of need.

It’s a common myth that ABA is not suitable for high-functioning children, but research shows that ABA strategies are incredibly effective for these individuals.

No!  Again, another myth.

There is a huge body of research showing that ABA strategies are effective in teaching social skills in children with ASD.

A high quality ABA program will address social skills for the individual child, whether this be learning to tolerate being with other children, increasing joint attention, commenting during play, sharing, turn taking, following the rules of a group game or initiating conversation with peer.

ABA can be applied not only in one-to-on but also in a group setting.  Many service providers include “play dates” in sessions with the child’s peers.

The research is very clear that children who receive more hours of quality behavioural intervention have better outcomes.

An Australian review has recently recommended that children with Autism receive as a minimum, 20 hours a week of intervention.

Research findings in the ABA field also indicate that 20 – 40 hours/week is very effective.

Fatigue is something you do need to watch carefully.

However, children as young as 20 months can be involved in an ABA program, and service providers must be adept at ensuring they work within the stamina of the child.

You can experiment with the number of hours you undertake.

Also, remember the sessions are supposed to be fun and playful.  Most the time your child should love being there!

ABA sessions are usually 2.5 to 3 hours in duration.  But if you see clear signs of tiredness, perhaps shorten the session length.  Or, you could try having mini breaks throughout the session to go outside, grab a snack, listen to some music, and re-charge. Some families schedule longer sessions in the morning, when the child is fresher, then a shorter session in the afternoon. Overall, it’s up to you to read the signs in your child and see if you have the balance right.  However, remember it is important to aim for a high number of ABA hours/week.  Typically developing children learn and develop at a really fast pace leaving children with ASD to fall farther behind.  It is essential that children with ASD are active participants in learning and every waking moment is seen as a learning opportunity that must be seized.

Some ABA service providers hire their own ABA therapists to families and others don’t.

There are pro’s and con’s to both options (eg. already trained therapists but more expensive vs  cost effective but have to spend more time training).

If you have to recruit and employ your own therapists you could try the following:

Placing an ad on university job sites, seeking psychology, education or speech pathology students, or in your local paper
Email an ad to ABIQ members (just ask us!)
Look at ABIQ’s therapist register
Word of mouth – sometimes other families will have staff who would like to work with other children
Online job recruitment websites such as seek or gumtree
Making objective, data driven decisions to guide our evaluations of treatment progress
Utilising effective teaching techniques, such as discrete trial teaching (DTT)

If you are recruiting your own therapists, the pay rate is entirely up to you to negotiate and will depend a lot on the therapists’ experiences and training.

Rates start at around $15 – $20 per hour for newer staff and gradually increase from there.

The cost depends on a whole range of factors including the number of therapy hours, number of supervision hours, hourly rate of therapists, whether you can access funding, etc.

The annual cost of an ABA program can range from $20,000 to $60,000 per year.

However, there are ways to reduce the cost through funding, rebates and tax refunds.

For more information, contact ABIQ.

That’s a difficult question to answer and depends a lot on the individual child’s needs, family factors and cost.

Many children require services for the duration of their pre-school years (0 – 6 years of age) and research supports that quality, early, intensive intervention leads to positive outcomes.

It is generally recommended that you commit for at least 12 – 24 months of intensive intervention with many hours per week.

From there, and depending on individual circumstances, the intensity may be faded as the child develops skills and they begin learning more from everyday experiences, including in a group or classroom.

Embarking on an ABA program is not easy or a quick-fix, but for many families it is an incredibly rewarding journey leading to very positive outcomes for their children.

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