Applied Behaviour Analysis

What is ABA?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based, intensive education therapy for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is scientifically proven to be effective and is the preferred method of treatment for ASD.

ABA helps children develop their social, academic, self-help and behavioural skills needed to interact with others and to cope with the challenges of everyday life. ABA therapy takes the form of a highly structured program designed to meet the individual requirements of each child, while building the foundations for life-long learning.

With early intervention and treatment, a significant number of pre-school aged children with ASD can achieve normal educational and intellectual function and become indistinguishable from their peers. Research has shown that at least 15-20 hours of intensive therapy per week is needed to produce long-term benefits.

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Starting an ABA Program

An ABA program is generally a home based program where therapists work one-on-one with the child for many hours per week. The therapists are supervised by program supervisors (ABA service providers), who design the program that is being delivered. Some ABA Service Providers have centre based models.

ABA program's focuses on all areas of development including communication (verbal and non-verbal), play, self-help, fine and gross motor as well as academic skills. It also addresses problematic behaviours' including self-injury, tantrums, as well as socially inappropriate behaviours'.

The earlier the better! Typically, an ABA program is aimed at children between 2 and 6 years of age. This does not mean that ABA is not effective for older children, adolescents and even adults; but ideally, the ABA program is carried out before children start school.

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How much time does it take?

ABA programs are individualised to suit the child's age and skill level and to incorporate other programs the child may be involved in, including Early Intervention, Kindergarten, Creche, Speech Therapy and so on.

An example of what a typical program curriculum looks like and data collection sheets can be found in either A Work in Progress by John McEachin and Ron Leaf or Behavioural Intervention for Young Children with Autism by Catherine Maurice (both are available from the ABIA resource library).

A 15 hour week program usually involves 2-3 hour sessions each morning and afternoon, 5 days a week.

A session of 2-3 hours may seem a long time for a young child to concentrate, but the session includes many play breaks. Typically, a very young child is only working with the therapist for 1-5 minutes at a time. The child is then free to have a short 1-5 minute play break whilst the therapist records his/her data and prepares for the next task. About once an hour, the child is given a much longer break of about 10-20 minutes.

Part of the success of any ABA program requires that the therapy session is fun for the child. Therapists are required to use lots of positive reinforcement including small food rewards, tickles, praise, toys and games to motivate the child to want to learn.

During a session, the therapist is responsible for following a detailed program which has been designed by an ABA program supervisor. The therapist is also responsible for collecting detailed data on your child's progress.

Every 2-4 weeks, the program supervisor will organise a group meeting with the parents, therapists and other professionals who are working with the child. The program supervisor will analyse the data which has been collected by the therapist/s over the weeks and will ask each therapist to work with the child in front of the group.

These meetings usually run for about 2-3 hours and are held to review the child's progress, make program changes where necessary and to provide feedback to therapists on their teaching skills.

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The parent's role in an ABA program

The role of parent/s in their child's ABA program is crucial in terms of the child's overall progress. Parents need to be aware and fully informed about all areas of their child's program so that they can help their child generalize and apply the skills learnt during therapy to every-day life situations.

Some parents do ABA training so that they can implement some of the therapy hours themselves. This helps with providing an understanding of the ABA framework and reduces program costs.

However, some parents feel uncomfortable doing therapy work. The most important aspect of the parent's involvement is keeping track of what their child is learning and encouraging them to use the skills they have learned outside of therapy time.

Parents are also responsible for employing therapists, timetabling therapists, maintaining their child's folder, and buying, making or borrowing materials for their child's program.

NOTE: Some of the materials you require are available for members to borrow at no cost from the ABIA Resource Library.

Some ABA Service providers have their own pool of trained therapists which parents can access. This however, usually involves extra cost.

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How much does ABA cost?

The overall cost of a home based program will depend largely on the number of hours of intervention per week.

Although ABA programs are not government-funded in Victoria, the Federal Government's "Helping Children with Autism" (HCWA) package has provided some relief by funding families of autistic children $6000 per annum over two years. Parents can use their funding towards ABA therapy; ABIA approved training packages, resources and any other methods to aide their child's progress. 

If funding can't be accessed then the family is required to pay for all costs associated with working with an ABA service provider and therapist/s. This is dependent on how many hours of therapy a family chooses to implement. Most ABA service providers will recommend a minimum of 15-20hrs per week. Click here to view Service Providers in Victoria.

Families need to contact ABA service providers direct to find out the cost associated with the initial family workshop, writing an individualised program and for provision of ongoing supervision. Many families hold fortnightly or monthly meetings with their service provider. These meetings are held to update the program and to provide ongoing training for therapists.

Parent/s can reduce some of the costs associated with running an ABA program by providing some of the therapy hours themselves, by finding volunteer therapists and also by borrowing materials from the ABIA Resource Centre and/or local toy libraries. For parties interested in providing therapy; ABIA offers an ABA therapist training course.

ABIA has produced a parent funding tip sheet which can help parents find funding sources. It can be viewed here.

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ABA Articles

The following articles have been published in the Autism Aspergers Network Magazine


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ABIA is pleased to offer a free information
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Parent Education

ABIA offers an extensive and practical range of training for parents, educators and professionals working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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