Applied behavior analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science-based therapy that can help individuals with behavioral, developmental and social challenges. It is rooted in the principles of behaviorism and focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors while reducing negative ones. In this article, we will explore who can benefit from ABA, who can provide ABA therapy, how to access ABA therapy and more.

Who can benefit from ABA?

ABA therapy can be beneficial for a variety of individuals, including those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disabilities and learning disorders. ABA therapy can help with communication skills, social skills and behavior management. It can also improve adaptive living skills.

Who is qualified to deliver ABA?

ABA therapy is delivered by what is generally known as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). These professionals have a master’s or doctoral degree and have passed a certification exam. BCBA’s also have extensive training and experience in the principles of ABA therapy. There are also professionals who can provide ABA therapy under the supervision of a BCBA and are commonly referred to as:

  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs)—Have completed a bachelor’s degree and have passed a certification exam.
  • Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs)—Have completed a minimum of 40 hours of training and have passed a competency assessment.

In addition to these professionals, ABA therapy teams may also include speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. These professionals work together to provide a comprehensive approach to ABA therapy, addressing your child’s unique needs and goals.

How are ABA services accessed?

Accessing ABA services is a multi-step process:

  1. A diagnosis and recommendation for ABA therapy is made by a medical doctor (MD) or a healthcare-related PhD.
  2. Parents contact their health plan or an ABA provider to begin the process of securing insurance authorization to conduct an assessment.
  3. An ABA provider works with parents to ensure insurance approval is granted before the assessment begins.
  4. A BCBA conducts the assessment. If the child is deemed a suitable candidate for ABA therapy, the BCBA submits treatment recommendations to the health plan.
  5. Once the health plan approves the recommendations, ABA therapy can begin.

Insurance coverage for ABA therapy may vary depending on the specific diagnosis. It is always prudent to check with your health plan to determine which diagnoses are covered. This process ensures your child receives the proper care and the health plan covers the cost of ABA therapy consistent with the terms of your coverage.

What are other pathways to ABA?

In addition to accessing ABA therapy through health insurance authorization, you can explore:

  • State-funded programs which provide services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. They can also help you identify ABA providers and may cover the cost of therapy for eligible children.
  • Local school districts that offer Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Schools may have in-house ABA providers or work with outside agencies to provide services to children in need.
  • Out of pocket, or private pay, allows you to choose your own ABA provider and have more control over the type and frequency of therapy sessions.

It is important for you to explore all options and choose the pathway that best meets your needs and the needs of your child.

How are goals developed and how is progress measured?

Goals for ABA therapy are developed based on your child’s unique needs and abilities. A BCBA will conduct an assessment to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. Once goals are established, progress is measured through data collection and analysis. This information is used to adjust treatment plans as needed. Progress reports are shared with you and other professionals involved in your child’s care.

 What does ABA look like?

ABA sessions are typically conducted one-on-one with a BCBA, RBT or BCaBA. ABA sessions are highly structured and tailored to meet your child’s specific needs. A typical ABA session is comprised of three main components.

  1. Goal implementation—During sessions, the therapist works with your child to help them achieve their goals which are developed based on their unique needs and abilities.
  2. Behavior plan implementation—Behavior plans are developed to address specific behaviors your child is struggling with. Therapists use positive reinforcement strategies to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones.
  3. Family/caregiver training and support—Family and caregivers play a key role in the success of ABA therapy. During ABA sessions, therapists work with family and caregivers to provide training and support. Family and caregivers learn the core principles of ABA, along with strategies to help reinforce positive behaviors at home and manage challenging behaviors. By working together, the therapist, your child and you can achieve positive outcomes and promote meaningful change.

Where can ABA take place?

ABA therapy can be delivered in your child’s natural settings, including home, school and the community. Therapy can also take place in clinics. The therapist will collaborate with you and other professionals to determine the most appropriate setting for your child.

Interested in learning more about ABA?                              

  • Find and watch the recording of our webinar, “What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and how can it help my family?” here.
  • Visit the following websites:
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Learn about early signs of ASD, severity levels and how they are defined, types of testing available and more.
    • Autism Speaks—Learn the signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching at all ages.