ABA Therapy Activities to do at Home

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This means that ABA is an effective method for helping kids with autism to develop new skills, reduce challenging behaviors, become more independent, and manage sensory experiences. Many children receive ABA services (or ABA therapy) from an ABA service provider. They may receive services from a Behavior Technician (someone who is trained and supervised in providing ABA services) at a center location or in the child’s own home. Whether your child receives services or not, you, as the parent or caregiver, can utilize ABA therapy activities at home with your child. Let’s explore some activities you can do that are based on effective ABA strategies to help your child develop, grow, and become more independent.

Structured Play

You can use playtime to help your child learn new skills. You can support your child’s development by implementing specific strategies during their play activities. You can teach your child to take turns with others, to follow instructions, or to improve their fine motor skills through play activities. You can work on color identification and shape recognition during play. You can work on visual perceptual skills, such as matching identical or nonidentical objects, during play. Some ideas for toys that you might use with your child to support their development include blocks, puzzles, arts and crafts, musical instruments, dolls, board games, and so much more.

Visual Schedules

People with autism often benefit from visual supports. This might include things like lists, calendars, schedules, token boards or sticker charts, and anything that offers a visual clue as to what is expected of them or what they can expect of others. You can help your child by creating and guiding them to use a daily routine that is presented in a visual way. Whether this is presented in pictures, as a list, or on an electronic device is up to you and what is best for your child.

Task Analysis

One very helpful tool used by ABA therapists is called a task analysis. A task analysis is a way of breaking down a complex task into smaller parts. It is easier to complete the smaller parts one at a time as compared to the entire task itself. By breaking a task into smaller steps, you can also figure out more clearly which parts of the process your child struggles with. You can create a task analysis (a list of smaller steps) for any task that requires multiple steps, such as tooth-brushing, getting dressed, or completing a chore.

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

Functional communication training (FCT) is an approach that involves teaching someone to use more effective communication skills to express their needs, wants, thoughts, and emotions. In ABA, FCT is used to help children develop more appropriate communication skills while also helping to reduce maladaptive behaviors or ineffective attempts at communication. At home, you can help your child by using FCT. How you approach this strategy, of course, will depend on your child’s needs. You might use a picture exchange communication system, sign language, a technology-based communication software, or vocal expressive language to help your child improve their communication skills.

Token Economy

A token economy is a system in which a “token” is earned for appropriate and targeted behavior. The child is expected to earn a certain number of tokens in order to have access to a specific “reinforcer.” What this means is that the child might earn 10 tokens to have 20 minutes of Ipad time. Of course, the number of tokens and the specific reinforcer will depend on your child and what you think will work best in regards to their needs, goals, preferences, and abilities.

Natural Environment Teaching

Natural environment teaching (NET) is an approach to teaching kids with ASD within the context of natural, everyday activities. You can use NET by identifying goals that you want your child to accomplish (the skills you want them to learn) and then working on them within your child’s daily routine. You could help your child to improve their ability to get ready for school independently, their ability to make a bowl of cereal, or anything that is relevant to their everyday life.

Data Collection

ABA therapists rely heavily on data collection. This is to ensure that the learner is making progress as well as to identify when there is no progress or minimal progress being made so that modifications can be made to the way the learner is being taught. At home, when you are working with your child, make sure you write down what you worked on, how your child did on that skill, and take data consistently. Then, review your data regularly. You can take data in a variety of ways. You might make a list of the skills you are working on and put a plus sign (+) when they performed the skill correctly and independently and a minus sign (–) when they performed the skil incorrectly and maybe a letter P when they performed the skill but they had to be prompted (which means assisted in some way in ABA terms). Data helps you know for sure if your child is making progress. Human memory is not as reliable as we would sometimes like it to be; therefore, data can help you tremendously.

Remember to individualize activities based on the unique needs and preferences of the individual receiving therapy, and always prioritize their interests and strengths. Additionally, consider consulting with a qualified behavior analyst for personalized recommendations and guidance.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is possibly the most important ABA concept that you should be implementing with your child at home. Positive reinforcement means that something occurs immediately after a behavior and that behavior happens more often in the future. You can use positive reinforcement in many ways. You might praise your child for having good behavior or for completing a task. You could use a token economy like we discussed earlier and give a token, which can be in the form of a sticker, coin, or any other item that represents the token. You could reinforce a behavior by allowing your child to have screen time or to play with a specific toy. Individualize how you use positive reinforcement based on what your child likes. You should also consider giving more reinforcement for more difficult tasks than you would give for something that is really easy.

You can contact a BCBA at Behavioral Innovations to help you design an effective reinforcement system for your child or to help you learn about any of the ABA strategies we’ve discussed.

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