ABA (applied behavior analysis) is an evidence-based intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As an effective way of helping children with autism improve their quality of life, ABA helps people learn new skills that will help them be more independent, improve their relationships, improve communication abilities, and decrease challenging or maladaptive behaviors that negatively impact their daily life.
Full-Time Vs. Part-Time ABA Therapy for Kids with ASD
ABA is a unique service in comparison to other therapeutic services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or outpatient counseling, as it can be provided at a very high rate in comparison to these other services. Depending on the child’s needs and intensity of intervention, a BCBA might prescribe full-time ABA therapy, if it is more likely to lead to lasting positive changes in their daily functioning and quality of life. For a child with a limited number of behavioral targets, part-time therapy might be recommended.
How many hours of ABA is effective?
ABA can be beneficial in smaller doses for some children and for certain areas of concern especially if parent training is involved. However, it is widely believed that full-time ABA is more beneficial for children who require more intensive intervention. So, what is full-time in ABA? In most cases, full-time ABA or ABA that is provided between 20 and 40 hours per week is likely to be most effective. Not only does full-time ABA offer more learning opportunities, but it also provides the opportunity for a trained professional to monitor the child’s behaviors and skills so that immediate intervention can take place as needed to help them move toward their treatment goals.
How are ABA hours determined?
Once the BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) completes the initial evaluation, they put together the information received during intake, assessment results, and parent interviews to propose a treatment plan, which will include goals and number of therapy hours best suited to benefit the child’s independent growth.
An advantage of full-time ABA therapy is that it gives the BCBA overseeing a child’s treatment the chance to modify intervention plans when it would help a child make progress. Sometimes, if a child engages in challenging behavior for a lengthy period or performs a certain skill inaccurately, or isn’t given effective support in working on a skill, their behaviors can get worse, and it might be even more difficult to teach them new skills.
A Note About Full-Time ABA Therapy
It is understandable that it might seem overwhelming and demanding for you to send your child to ABA full-time. However, full-time ABA can look a lot like a preschool or school setting and can be provided in a naturalistic manner. Services can be provided within the context of a child’s daily activities and tasks that your child might do on a regular basis. For example, your child can have play time, snack time, and time to practice daily living skills like brushing their teeth or putting on shoes and a coat. ABA can even include opportunities for your child to encourage social skills and interact with other children. Other examples include sharing with others, following simple directions, feeding and mealtime behaviors, cleaning up, self-care skills, language skills, conversations, answering questions, asking for things your child wants (also known as manding), social skills, advocating for oneself, independence, following a daily routine, and much more.
Research Around Benefits of Full-Time ABA Therapy
There is extensive research support for the benefits of intensive ABA services. Let’s explore a few examples.
Study of IQ and Adaptive Skills Improvement
Research (Linstead, et. al., 2017) shows that ABA that is received for longer periods of time and that is higher in intensity - more hours of service per week - is more effective than short-term, less intensive ABA. One research study found that ABA provided at 36 hours per week or more resulted in improvements in IQ as well as adaptive skills. This is just one example of the many research studies that have demonstrated how effective full-time ABA therapy is as compared to part-time ABA or ABA with a low number of hours per week.
Study of Improvements in 8 Important Domains of Functioning
Another research study found that higher intensity of ABA therapy - as in a higher number of hours per week - as well as longer durations of ABA therapy - as in the number of months in therapy over time - led to greater outcomes in eight important areas of functioning. This research looked at the areas of (1) academic skills, (2) adaptive functioning, (3) cognitive skills, (4) executive functioning, (5) language skills, (6) motor skills, (7) play, and (8) social skills.
Although it is recommended to access intervention as early as possible and it is often said that early intervention is key to positive outcomes for children with autism, this research also found that positive outcomes occurred for children of a wide age range and not just for young children.
Is Full-time ABA Therapy Right for Your Child?
Based on the research and clinical recommendations for most cases, the more hours per week of ABA therapy your child receives the more likely they are to experience better outcomes as it relates to achieving meaningful goals that support improvements in their quality of life and everyday functioning. To accurately determine the goals and needs of your child, schedule an assessment with a BCBA today. Contact the team at Behavioral Innovations today!
Eldevik S, Hastings RP, Hughes JC, Jahr E, Eikeseth S, Cross S. Using participant data to extend the evidence base for intensive behavioral intervention for children with autism. Am J Intellect Dev Disabil 2010; 115: 381–405.
Linstead, E., Dixon, D. R., Hong, E., Burns, C. O., French, R., Novack, M. N., & Granpeesheh, D. (2017). An evaluation of the effects of intensity and duration on outcomes across treatment domains for children with autism spectrum disorder. Translational psychiatry, 7(9), e1234. https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2017.207
Virués-Ortega J. Applied behavior analytic intervention for autism in early childhood: meta-analysis, meta-regression and dose–response meta-analysis of multiple outcomes. Clin Psychol Rev 2010; 30: 387–399.