Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy is considered the gold standard in the treatment of autism. This branch of behavioral science is typically implemented in a home or center setting, by a trained therapist or RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) who works closely with a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA.
Learnings from ABA therapy can also be implemented and effectively used by parents in their home with their child. In this article, we will share some guidance on how you can implement ABA therapy techniques with your child to help them learn new things and reduce challenging behaviors they might have.
ABA therapy is an evidence-based intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder. Extensive research has found that ABA therapy can positively benefit children with autism by helping improve their quality of life, teaching certain life skills, and helping to reduce disruptive behaviors that children with autism sometimes display. ABA therapy can also be an effective intervention for any child or adult.
ABA therapy is based on the principles of behavior science -- it is based on the scientific findings of how people learn, change, and behave. Because of this foundation of ABA (applied behavior analysis), you can learn ABA concepts and apply them at home with your children. You can use ABA strategies with children with or without disabilities, including those with autism spectrum disorder. Strategies can be used in your everyday parenting for daily concerns, such as teaching kids to do their homework, clean their room, or brush their teeth, as well as for larger concerns like aggression or sleep-related issues.
What ABA strategies can parents use at home with their kids?
ABA therapy consists of strategies you can use at home that may be helpful for your children, for you, and for your family as a whole.
Positive reinforcement is one of the most common concepts found in ABA therapy. It’s the core of how people learn behaviors, how they change and grow over time, and how we learn new skills -- such as how to tie our shoes, how to do math problems, or how to maintain friendships.
Positive reinforcement is a concept that refers to the idea that something that happens after a behavior - anything that a person does - has an impact on that behavior happening again in the future. More specifically, when a behavior is followed by a positive reinforcer, the behavior will happen again, and it will happen more often in the future.
An example of when you can use positive reinforcement at home is when you want to get your children to complete household chores regularly. Think about what your child likes to do and how you can plan your child’s day to increase the chances they will do their chores. If you want your son to take out the trash and he also likes video games, you can use video games as a positive reinforcer for him taking out the trash. To do this, simply inform him or set up a routine that has him take out the trash followed by allowing him to play video games. Don’t allow him to play video games if he doesn’t take out the trash.
When getting kids to learn new things and build their independence and life skills, it’s important to individualize your approach, but using core ABA principles, such as positive reinforcement, in a way that is appropriate for your child, can certainly help.
Operant extinction is the idea that a previously reinforced behavior is no longer reinforced and, therefore, the behavior decreases in frequency. Basically, operant extinction is when your child stops behaving a certain way when he/she no longer experiences the same outcome after he/she acts a certain way.
Keep in mind that it is important to consider what behavior you’d like to reinforce instead of focusing on the problematic behavior, so we can focus on using positive behavior change strategies. Extinction is helpful for parents especially if a child has learned to “get away with” certain behaviors because they are used to getting what they want when they behave that way. This, of course, is not a parent’s fault. It’s just how human behavior works. However, understanding this process can help you change the trajectory of your child’s behaviors. It gives you a tool to manage challenging behaviors that your child has that you would like to minimize.
For example, think about a child who tends to have temper tantrums that involve falling to the floor, yelling, screaming, and sometimes throwing toys or other items. If this child is often provided with a tablet during these tantrums, he/she learns that he/she can get some tablet time by throwing a temper tantrum. If the parents stop giving the tablet during a temper tantrum, the child is likely to stop having tantrums as an attempt to get the tablet.
In this example, it is important to point out that we should also incorporate other ABA strategies, such as using positive reinforcement to reinforce an alternative behavior, a behavior that we’d rather see in the child as opposed to a temper tantrum. Additionally, it’s important to consider whether the child is overly tired, hungry, and if they have a daily routine schedule. Also, does the child know when they are allowed and not allowed to use the tablet? Setting up expectations surrounding the use of electronic devices is a recommended strategy to help avoid challenging behaviors related to this activity.
Implementing effective ABA strategies in your home is possible, but to learn how to combine a variety of ABA strategies to get the best results, consider reaching out to Behavioral Innovations for support.
When you are trying to teach your child something new, it is beneficial to provide prompts. Prompts are the things you do to help your child be successful with the new skill you are trying to teach them.
There are different types of prompts including:
- Physical prompts - physically helping your child do something
- Verbal prompts - telling your child something to help them accomplish the task
- Model prompts - showing your child how to do something
- Gestural prompts - gestures or body movements to give your child guidance on how to do something
- Visual prompts - providing a visual aid to support your child’s success with the task
- Auditory prompts - using a noise (such as a timer) to support your child’s independence with the skill
Some examples of using prompts at home with your kids include the following:
- Giving your child a visual schedule of their daily routine
- Setting a timer to help your child transition from one activity to the next
- Physically helping your child brush their teeth
- Vocally telling your child the next step of an activity (such as when they are doing their homework)
- Modeling (showing) your child how to tie shoes
- Pointing to a toy that you want your child to put away, while also giving a verbal direction to pick up the toy and put it away
In applied behavior analysis, modeling is when one person demonstrates to someone else how to do something. In the case of parenting, parents can use modeling in the context of their everyday lives to demonstrate how to do countless activities and positively influence their child’s ability to learn new skills.
Some examples of how parents can use modeling to help their children include:
- Parents brushing their teeth while their child is supposed to be brushing their teeth to show them how to do the task.
- Parents using the type of language that they want their child to use to effectively communicate in certain situations including when the child is under stress, experiencing frustration or anger, or when communicating with others for any reason.
- Parents cleaning up to show their child how to clean up after themselves.
- Parents making a snack or a meal to show their child how to do it.
- Parents doing a math problem to show their child how to do the math in the child’s homework.
Creating and Being Consistent with Rules
The idea of having rules is based on behavior science. In applied behavior analysis, having rules and then being consistent with these rules is thought to contribute to greater compliance and better behavior from children (and adults, as well). When you create “family rules,” your children are more likely to know what to expect and they understand what they are and are not allowed to do.
This is also applicable to adults. For instance, workplaces are full of rules - people are told what they can and cannot wear to work, when they can take breaks, how to request time off, and so on.
The important thing about creating rules in your household is to be clear about the rules and to be consistent with implementing the rules. If you set consequences for breaking the rules, be sure to follow through on those, as well.
Depending on your family’s needs, here are a few examples of rules that you could create:
- No hitting
- No jumping on the furniture
- Complete your homework before using electronic devices
- Clean up your dishes after dinner
- Do your daily chores
Combine rules with positive reinforcements and prompts to increase chances of compliance.
Use Shaping to Teach New Skills
Shaping is a concept in ABA that means to reinforce closer and closer approximations to the skill that you’d ultimately like to see your child be able to do. For example, if you’d like your child to be able to brush their teeth well, you could reinforce your child’s efforts at getting better at developing the skill of toothbrushing by praising and reinforcing them for trying to brush their teeth even if they only brushed part of their mouth for 20 seconds.
Despite the end goal being to have the child brush their teeth for at least two minutes and floss, you can reinforce your child for getting closer and closer to that end goal. You could give them a sticker on a sticker chart, praise, and/or any other reward that you think would help encourage them to continue to work on getting better at brushing their teeth.
Using ABA Therapy Techniques at Home
We have provided some recommendations on various ABA strategies that you can use at home with your child. These include:
- Using Positive Reinforcement
- Using Extinction
- Providing Prompts
- Using Modeling
- Creating and Being Consistent with Rules
- Shaping New Skills
Aside from the ABA strategies described in this article, there are many other ABA strategies you could use at home regardless of whether your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or not. To get the best results, feel free to reach out to us at Behavioral Innovations for guidance on which strategies would be best for your child.