Thoughtful Parenting: Applied Behavior Analysis useful therapeutic tool | SteamboatToday.com

Thoughtful Parenting: Applied Behavior Analysis useful therapeutic tool

Deirdre Pepin/For Steamboat Today

Thoughtful Parenting First Impressions

Applied Behavior Analysis, the science of behavior change, is a proven effective method for changing undesirable behavior. Behavior analysis is an approach to understanding behavior and its relationship with the environment.

Behavior refers to a person's actions and skills. Environment refers to anything that has the power to change or be changed by a person's behavior — it can be psychological, emotional, or physical. At the heart of behavior analysis is understanding how learning happens.

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, uses techniques to reduce inappropriate or unwanted behavior and increase appropriate or wanted behavior. ABA can take place in a structured classroom setting, as well as informal real life situations. It can help children and adults improve communication, relationships, school and job performance and participation in family and community events.

Studies show ABA is helpful for children with autism spectrum disorders in acquiring language, self-help and play skills and decreasing aggressive, self-injurious and self-stimulatory behavior. Preschool children with autism spectrum disorders who engage in early intensive ABA for at least two years benefit from substantial gains and may need little or no support as they continue through their school years.

ABA targets the improvement of socially significant behaviors, including communication, social skills, academics, reading, gross and fine motor skills, toileting, dressing, eating, personal self-care, domestic skills and work skills. But ABA is not only for people with developmental disabilities or autism spectrum disorders. Its principles can be used to alter any observable behavior. While ABA can be used as a treatment for anxiety, addiction and ADHD, it can also be used for professional development by enhancing productivity and engagement, for example.

If you are a parent of a child with challenging or inappropriate behaviors, Applied Behavior Analysis might be a great option. It's important to remember, however, that there is no single plan or program that constitutes ABA. There is no single study that says how many sessions it will take to change your child's behavior.

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The most successful ABA programs are those that are woven into the fabric of the child's and family's lifestyle. As the parent of a child in ABA, your role is critical. You know your child better than anyone else, and you experience your child's behavior frequently enough to track it (helping to determine why or when it occurs). Engaged parents ensure that prompts and reinforcements continue throughout daily routines and are fundamental to a successful program.

The first step for parents who want to start ABA is to get an assessment of the child's current skill level. Assessments provide a baseline for the ABA provider and help measure progress going forward. Options include a diagnostic assessment, developmental assessment, domain specific assessment, neuropsychological assessment, criterion-referenced assessment, preference assessment, functional behavioral assessment, and skill probes.

As your local community centered board, Horizons hopes to continue providing information about different kinds of behavior services. ABA is but one of many; others include social cognition, synergetic play therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. While ABA has attracted attention as the best method for children with autism spectrum disorders, each child's unique situation requires individual evaluation and treatment.

Currently, ABA is in high demand in Northwest Colorado, creating the need for more local providers. Behavior services, not just ABA, should be available through insurance or Medicaid (you do not need to be on a Medicaid Waiver to receive behavior services). Some schools offer behavior services as part of a child's individualized education program.

If you have questions about your infant or toddler's development, call Horizons Specialized Services' Early Intervention office at 970-871-8558.

Deirdre Pepin works in resource development and public relations at Horizons Specialized Services.

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