The Evolution of Modern ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has experienced significant growth since its beginning in the 1970s. The milestones of ABA therapy growth have come from unparalleled education, embraced positivity, public awareness, and continued acceptance. Unfortunately, many Autistic adults recollect negative memories with their own ABA therapy from childhood.

Over the years, treatment has shifted focus from coercion and punishment procedures to positive encouragement and reinforcement. Positivity while continuing to expanding the capacity to respect bodily autonomy and neurodiversity.

Some individuals remember ABA therapy as strictly table work, training one to respond to specific cues to receive reinforcement. While table work is often still part of therapy in the form of discrete trial training (DTT), ABA therapy also encompasses the use of naturalistic and incidental teaching strategies to use motivation within the natural environment to encourage skill acquisition.

Keep reading to learn more about the evolution of ABA therapy over the years, and how it has improved to implement a human, compassionate, and understanding approach.

Previously Practiced ABA Therapy

Previously practiced ABA therapy included the following techniques:

  • Forced prolonged eye contact
  • Withholding basic needs (such as access to food/drink)
  • Entirely restricting access to self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Forcibly extinguishing other uniquely autistic traits

Traditional Applied Behavior Analysis promised parents that, following intensive therapy, their child would be “indistinguishable” from their peers. While ABA does certainly improve communication, social and adaptive living skills, it does NOT extinguish Autism (nor should it).

If your child is receiving ABA therapy which involves any of the methods mentioned above, that is a huge red flag to begin searching for a new provider immediately.

Modern ABA Therapy

Modern Applied Behavior Analysis typically functions as part of a comprehensive treatment package for children with special needs rather than the sole source of therapy. A treatment solution may involve speech therapy, occupational and sensory integration therapy, psychotherapy, and more. Treatment is entirely individualized, as opposed to the one size fits all antiquated ABA approach.

ABA therapy has always focused on shaping behaviors and skills to encourage independece.

Previous ABA therapy interventions have also been said to increase prompt dependency and promote unnatural, robotic responses. However, current ABA practices focus on using least to most intrusive prompting methods and systematically fading prompts to encourage individual independence.

While prompts are still utilized within ABA therapy, the systematic fading allows for continued learning in scenarios outside the learning environment, providing access to generalization and skills maintenance.

A Practice Regulated by Ethical Codes and Compassionate Certified Professionals

While ABA therapy has continued to evolve, so have the ethical principles to support ethical treatment within the field. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) functions as the governing board for behavior analysts and behavior technicians administering ABA therapy.

The ethical code for behavior analysts and behavior technicians has received many updates over the years to include the most current and ethical practices within behavior analysis. All BCBA’s and RBT’s are thoroughly trained in accordance with this moral code to ensure quality and ethical treatment for those receiving behavioral therapy.

The ethical code focuses on the following core principles; benefiting others, treating others with dignity, compassion, and respect, behaving with integrity, and ensuring the competence of interventionists (BACB, 2021). With the guidance of this code and following the most recent research and recommendations within behavior analysis, the field is continuing to evolve to provide the most ethical and responsible treatment.

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