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ABA Myths and Misconceptions

Applied Behavioral Analysis has gained international attention and significant acceptance as a scientifically proven effective method for teaching individuals with autism. Despite this, ABA theory and methodology remain a mystery to many parents and teachers.

As with any unfamiliar concept, myths and misconceptions exist. The following is a list of common misconceptions and rebuttals.

1. Myth: ABA is experimental. Fact: ABA is research-based. It is the culmination of procedures that have been validated through a long history of empirical research. Case studies and replication studies are ongoing.

2. Myth: ABA utilizes punishment. Fact: ABA utilizes child-oriented positive experiences to reinforce target skills. The goal of ABA is to prevent the escalation of situations to an aversive level through the reinforcement of alternative behaviors. Current practices do not include aversives (e.g., physical punishment).

3. Myth: ABA is mechanistic. Fact: ABA is systematic. At the entry level, many children with autism learn best through repeated practice to acquire target behaviors. However, there is always a balance between discrete trial teaching and opportunities to “go play.” As the program continues, children become increasingly more capable of incidental and observational learning in natural contexts. That is the goal of all ABA programs.

4. Myth: ABA produces robotic children who do not generalize. Fact: In the acquisition phase of a skill, it is normal for behavior to appear somewhat less fluent and somewhat more deliberate (recall the first time you rode a bike). However, in the generalization and maintenance phases of acquisition, skills become fluent and natural. Effective therapists do not interact with children in a robotic manner. They establish strong positive bonds with the children, and their interactions typically include many varied forms of reinforcement.

5. Myth: One-on-One instruction isolates children. Fact: The acquisition of skills through one-on-one therapy enables children to benefit from interactions with peers. Intensive and successful one-on-one adult instruction is a precursor to group and peer interaction. Intensive ABA separates a child from his family ABA invites family participation, and this leads to a feeling of empowerment. Participation in therapy establishes positive and interactive relationships.

6. Myth: ABA is too demanding. Fact: Children with autism thrive on structure, and structure is a key feature of any good program. Progress depends on intensity as measured by the frequency of learning opportunities. Studies have shown that parents of children in ABA perceive themselves as less stressed.

7. Myth: ABA teaches splinter skills. Fact: The goal of ABA is to teach children how to learn from the natural environment. The curriculum represents a pyramid of individual target skills which are eventually combined to form more complex skills.

8. Myth: ABA robs children of their childhood. Fact: The opportunity to have fun and to play are key features of ABA programs. The goal of ABA is to enable the child to experience the greatest degree of participation in the natural environment.

9. Myth: ABA only benefits high functioning children whose parents aim for recovery. Fact: ABA has proven to be highly effective for children with autism at all levels of severity. The critical measure of success is improvement.

10. Myth: ABA is delivered by inexperienced personnel. Fact: Para-professionals who serve as therapists participate in an intensive workshop at the beginning of their employment. They then participate in periodic team meetings which include continuing training and are supervised by the professional consultant(s).

11. Myth: Any professional who understands behavior modification can serve as a program consultant. Fact: It takes specific training (e.g., ABA, communication development, characteristics of children with autism) and supervised experience to run a home program competently. Serious errors can be made if the consultant is not trained properly. There is formal certification in ABA through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Parents seeking professional support should: (a) become informed about the content and form of ABA, (b) talk with other parents whose children are involved in ABA, and (c) ask potential consultants for a resum é including the possibility of references from families with whom they have worked previously.

12. Myth: ABA is the same as Lovaas and Discrete Trial (DTT) . Fact: No, ABA is a broad field of study and application with a wide breadth.

13. Myth: ABA does not work past age six. Fact: ABA is used in everyday life with all kinds of people and even animals. Many older children and adults have made huge gains with the application of ABA.