What is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that generally becomes apparent in early childhood. It is defined by a variety of symptoms. However, three symptoms generally characterize the diagnosis: deficits in social abilities, repetitive behavior, and language and communication impairments. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most common characteristic leading to diagnosis is a person's inability to produce or understand spoken language. The current prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is estimated to be 1 in 88 births in the United States. (Tager-Flusberg & Caronna) (Department of Health and Human Services) (Centers for Disease Control, 2012)
What is "ABA" therapy?
"ABA" stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. It is based upon scientific principles of behavior to build socially useful repertoires and reduce problematic behaviors. The science of ABA is rooted in Behaviorism and includes general "laws" about how behavior and learning take place. It is based upon the premise that all behavior (whether verbal, socially appropriate or socially inappropriate) is influenced by one's history of reinforcement. The goal of an effective ABA intervention is to identify what reinforcing properties are maintaining an undesired behavior (i.e., causing it to continue to occur), and teaching a replacement behavior that will provide those same reinforcing properties. It is an ongoing process that consists of assessment, teaching small incremental and measurable steps of skills (often in one-on-one settings), providing appropriate reinforcement for each step, data collection, assessment regarding progress, and adjustment of interventions dependent on behavior change. The timing and pacing of therapy sessions should be tailored to each child and skill. (Cooper, Heron & Heward) (Autism Speaks)
Why ABA? And, how effective is it?
ABA is considered by many researchers and clinicians to be the most effective evidence-based therapeutic approach demonstrated thus far for children with Autism. The US Surgeon General and American Psychiatric Association have both recognized ABA as a "best" practice evidence-based treatment, as it has passed scientific tests of its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness. (Autism Speaks, 2012) No other treatment for children with Autism has provided the extensive empirical research to validate its effectiveness for teaching language and communication. There have been over 550 research studies published in scientific journals validating the effectiveness of ABA methodologies with people affected by Autism and related disabilities. Most studies indicate that young children affected by Autism who are treated with ABA procedures exhibit substantial improvement in many adaptive, useful skills areas and reductions in problematic behaviors. (Anderson et al., 1987; Birnbrauer & Leach, 1993; McEachin et al., 1993)
What does ABA therapy "look like"?
ABA therapy includes many different "techniques". It is important to note that an effective ABA intervention for Autism is not a "cookie cutter" approach, and should never be presented as a "one size fits all" program. Rather, skilled therapists customize each child's program to build upon that child's individual needs, skills, and interests. Some common methods that may be used in combination or alone include: Direct Instruction, Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Incidental Teaching/Natural Environment Training (NET), Verbal Behavior Training, and group/peer social skills training. ABA therapy is focused on the use of positive reinforcement strategies. These strategies may be used to increase language and communication, improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics. (Autism Speaks, 2012)
What is a "BCBA"?
BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Effective use of ABA therapy requires special training by practitioners. In order to become board certified as a BCBA, a practitioner must hold at least a Master's degree and have completed additional post-graduate course work and practical experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. It is important to have the oversight and supervision of a BCBA for treatment of children with Autism. Research has demonstrated that providing ABA therapy to children with Autism by individuals without specific training can potentially cause more harm than good and may actually increase aberrant behaviors. (Elkeseth & Lovass, 1992; Taylor & Carr, 1992; Mason & Iwata, 1990) Therefore, it is essential that ABA practitioners have proper training, credentials, and experience.
Does my child need a diagnosis in order to receive ABA therapy?
ABA methodologies have been used as effective means of behavior change and learning across a variety of populations. However, most insurance companies require a diagnosis of Autism or PDD-NOS in order to cover ABA therapy services. A diagnosis is generally made by a pediatric neurologist, developmental pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or child psychologist specializing in the diagnosis of Autism.
Are services covered by Medicaid?
Recent changes to Florida Medicaid have made ABA therapy a covered service for all children under the age of 21 that are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Documentation of a medical diagnosis and prior authorization by AHCA is required. See our "Resources" page for links to more specific information.
How much ABA therapy does my child need?
Because ABA is a broad approach rather than a "cookie cutter" method, it is difficult to define what a typical program will encompass. The amount of therapy required and level of parent involvement will vary, depending on a specific child's needs. However, research has clearly indicated benefits of early, intensive therapy. According to research, the best outcomes result when intensive behavioral therapy begins before 5 years of age, and particularly for children that have started treatment between 2-3 years old. (Birnbrauner & Leach, 1993; Lovass, 1987; McEachin et al., 1993)
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