The Benefits of Long-Term Behavioral Therapy
Parents are often confused over which behavioral therapy approach to take. For starters, schools frequently move autistic children into the mainstream early in their schooling. While that’s always the larger goal, shifting a child away from intensive behavioral programs that support social growth too soon can hamper his progress. Children who receive ongoing therapy are more likely to outgrow the diagnosis entirely, even if they spend less time in the mainstream initially. More intervention now can lead to more age-appropriate skills later, allowing an easier transition into the mainstream.
Another challenge is determining which type of behavioral therapy matches your child. There’s no way to know exactly what will work for any individual, apart from making a logical plan, being flexible in monitoring progress, and making adjustments when needed. Current research doesn’t say how much or what type of intervention is best, only that continuing behavioral therapy benefits a child.
The good thing about behavioral intervention is that it’s effective and safe. The not-so-good thing is that it’s labor-intensive and costly. Since behavioral therapy comes in a variety of styles, picking one may feel like a guessing game. But when deciding where to put time and energy, inside or outside of school, behavioral therapy remains the most reliable way to develop skills in children with autism.
Behavioral Therapies for Autism
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
This therapy is the most-researched intervention for autism, and has been used for more than 50 years. It is a highly structured, scientific approach that teaches play, communication, self-care, academic and social living skills, and reduces problematic behaviors. A lot of research shows that it improves outcomes for children with autism.
ABA involves a therapist breaking down skills into component parts and, through repetition, reinforcement, and encouragement, helping a child learn them. With ABA, a therapist observes a child’s abilities and defines what would benefit him, even when a child is not interested in learning particular skills. For example, if a child is not interested in greeting others or in learning toilet training, an ABA therapist might focus on those skills anyway, because she recognizes their long-term value long before a child can.
ABA is the usual starting point for children with more severe symptoms. Therapists recommend as many as 40 hours a week of therapy, often in a full-time, classroom-based program. Even as skills improve and children begin to make friends and improve socially, ABA often continues to play a useful role.