The Success of ABA
THE HOLIDAY SEASON is a time when special memories are made. For Isaac, age 6, and his family this holiday season will be remembered because Isaac told his mother that he wanted an Angry Birds winter hat. Now to some, this might not seem like a big deal. But to Isaac and his family, it was a sign of amazing progress. Isaac is diagnosed with autism, a condition that affects his ability to communicate verbally. Without speech, asking for what he wanted was always difficult for Isaac, resulting in tantrums and other behaviors that hindered rather than helped communication.
But what a difference a year makes! After 30 hours a week of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) over 12 months at Crotched Mountain’s Ready, Set, Connect! (RSC) program for young children with autism, Isaac not only asked for and got the hat he wanted, he also acquired the skills to enter first grade with other kids his age. At RSC, kids benefit from a new twist on old bit of wisdom. That is, if a behavior results in a positive pay-off, humans are likely to repeat it. It’s one of the central tenets of ABA, and is in evidence all day long at RSC.
ABA is a data-driven approach to decrease behaviors that hinder learning and increase skills that assist learning. Activities at RSC are undertaken with specific goals in mind, like using language, attending to a task or engaging in reciprocal interactions. This happens through an intentional exchange that uses repeated prompts for a desired response—combined with positive reinforcement. Each time an exchange is repeated the therapist makes a note of the outcome. Responses are tallied to determine progress and effectiveness of the activity.
Activities for the children at RSC are derived from the Verbal Behavior Milestone Assessment and Placement Protocol which maps behaviors that require attention. “There’s no guesswork in ABA,” says Laura Bechard, Board Certifed Behavior Analyst (BCBA), ABA specialist and clinical director at RSC. “If an activity isn’t effective, the data let us know and we try something else. If it’s working and a child masters a skill, we move on before boredom sets in. It’s a dynamic process.”
Take Hunter, age two, who was recently diagnosed with autism. When he entered RSC, he used only a few words and experienced great frustration trying to be understood. This resulted in tantrums and self injurious behaviors. With a goal for Hunter to use speech to make a request, Lindsey, his therapist, used a pretzel as a motivator. She said “pretzel” and handed him a piece. Hunter happily ate it. She repeated this exchange multiple times. By the end of the session, Hunter had made a “pa” sound in response to the prompt and within days was able to ask for a pretzel. Four months later, he counts to ten and knows the alphabet!
Watching children progress was what motivated Laura to join the field. As an aide to a student with autism, she saw first-hand the success of ABA. She returned to school to become a Board Certifed Behavior Analyst. “I believe everyone is reachable. Everyone is capable of change and growth,” says Laura. Laura points out that with younger children, ABA resembles play. Older children might have activities that look more like traditional learning, such as labeling elements in a picture. For example, Isaac and his therapist, Nancy, use flash cards to help him identify concepts like over, under and beside. Laura believes that it’s the one-on-one teaching relationships that make RSC really effective. Therapists get to know what motivates each child so that the curriculum can be individualized for optimal interest, engagement and success. And with a BCBA on staff, activities are modifed quickly in response to a child’s needs and progress.
Isaac’s Mom, Heidi, agrees. She recalls when Isaac enrolled in RSC he had very little speech and would make minimal eye contact. “Today when someone enters the room he will stop what he is doing, make eye contact and say hello. He can tell me what he wants, sing songs, and is learning to ask for things that aren’t even in his view. That’s huge!” In addition, Isaac’s cousin attends RSC with Isaac once a week so the therapists can teach Isaac how to play with her.
Beyond day-to-day activities at RSC, in-home support is available to ensure consistency and generalize new skills to other settings. Schools benefit from RSC’s expertise as therapists work closely with teachers and aides when children transition to the classroom. And parents, students and therapists come together at monthly clinics to review progress and programming. Indeed, every day at RSC holds rewards for the children who change and grow, the therapists who excitedly report another milestone reached and the parents who discover their child’s potential with each new connection made.
For more information about Ready, Set, Connect!, contact us at 603.226.2900, ext. 29 or email firstname.lastname@example.org