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Intense ABA therapy early in life leads to best outcomes

By: Centria Healthcare / 23 Aug 2019
Intense ABA therapy early in life leads to best outcomes

Early childhood immersion in ABA therapy contributes to meeting highest goals

Several studies have shown evidence that early intervention using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) leads to increased language and communication skills, improved attention, focus, and social skills, which also reduce problem behaviors in children diagnosed at an early age with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

ABA applies what we know about how people behave in real-life situations and adapts them into techniques that change behaviors. The goal of ABA—which has been used to treat U.S. children with ASD and related disorders since the 1960s according to Autism Speaks—is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease undesired behaviors that may impact learning.

In a study looking at ways to predict optical outcomes for children diagnosed with ASD, 48% of those who received early intervention ABA therapy within the first year (by maintaining treatment within a range of 32 to 39 hours per week) were found to be successful in a typical classroom and all of them "displayed rapid acquisition of new material early in treatment" (Sallows and Graupner, 2005). 

Personalization drives success in ABA

People diagnosed with autism express different traits, symptoms, and functioning levels. Therefore, ABA therapy is applied as a flexible treatment program using research-based strategies for each child according to their personal strengths and weaknesses. ABA therapy can and should:  undefined

  • Be adaptive to meet the needs of each unique person and change as their needs change
  • Be applied in settings most helpful to teach skills necessary for everyday life
  • Be individualized with particular focus on the areas of communication, social, and daily living skills.
  • Be intentional in programming for generalization of learned skills to the greater world outside of a therapeutic environment

Centria's ABA services, either in-home or center-based, offer exactly this early, intensive therapy intended to lead to optimal outcomes for children on the spectrum.  

Rewarding positive behavior works

Treatment assessments by Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) identify skills that need strengthening and break down the goal of achieving that skill into small, easy-to-understand steps. Each step is then taught and repeated in sessions with registered behavior technicians who are closely supervised by BCBAs. As each step is successfully learned, the child is positively reinforced until the task becomes an unaided skill. 

Reinforcement is individualized to the preferences of the child, examples include verbal praise, time with a favorite toy or book, watching a short video, access to a playground or other favorite location, playing a favorite game, etc.

Life's lessons last when starting early 

Researchers determined in the article, "Predictors of Optimal Outcome in Toddlers Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder" that children who receive an early diagnosis of ASD can reach optimal life outcomes (Sutera, Pandey, Esser, Rosenthal, Wilson, Barton, Green, Hodgson, Robins, Dumont-Mathieu, Fein, 2007). But, the article concludes that further study of these children at a later developmental stage "would likely reveal true symptomatic ASD signs that were not present at a younger age." 

Although ASD is a lifelong disorder, early diagnosis prior to age 3, and intense treatment from that point forward can counter the developmental cascade that contributes to progressive symptom development before it fully manifests. This article suggests ABA therapy may impact functioning levels to the point that when the same child is tested a year or two later, functioning levels may be equal to same-age peers that were never diagnosed with ASD.  

Increasing hours of therapy make for more effective ABA

This and several peer-reviewed studies indicate intensive early intervention through ABA therapy "has been most effective in producing quantifiable gains" in young children with ASD. The article referenced studies in 1997 and 2001 that determined effective treatments include "high numbers of treatment hours per week, direct instruction, an emphasis on attending to others and social-skill training, development of imitation skills, a focus on functional language development, and high levels of structure and consistency."

Predicting which children with ASD diagnosis (based on function level, age, other developmental disorders, etc.) is difficult, but "it is crucial to provide all children intensive, early intervention" of ABA therapy (Sutera et al., 2007).

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