Does ABA therapy replace school? It’s a more common question than you might think. When most people think of ABA therapy, they picture a child with profound autism working one-on-one with a behavioral therapist in a clinical setting. While this can be one application of Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy, its use can extend beyond this singular approach. ABA therapy is much more and often includes play, promotes independence, and even helps prepare children for the school environment. Research shows children with autism experience more positive school experiences through ABA therapy.
This blog post will discuss how ABA therapy can help your child have a more productive and enjoyable school day with fewer problem behaviors. We will explore why it’s beneficial to implement ABA strategies at home and why ABA therapy is NOT a replacement for school. Lastly, we will address how recent legislation may change the landscape of ABA therapy and public education for children with autism nationwide.
For more information about ABA Centers of America and how we are changing care for the neurodivergent community, click here.
What Is ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy is an evidence-based approach to helping children with autism and other developmental challenges. Through thoughtful interventions, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTS) work with children to increase appropriate behaviors that improve daily functioning while decreasing behaviors that prevent full participation. ABA therapy focuses on understanding the function of an individual’s behavior objectively. With this understanding, ABA professionals concentrate on ways to help clients meet their needs efficiently and practically.
How Can My Child Improve School Experiences Through ABA Therapy?
ABA techniques like Positive Reinforcement and Natural Environment Teaching (NET) teach children on the spectrum to navigate symptom management, social encounters, verbal and nonverbal communication, sensory and emotional self-regulation, and complete tasks. All these skills are essential for school readiness and academic success. Additionally, RBTs work with children to generalize the skills they learn so they can use them across settings.
Here are some strategies you can implement at home to help improve your child’s school experiences through ABA therapy:
1) Establish a Positive Reinforcement System.
Establishing and consistently implementing a positive reinforcement system with highly motivating rewards (or reinforcers) is essential to your child’s academic success. It’s best if you always strive to provide positive results for the behavior you want to see instead of punishment or negative reinforcement techniques.
It’s essential that parents genuinely understand reinforcement and how it may be working with or against them. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask your ABA specialist. In most cases, you reward accuracy or appropriate behavior.
Reinforcers come in verbal praise, tangible rewards like snacks or toys, or engaging the child in a highly preferred activity. These positive rewards may include games like tag, trampoline time, dance parties, and karaoke (kids can be creative!). These reinforcement systems help the child associate appropriate behaviors with a positive experience.
2) Communicate as Much as Possible.
As an autism parent, you should promote verbal and nonverbal communication whenever possible. Productive communication includes using clear language often, describing what you’re doing while doing it, and engaging your child in communication whenever possible.
Simple practices like distributing crayons or cleaning up around the house can be great ways to communicate and immerse your child in language. You will likely notice your ABA practitioners utilize a lot of language and communication with your child during ABA sessions.
3) Model Appropriate Behaviors Consistently.
Modeling appropriate behaviors is an essential part of ABA therapy. While some children on the spectrum struggle with imitation, learned behavior can be a considerable aspect of autism. Parents should model desired behaviors by demonstrating controlled reactions, limiting aggressive speech or tone, and never modeling physical violence. Additionally, parents should show how working and talking through tasks can lead to better solutions during challenges.
Modeling appropriate behavior can help your child understand expectations and provide a positive role model to follow. While modeling can sometimes be challenging because we are all human, it is essential because it can help your child learn to problem solve and respond more appropriately for a lifetime.
4) Focus on School Readiness.
ABA therapy can help children develop appropriate social skills that foster better learning experiences. Generally, “appropriate” behavior means having the skills and ability to sit through extended periods without causing disruption, like circle time or instruction. Additionally, children should be able to share a meal and request bathroom breaks.
Some strategies to help your kiddo prepare for school include encouraging conversation, practicing turn-taking, waiting, and imitating other vital actions that might occur throughout the school day. Social stories and additional visual support can teach social skills in a less intimidating way and make expectations easier to understand. Additionally, your ABA provider will help you tremendously in these areas.
5) Utilize Technology and Apps.
Many technology-based tools and apps can support and enhance a child’s learning at home while preparing for the school environment. Technology and autism apps can also help decrease frustration by providing visual support and allowing the kiddo to work at the pace that is most beneficial to them. Additionally, apps can be highly motivating because they are often fun and exciting.
But Does ABA Therapy Replace School?
ABA therapy utilizes many powerful behavioral techniques to improve life and school experiences for any student on the spectrum. While ABA sessions can significantly enhance a child’s learning ability by targeting problematic behaviors, leading to better outcomes, it does not replace a formalized education.
ABA therapy helps many acquire the foundational skills necessary to function within a conventional school setting. Learning to operate appropriately within the classroom is essential, as it may one day mimic an employment or community environment. However, formal education covers topics and fundamentals ABA therapy doesn’t touch upon.
Additionally, it’s essential to consider the social element of a classroom, which you should pay attention to if it’s an option for your child. A classroom offers endless opportunities for ABA skill practice and applications. Additionally, school experiences provide children with opportunities to establish relationships, which is critical for healthy development.
Lastly, ABA therapy can be life-changing addition to formalized education because, in many cases, clients learn to advocate for themselves in the absence of their clinical providers. Self-advocacy is a skill an individual with autism will use for a lifetime, inside and outside classroom settings.
What Is the Role of Educators and RBTs In Supporting ASD Students?
Every student should feel safe, respected, and accepted in their classroom. Teachers and other educational figures should foster a sense of belonging by engaging all students in classroom activities and giving them equal opportunities to participate. However, it’s important to discern that teachers and RBTS play different roles in supporting students with autism.
Educators should use language and vocabulary appropriate for all students to create an inclusive environment that supports ASD students. Additionally, they should adjust instructions when needed and provide visual support to help with comprehension. Educators may be required to provide additional structure and allow extra time for assignments and tests if the student has an IEP or Individualized Education Program.
RBTs can also help create an inclusive classroom environment by providing one-on-one support and implementing strategies and interventions outlined in students’ IEPs. They can assist with communication, social skills, and carrying out instructions. RBTs can also help students behaviorally to remain focused during class. However, many public school districts elect to exclude ABA practitioners from school settings.
When teachers and RBTs can work together to modify instructional strategies and create an inclusive environment, students with autism have better opportunities to thrive. Providing support and intervention tailored to each student’s needs gives all children equal opportunities to succeed in school.
What Is An IEP?
IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, are created with input from all professionals involved in the student’s education. An IEP should include a description of the student’s strengths and weaknesses, the academic plan designed to meet their needs, a behavior intervention plan if needed, and any technology or assistive instrument they may require. A child’s IEP includes regular reviews to ensure it meets their needs, remains relevant, and helps them progress academically.
What Is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
Recently, a significant win was made for children with specialized needs nationwide after a deaf student, denied the required accommodations for a proper education, sued the school. The supreme court ruled that school officials had failed to provide him with a public education meeting his individualized needs.
This win may give parents the leverage to negotiate with public schools to meet their neurodivergent child’s needs, including ABA therapy in school. Under IDEA, also called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the district must provide appropriate public education to children with tailored needs.
Regarding ABA therapy in schools, many districts, while honoring its benefits, respectfully ask practitioners to reserve sessions for home. These policies can make it hard for children on the spectrum to fulfill their prescribed ABA treatment hours, ultimately hindering progress.
Because children with autism spend so much time in school daily, access to ABA therapy can keep them from being labeled “disruptive” or “problematic.” These labels misrepresent incredible students that need access to the more individualized support that ABA therapy provides.
ABA Centers of America Supports Positive School Experiences through ABA Therapy
The key to helping children with autism succeed in school is to provide them with the proper support and intervention. ABA Centers of America ensures every kiddo we serve has a tailored plan with relevant goals, helpful interventions, and communication skills that benefit them most. Our centers employ highly trained and experienced RBTs and BCBAs that design interventions with your child’s school experiences in mind.
ABA Centers of America is committed to advocating for children who need extra support to flourish academically. This advocacy may one day include the addition of a supportive RBT by your child’s side as they experience the complexities of life on the spectrum in areas like school.
For more information about ABA Centers of America and how we promote the best autism services available, reach us at 844-923-4222 or click here.