Navigating autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be a complex and deeply personal journey for both individuals on the spectrum and their families. Amidst the many interventions and therapies available, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy stands out as a widely recognized and evidence-based approach. ABA therapy has proven effective in helping individuals with ASD develop essential life skills, improve communication, and reduce challenging behaviors. Yet, for all its acclaim, a crucial question lingers on many families’ minds: How long should ABA therapy last?
The answer is more complex than many imagine, as ABA therapy’s duration varies significantly from individual to individual. It hinges on numerous factors, including the unique needs and goals of the person receiving care, their age, the intensity of the intervention, and the resources available. ABA Centers of America takes pride in offering guidance and help regarding autism so families can make informed decisions for the best possible outcomes. In this blog, we will answer, “How long should ABA therapy last?” explore the intricacies of ABA therapy, and analyze the factors that influence its duration.
What is the Autism Spectrum, and What is Tailored Care?
The term “autism spectrum” encapsulates the diverse experiences individuals with autism navigate daily. Autism spectrum disorders spread across a broad range of symptoms and challenges, with each person falling on a unique point within this spectrum. Some individuals may have milder forms of autism, often called high-functioning autism, which may primarily manifest as social difficulties or specific sensitivities. Others may have more significant symptoms, including severe communication challenges, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities.
Because of this inherent variability, ABA therapy recognizes the individuality of each person’s experience with autism. The interventions and strategies employed in ABA therapy follow a design that meets the specific needs and goals of the individual. ABA therapists work closely with clients and their families to identify target areas for improvement, whether it’s enhancing communication skills, addressing behavioral challenges, or fostering independence in daily life. As such, the timeline for ABA therapy depends on many factors, with the primary consideration being the individual’s unique needs and goals.
What is Early Intervention for Autism?
Early intervention plays a pivotal role in determining ABA therapy’s duration. The importance of early intervention is well-documented, as research consistently demonstrates that starting ABA therapy during the preschool years, or even earlier, can lead to more substantial and lasting improvements. Young children’s brains are highly adaptable, making it an opportune time to shape behaviors and skills crucial for later development. ABA therapy during this period often focuses on foundational skills such as communication, social interaction, and self-help skills, providing a solid groundwork for future learning.
Early intervention also tends to be more intensive, with higher intensity often yielding faster progress. This intensity can lead to more significant gains within a shorter timeframe. However, it’s essential to remember that the duration of ABA therapy remains individualized, even when taking early intervention into account. The specific goals and progress of the child guide the process, ensuring that treatment remains tailored to their needs.
Primary Indicators: How Long Should ABA Therapy Last?
Most autism professionals suggest that those on the spectrum start ABA therapy between the ages of two and six following a diagnosis. However, this isn’t the case for every client; some may begin treatment as old as nineteen.
No matter the severity of autism or the age at which a client starts, there are some primary indicators to stop ABA therapy at various points. Here are some of those indicators, on average, and why they indicate a potential ceasing of services:
- Primary objectives have been reached – As mentioned before, each ABA therapy program targets objectives and goals unique to the individual. When a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), or other autism professional feels these programs have succinctly catered to these objectives, they may suggest a less-intensive plan or a conclusion of services.
- Client fails to show typical symptoms of autism – Individuals on the spectrum often display similar symptoms amongst age groups, though they may differ significantly. These include hyperactive or inattentive behavior, unusual eating or sleeping habits, sensory-related challenges, and language, movement, and cognitive skill delays. If an ABA provider feels a client fails to show most or all of these symptoms, they may be ready to move on from their program.
- No progress over a significant time frame – Progress doesn’t present itself each day, but there should be some signs of growth over a few weeks to a month. However, if the individual fails to advance or improve upon objectives, it can mean several things. Firstly, the client may not have an adequately tailored plan for their unique characteristics. If so, it’s best to meet with their BCBA or RBT and alter the program to highlight new areas of improvement. Secondly, when a client’s plan adequately caters to their needs and fails to show progress, they may require more intensive care or other remedial or educational interventions.
- Nothing appears to mitigate issues over a prolonged period – In rare cases, some clients may not show any progress even after adjusting their treatment plan. While ABA Centers of America does everything in its power to avoid these situations, there are times when a BCBA may feel as if terminating services is the appropriate course of action. Please note that these instances only occur after attempting every form of adjustment, and clients in these circumstances often receive additional support to find appropriate remedial measures.
What’s the General Consensus on ABA Therapy Duration in Years?
Taking all aspects into consideration, ABA experts have been able to come up with a specific duration for services. Research indicates that no matter what age someone begins ABA therapy, the average length of intensive treatment is three years. Additionally, the range of medically necessary treatment can range from eighteen months to five years. The study also reflects on the frequency of evaluations to determine how the client responds to treatment and prognosis, which experts deem as every six months.
How Do ABA Experts Evaluate a Client’s Progress?
Many indicators help ABA experts like BCBAs and RBTs evaluate a client’s progress to determine whether further care is necessary. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Have problem behaviors reduced significantly to where parents, teachers, and caregivers can manage them without the support of a BCBA?
- Is the client benefitting more significantly from a different educational environment?
- Have the client’s goals been met?
- Can the client generalize new behaviors to new environments naturally or with minimal assistance?
- Does the client appear to learn from their natural environment without needing direct instruction?
- Are new skills emerging spontaneously without direct guidance?
- Can parents and caregivers implement behavior plans away from ABA therapy sessions?
If the ABA expert can safely answer “yes” to most or all of the questions, it may warrant a gradual conclusion of services.
Can Someone Enroll in ABA Therapy More Than Once?
Individuals can 100% enroll in ABA therapy more than once, which happens quite frequently. Children in ABA therapy often reach their goals mapped out in their treatment program, conclude their services, and initiate them once again as they enter their teen years. Every age range presents different challenges, and goals for a four-year-old will differ from those of a twelve-year-old. Social deficits in autism are more pronounced in teens as they reach puberty, so many clients return to champion new and developing challenges.
Let Your Child Champion Their Challenges at ABA Centers of America
While answering “How long should ABA therapy last?” opens the doors to a more extensive discussion, parents should strongly consider enrolling their child if they’ve received a diagnosis or have shown symptoms of autism. No matter how long an individual remains in services, they learn essential life and behavioral skills to foster independence and autonomy. At ABA Centers of America, our comprehensive treatment plans reduce the frequency and severity of challenging behaviors and improve social, academic, and behavioral skills as children enter adulthood.
Call (844) 923-4222 or visit our website to learn more about our ABA therapy services or a free consultation.