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The Truth About ABA

5 Myths Debunked



I want to start by saying: I love my job as a behaviour analyst and deeply care about the children (and their families) I work with. My goal is always to help them live a happy and fulfilling life where they can communicate appropriately, make friends, regulate their emotions and strive toward independence.


Unfortunately, it breaks my heart when I hear comments like “ABA therapy is trying to eradicate neurodiversity”. Those comments do not happen often, but when they do, I not only feel heartbroken, but I also feel that it is so far from the truth.


Now, in order to clear up any confusion about Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy, let me address five common misconceptions about this therapeutic treatment but first, let me define what ABA therapy is.


What is ABA?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy is a treatment method that is widely used for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and ADHD. It is often used in combination with other therapies and interventions to help individuals achieve specific goals, such as improved communication and social skills, better academic performance, and reduced problem behaviours.

One of the strengths of ABA therapy is its scientific approach to treatment. ABA therapy is based on systematic observation and data collection, which allows the therapist to track progress and make adjustments as needed. The therapy is also highly individualised, as the goals, interventions, and reinforcement plans are tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual.

However, despite its widespread use and evidence of effectiveness, ABA therapy has also faced criticism and controversy. Here are some common myth about ABA


Myth 1: ABA aims to eradicate neurodiversity

ABA therapy does not aim to eradicate neurodiversity. As we have explained above, ABA therapy is a treatment approach that is used to help individuals achieve specific goals, such as improved communication and social skills, better academic performance, and reduced problem behaviours. It is not intended to eliminate the individual's unique differences or make them conform to a particular social or behavioural norm.

The goal of ABA therapy is to help individuals lead happier, more independent, and fulfilling lives. By teaching new skills, addressing underlying emotional and cognitive challenges, and promoting generalisation of learned behaviours to new situations, ABA therapy can help individuals achieve greater success in their daily lives.

It's important to note that neurodiversity refers to the natural variations in brain function and behaviour that exist among individuals, and it can encompass a wide range of conditions, including autism. Rather than seeking to eliminate neurodiversity, ABA therapy and other treatments aim to support individuals in reaching their full potential and leading fulfilling lives, while embracing and celebrating their unique differences.


Myth 2: ABA makes kids prompt and reinforcement dependent

Increased reliance on prompts and tangible reinforcers (e.g. toys, food) is not the goal of ABA therapy, and can often be avoided with proper implementation.


A prompt is a cue or support provided by the therapist or caregiver to help the individual initiate a behaviour or complete a task. In ABA therapy, prompts are often used as a temporary tool to help the individual learn a new skill, but the ultimate goal is for the individual to be able to perform the behaviour independently without prompts.


Reinforcement is a key component of ABA therapy, and it involves providing a consequence, such as a treat, praise, or a privilege, that increases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. The ultimate goal is for the individual to be able to perform a behaviour with only naturally occurring reinforcers.


If an individual becomes overly dependent on prompts or tangible reinforcers, it may indicate that the therapy is not being implemented correctly, or that the individual is not receiving enough opportunities to practice the behaviour throughout the day. In such cases, the therapist should work with the individual and their family to adjust the therapy plan to promote more independent behaviour.


Myth 3: ABA is only for children

ABA therapy is not limited to young children with autism. While ABA therapy is often initiated at an early age for children with autism, it can be effective for individuals of all ages, including adults.


ABA therapy is a highly individualised treatment approach that can be tailored to meet the unique needs and goals of each person, regardless of their age. For younger children, ABA therapy may focus on building foundational skills, such as communication and social interaction, while for older children and adults, it may focus on more complex skills, such as independent living, vocational training, and reducing problem behaviors.

Myth 4: ABA is only for people with Autism

ABA therapy is not limited to individuals with autism. It is used with a variety of other conditions and populations.


It has been applied in a variety of settings, including schools, homes, and healthcare settings, to treat a range of conditions, including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities

  • Down syndrome

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Substance abuse

  • Mental health conditions

  • Eating disorders


Myth 5: ABA is abusive

ABA therapy is not inherently abusive. ABA is a well-established and widely used evidence-based treatment approach. It has has been shown to be effective in helping individuals achieve specific goals, such as improved communication and social skills, better academic performance, and reduced problem behaviours.


However, like any therapy or intervention, the implementation of ABA therapy is dependent on the individual providing the treatment and can vary in quality and effectiveness. Reports of abusive practices, such as the use of physical restraint or humiliation in the implementation of ABA therapy are completely unacceptable and have no place in any legitimate form of therapy. It is a violation of ethical principles for any ABA therapy program to condone such practices.


It's important to remember that ABA therapy is a highly individualised treatment approach that should be tailored to meet the unique needs and goals of each person with autism. It should be provided by qualified and trained professionals who follow ethical guidelines and adhere to best practices in the field.


Last note

On a last note, it is fascinating to observe how we all use the principles of ABA therapy in our daily lives to modify our behaviours and habits, often without even realising it. For instance, when you place your gym clothes next to your bed to make sure you go to the gym the next day, you're using an antecedent strategy to modify your environment and make your target behaviour more likely. The renowned book, Atomic Habits, employs various components of behavioural therapy to teach readers how to build and sustain meaningful habits.


Hence, overall, when implemented correctly and ethically, ABA therapy can help individuals achieve greater independence and happiness in their daily lives. To ensure this, it is important to seek out the highest quality therapy conducted by well-trained professionals, as well as the support and resources that best meet the unique needs of the individual.


If you have any concerns about the quality or ethics of ABA therapy being provided to someone you know, it may be helpful to speak to a professional in the field or contact a local advocacy organization.



Resources

You can check out the ethical code for most ABA therapist here:


You can check the certifications registry for ABA therapist here:


Here are some local advocacy organisations:


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