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5 Misconceptions About ABA

Posted by on in Behavior Analysis
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What are your thoughts about ABA? There are an abundance of misconceptions about applied behavior analysis (ABA), and of course there are also the facts. No worries; I'm going to tell you about both.

Misconception #1: ABA is experimental.

misconceptions of abaThe facts: No, it is not. ABA (What is ABA?) is evidence-based. Many scientific peer-reviewed studies have been conducted and continue to be conducted on the practice and effects of ABA. It has more research and support than other therapies used for children with autism. Therapists and others who use it every day have the data to back it up. I've seen it work, and the progress of my clients is nothing short of amazing.

Misconception #2: ABA employs punishment.

The facts: Nothing aversive, especially punishment, is currently used in ABA. The Shape of Behavior does not utilize punishment because one of our main goals, one of the goals of ABA, is to replace the negative behavior with an appropriate one, and this cannot be accomplished through the use of punishment. The reason is because punishment teaches a child not to have the behavior in the presence of the person who administers the punishment, which is obviously not an effective or long term solution for the behavior because it may continue to occur elsewhere. Sometimes more undesirable behaviors replace the behavior that was punished because an appropriate replacement behavior was not taught. So it's far more effective to emphasize the positive and teach replacement behaviors.

Misconception #3: ABA makes robotic children.

The facts: This is not true when ABA is correctly implemented. By varying reinforcers, teaching a variety of stimuli and speaking to children with autism with natural responses, there are no worries of having little "robots" running around. Considering the nature of autism, there are movements and speech patterns that may sound repetitive or "robotic," but teaching replacement behavior can improve or in some cases eliminate that behavior.

Misconception #4: ABA is the same as DTT.

The facts: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is one of the techniques used in ABA. It is not the same thing as ABA, and though it is beneficial and evidence-based, it is not the only technique used to teach ABA. DTT is a one on one approach to teaching important skills such as fine motor, gross motor, imitation, matching, auditory processing and many more. Usually a therapist and a client will sit at a table and do trials (work on target skills) for a brief period of time. It's an excellent way for an individual with autism to learn skills, but there's so much more to ABA than just DTT.

Misconception #5: ABA is only for children with autism.

The facts: ABA is known mainly as a treatment for children with autism, but the possibilities for it definitely don't end there. It can be used for adolescents and adults with autism as well. There are no age limits, and it does not lose its effectiveness after a certain age. It can be used beyond autism as well, and it has been used to change behavior in many different settings. Addictions, exercise, work performance and animal behavior have all benefited from ABA. There are so many possibilities.

As you can see, there are many myths and misconceptions about ABA, what it's all about and how effective it is. I told you about a few that I have actually heard people mention, but there are many more so beware. The most important thing to know about ABA is that there is so much research behind it. It is an evidence-based treatment, and it is the most effective treatment for individuals with autism.

Sources: ( (Kathy and Calvin's Home Page) (Hand in Hand)

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  • Guest
    Kisha Wilson Friday, 02 November 2012

    I wanted to know why insurance companies feel that intensive behavioral therapy/applied behavioral analysis (ABA) including Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) programs and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) are unproven for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (i.e., autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, Rett syndrome, pervasive development disorder). The effectiveness of specific behavioral interventions, the duration and intensity of the interventions and the characteristics of children who respond have not been established in the published medical literature. Is this information true?

  • Guest
    Amanda N. Kelly Saturday, 03 November 2012

    Thank you for this post. also has 15 Common Misconceptions about applied behavior analysis:

  • Guest
    Audrey Borges Monday, 05 November 2012

    You're very welcome. I enjoyed writing it, and I'll definitely check out your website.

  • Guest
    Amanda N. Kelly Saturday, 29 December 2012

    I update the site monthly. Let me know if there's something you would like to suggest I add. I will add a link to your post on my website

  • Guest
    LD Saturday, 03 November 2012

    Kisha- I cannot speak for the ESDM program, but I am recently enrolled in graduate school pursuing my masters to become a board certified behavior analyst. When we discussed RDI- the biggest problem was in the data. Much of the research that Gutstein submitted and published has in the past been very vague, specifically regarding the discussion of the actual independent variables(specific procedures implemented for behavior change). This is a big issue when it comes to the important component of the scientific method involving replication. Other sources are unable to replicate research if the independent variables are unknown. With regard to many other articles published in say the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis- the independent variables are explicitly detailed so that other non-affliated researchers can in fact replicate to determine how effective these procedures are. I believe that Gutstein did have an article published in the Autism journal, but this research lacked some important components as I just mentioned. Hope this helps.

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