Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is so named because it has a broad constellation of potential symptoms, and all of those symptoms may manifest differently, or not manifest at all, in people struggling with this developmental disorder. Because there are so many versions and variations of autism, it’s very difficult to find comprehensive treatment methods that can work for the majority of people with this kind of neurodivergence.
One of the best treatment methods available is ABA therapy, which attempts to analyze and understand the behaviors of autistic patients so they can then be corrected. But unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions that hold ABA therapy back from achieving its true potential.
ABA Therapy 101
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a treatment for ASD that uses behavioral analysis to understand the antecedents, core behaviors, and consequences associated with individual patients. Over time, therapists better understand the root causes of problematic behaviors and can guide patients toward more favorable behaviors.
There are many different acceptable approaches to ABA therapy, and every individual therapist is going to have their own unique philosophy and preferences. Still, in its general form, ABA therapy has helped countless patients with ASD eliminate problematic behaviors, improve their social and emotional skills, and succeed academically.
Myths and Misconceptions About ABA Therapy
What are the most common myths and misconceptions about ABA therapy?
1. ABA therapy is unsupported by evidence.
Because ABA therapy can have some subjective elements, people in the general public sometimes believe that ABA therapy is not supported by scientific evidence. But this simply isn’t true. There are multiple peer-reviewed studies that show the effectiveness of ABA in treating individuals with ASD.
2. ABA therapy is exclusively for children with ASD.
Some parents are reluctant to pursue ABA therapy because they believe it’s only useful for children that have been formally diagnosed with ASD. But this isn’t the case; this behavioral therapeutic approach is hypothetically useful for any child with social, behavioral, or cognitive development issues. The core philosophy of this therapy can potentially be applied to any individual to guide them to better behavioral patterns.
3. Positive reinforcement is glorified bribery.
Positive reinforcement is well-established as a useful method for guiding the development and behavior of children, so it’s a bit confusing why some people describe it as bribery. It’s rational to avoid making positive behaviors contingent upon rewards, but there’s nothing wrong with supporting and encouraging your child in making good decisions and practicing good behaviors.
4. ABA therapy relies on punishment.
Older versions of ABA therapy did use punishments as a form of correction for bad behaviors, but most modern ABA practitioners avoid direct punishment. Instead, they ignore or deliberately avoid rewarding problematic behavioral patterns. In general, ABA therapy is more focused on positive reinforcement than punishment.
5. Anyone can practice ABA therapy.
Effective ABA therapists are trained, licensed professionals who follow scientific rigor and adhere to important standards. It’s not true that just anyone can practice ABA therapy. However, any parent can learn something from ABA therapeutic approaches and use those lessons in their own approach to parenting.
6. ABA therapy is overly focused on behavioral issues.
Because of the B and the acronym, many people falsely assume that ABA therapy is only about tackling behavioral issues inherent in people with ASD. In reality, this form of therapy can help children with all kinds of issues, including cognitive and social ones as well.
7. Drilling exercises in ABA therapy are robotic and unhelpful.
Repetition and consistency are important elements of ABA therapy. However, describing these practices as robotic or useless isn’t fair. In many cases, these patterns are exactly what people with ASD need.
8. ABA therapy is equally helpful for everyone.
It’s tempting to think that because ABA therapy is backed by scientific evidence, it can be used for anyone with ASD. But because every person with autism is unique, ABA therapy sometimes requires a modified approach – and sometimes, alternative forms of therapy are more effective.
9. All ABA therapy disciplines are the same.
Most ABA therapists can agree on the core principles of this therapeutic approach, but not all ABA therapy disciplines are the same. It’s important to choose a discipline that’s a good fit for your needs.
10. ABA therapy cures autism.
There is no cure for autism. ABA therapy can address specific symptoms and improve the well-being of people with ASD, but it’s not going to make ASD go away entirely.
ABA therapy remains one of the most effective and prominent treatment methods for ASD, regardless of the myths and misconceptions that surround it. As more people become better educated about ASD and the treatment methods associated with it, we will gradually work our way to a more accepting society.