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Knowledge Center
Providing the highest quality information and resources about autism spectrum disorders.

Applied Behavioral Analysis Programs

Autism specific impairments are often classified in distinctive categories such as cognitive, social, and emotional. However, many of the deficits in autism such as social cognition overlap into all of these categories and include aspects of cognitive, social and emotional functioning.

Social cognition refers to one’s ability to understand the mental states of others. This is often known as “Theory of Mind”. This ability to understand what another person is feeling and thinking is critical for many areas of emotional and social development. Recent research has demonstrated the struggles that individuals with autism face when it comes to developing a Theory of Mind. Specific core deficits of autism that are social cognitive challenges include understanding others’ emotions, moment-to-moment desires, long-term preferences, deception, what others know and that their knowledge if affected by what they are able to sense, others’ beliefs and that beliefs are not the same as knowledge, others’ thought processes, and being able to identify what others can sense versus what oneself can sense (Granpeesheh & Tarbox).

In addition to impairments in social cognition, core deficits of autism include the area of executive function. Executive function refers to the brain’s control over goal-directed behavior. These areas include working memory, attention, inhibition, short-term memory, planning, self-awareness, and problem solving. All of these skills are controlled by the frontal lobe and research has demonstrated that damage to the frontal lobe can impact the functioning of these abilities. Some of these difficulties are seen in short-term memory, working memory, inhibition, self-awareness, flexibility, problem solving, and planning.

Although Theory of Mind and Executive Function as core deficits of autism are starting to be understood, intervention strategies to strengthen these deficiencies are not fully understood. However, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) programs are shown to be effective in addressing these complex skills because the technique is practical. The main goal of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs is to have change in real-life problems; otherwise, it is not a successful intervention strategy.

Additionally, the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program approach to improving cognitive and emotional skills treats them as skills, which can be taught and learned. It is viewed as a science of behavior that devotes its time to researching the factors that influence behavior using a systematic way to help improve the skills of those who are in need of help. Another important element is that it is performance based, meaning that it measures its success in quantifiable terms. Applied behavioral analysis is contextual, so that behavior can be studied within a specific environment, as well as the conditions that support and/or trigger it. Lastly, Applied behavioral analysis programs are socially important because they take place in real world settings and their foundations can be generalized to a large variety of populations and problems.

In order to see the benefits of applied behavioral analysis programs, it is important that instructors are well trained and understand the principles of this specific intervention strategy. The first step that should be taken is to decide on a measure of the specific skills that all would agree is meaningful (Granpeesheh & Tarbox). Next, it is important to analyze the skill that is being tested into teachable units. The third component is to start teaching specific examples of the skill. Using multiple examples of a skill allows the students to be able to generalize the skills they learn into broader environments instead of relying on rote memor

Autism Intervention Strategies

There are many methods proven to help children with autism. Each method can be used alone or in combination with other methods. Because every child is unique there is no single treatment method that can work best for all children the same. Autism interventions should therefore be customized and tailored to meet each child’s individual needs. The Knowledge Center articles on autism interventions give educators an understanding of the fundamental components and autism strategies required to effectively teach and interact with a child with autism. With these articles, you get specific solutions to help prevent problem behaviors, encourage positive behaviors and teach more appropriate skills to facilitate optimal learning.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): For over fifty years there has been a wide range of research demonstrating the efficacy of ABA in the reduction of disruptive behaviors typically observed in children with autism. Research also shows that ABA is effective when used to teach complex communication, social, play and self-help skills.

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT): Pivotal response teaching (PRT) is a method that uses naturalistic and motivational procedures to increase appropriate developmental behaviors in children with autism. PRT focuses especially on fostering communication and play behaviors. Rather than target individual behaviors one at a time, PRT targets pivotal areas of a child’s development, such as motivation, responsivity to multiple cues, self-management, and social initiations. PRT is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Speech Therapy: Language deficits are one of the core aspects of autism. Speech and language therapy provide specific guidance and detailed analysis in the development of communication for children with autism.

Occupational Therapy: Children with autism have shown to have varying degrees of motor-planning problems affecting their ability to perform fine-motor tasks such as writing and building. Occupational therapists can be an essential part of the treatment in working on these deficits and improving functional skills.

Social Skills: Many consider social interaction deficits to be the core deficit of autism. The resources here are full of techniques and strategies to help students with autism learn to interact with others. Read the articles to learn about different approaches that promote social development. These resources include teacher-initiated techniques and student-driven interventions that help build social skills and teach academic subjects to children with autism.