ABA Strategies and Techniques
Because ABA therapy is not a one-size fits all treatment plan, it means there needs to be different ways of teaching based on the patient. There is an abundance of different techniques and strategies we use within ABA therapy that can be tailored to the individual child.
While doing your research about ABA therapy, it’s likely that you’ve come across many different terms that you probably aren’t too familiar with. This can be frustrating as a parent, not knowing exactly how your child may be taught going forward. It’s natural to have questions as a parent being introduced to ABA therapy, which is why we want to provide you with this guide to help make the transition easier.
What are these strategies I’ve read about? How do they work? What does this mean for my child’s therapy? What will my child’s day look like during therapy? Which one is right for my child?
The following will provide you with some answers to these questions and hopefully allow you to be more familiar with the teaching methods that will be used during your child’s development.
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we primarily use more naturalistic teaching methods, specifically Pivotal Response Treatment (which we will discuss more below). Our supervising clinicians will tailor your child’s program to their style of learning, however, a natural approach is a foundation to support the generalization and maintenance of skills.
Natural Environment Teaching (NET)
Natural Environment Teaching promotes teaching skills in the environment in which they would naturally occur.
Pivotal Response Treatment
Pivotal Response Treatment, or PRT, falls under the umbrella of NET and is a way of teaching young children and allowing that child to really lead the way for their learning. PRT targets the “pivotal areas of development” including:
- Responding to multiple cues
At its core, PRT is a naturalistic form of teaching your child that has been inspired and derived from different ABA approaches. Instead of focusing on just one behavior at a time, we are able to target each of these pivotal areas of your child’s development at once.
Discrete Trial Training
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is adult directed instruction that uses mass trials and a chosen reinforcer to teach new skills. The formal steps in the DTT process are as follows:
- The behavior tech will deliver the instruction.
- The behavior tech will provide the appropriate prompt if/when necessary to assist your child in evoking the correct response.
- Your child will emit the response
- The behavior tech will deliver the chosen reinforcement for the correct response or corrective feedback for the incorrect response to your child.
- Intertrial interval ends one trial and signals that the next trail will be starting.
DTT uses arbitrary reinforcement and is often done at a table. This method is best for targeting discrete skills: skills that have a clear beginning and a clear end. Examples of discrete skills are: colors, letters, numbers, vehicles, etc.
In order to produce meaningful learning, each child needs to be motivated to learn. Learning momentum is a real thing and if the child isn’t motivated to learn, chances are the therapist’s efforts will be wasted. This is where reinforcement comes in and it’s one of the more important aspects of the teaching process and ABA in general.
ABA therapy is at its best when the therapist has an understanding of what motivates the child, using this to keep learning fun and engaging. This is where preference assessments come in handy, identifying which types of reinforcers are effective for that particular child and what interests the child has. With this information, along with the pairing process, therapists will have a full understanding of what your child is motivated by.
Reinforcement always increases behavior. When the correct response is presented, or the desired behavior is displayed, reinforcement will be available for the child. This continues to grow the child’s repertoire of skills. Reinforcement is always the first consideration in all intervention plans for each child.
In the field of ABA, we define maintenance as teaching skills so they will remain in your child’s repertoire, even after the teaching of that skill or behavior has ended. To achieve independence, we need to ensure your child is able to perform these skills or behaviors without prompting and have them occur naturally.
Generalization is one of the more important aspects in providing this meaningful learning. We want to make sure the results we get with your child are long-term results that will bleed into other skills, behaviors, environments, and with other people. This means making sure each behavior and skill is learned so that it’s carried over into environments other than where it was originally taught, as well as with other people outside of the therapist(s) who did the teaching. Achieving generalization is an indicator that the skill or behavior has been fully learned.
Prompting isn’t necessarily a teaching method, however, it is used in all of the teaching methods listed above in one way or another. When first learning a skill, your child will obviously need some assistance. Prompts are ways to help your child learn and are a necessary avenue for independence.
It’s certainly possible that when first learning a new skill, your child will reach a correct response by continually making mistakes along the way. It would be more beneficial for your child to learn the most efficient way to a correct response, however. When learning, allowing the child to continually make mistakes on the way to a correct response may increase the likelihood those mistakes remain. Afterall, they did eventually reach the desired behavior. But by prompting, we are teaching your child to get to that response with the least amount of resistance possible.
Like most things within ABA therapy, prompting comes in a variety of forms. It all depends on the skill being taught, how far along the child is with this skill, and how the individual child learns best. Some prompts are more intrusive while others allow for more independence. Some examples of prompting are:
- Physical prompts: Physically helping the child complete a task
- Gesture prompts: Using an observable gesture (pointing, nodding, etc.) towards a correct response
- Model or Visual prompts: A picture or cue given by the therapist that provides information about correct response
- Verbal prompts: Giving some sort of verbal cue towards the correct response
There are different variations of each of these prompts, some more intrusive than others. The prompts used will be chosen based on the program being taught and how the child learns best.
Eventually, the goal is to continually fade prompts until your child is independent with the skill or behavior. Some practices use a prompting hierarchy to fade prompts. In these cases, programs will start with the most intrusive prompt and, as criteria is met, the teaching will include less intrusive prompts until it’s mastered at full independence. This method is known as Most to Least prompting.
There are also programs that call for Least to Most prompting. This is where the therapist would start with either no prompting or the least intrusive prompt possible. More intrusive prompts would only be introduced with incorrect responses. This provides the child an opportunity to succeed with independence before corrections are given by the therapist.
Data-Based Decision Making
Regardless of the teaching method, ABA is a data driven form of treatment. It relies on research, as well as data recorded in real time, to produce the programs and methods that are effective for each individual patient. The continuous influx of relevant information is what sets ABA apart from other teaching methods and makes it the most effective way of teaching our children.
Paying close attention to the details on a case by case basis ensures that the decisions we make on programming are best for that child. Each decision will be backed up by data and results, guesswork will never be in the equation. All members of the team working with a child will have access to data and each session will have data taken throughout its duration. The most up to date information will always be there for the team to make the most effective decisions. By doing so, we can adapt our methods as each child progresses throughout therapy.
Ally Pediatric Therapy and Our Strategies
Our team at Ally Pediatric Therapy is made up of talented therapists and supervisors, all trained in the many aspects of ABA therapy. With a well-rounded approach we can confidently say that our programming can be molded to accommodate your child’s needs. We help children with Autism and other childhood disorders learn, speak, and grow in order to enhance their quality of life. We like to take a play-based, child-centric approach to our teaching. Keeping the learning engaging and enjoyable to all involved, we strive to make your child’s learning as meaningful as possible. Please feel free to contact us about our services and find out how our team can help your family.