Here are six of the best ways your child can maintain the skills they develop in ABA therapy.
What Skills are Developed in ABA Therapy?
ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder is so effective because it can be used to monitor and develop broad skills while focusing on smaller, specific behavioral components within them. This method of teaching allows children to work on a whole gamut of skills, including:
- Language and communication skills
- Social skills and public setting acclimation
- Play, relaxation, and leisure skills
- Sorting and visualization skills
- Daily life skills such as hygiene and eating
- Educational and learning skills
These skill sets can encompass and enhance specific behaviors that a child with autism needs to develop or modify. Once your child has learned these skills and modified their behavior appropriately, it is just as important to maintain good practice in every opportunity so that it becomes habit for your child throughout the rest of their life.
6 Reasons Skill Maintenance is Necessary for Children with Autism
Children with autism often have harder times retaining skills that they have come to master. When learning critical life skills, we don’t want to wait until there is an important situation to find out that some of their learned behaviors have not been retained. This means that finding opportunities to regularly practice learned behaviors is necessary – and here are six reasons why:
1. Promotes Lifelong Learning and Self-Improvement: We want our children to be as prepared for life as possible. Learning and self-improvement are skills which can be strengthened in and of themselves, and will open up more and more opportunities for your child with autism as they practice and develop them.. And the more they do, the greater the opportunities which will be available to them in the future.
2. Strengthens Generalization: Practicing and performing skills in multiple settings – otherwise known as generalization – is a major goal of ABA therapy. When your child learns new behaviors in a clinic, home, or school setting, having them learn to apply it in all of these settings (and any other environment you’re targeting) will go a long way in your child’s long-term retention of that particular behavior.
3. Prepares the Way for Recalibrating Behaviors: Some learned behaviors are appropriate for a time, setting, or age, but there are plenty of instances where a child with autism needs to practice modifying that particular skill to match changes in their environment over time. For example, learning skills or behaviors practiced in a school setting should continue to be modified as the child progresses through their education since their responsiblities and environmental challenges are likely to increase.
4. Improves Long Term Retention: All people lose mastery over skills neglected over a long period of time.. People with autism are no different, and the closer we can get to mastery via consistent practice, the readier your child will be when they need to apply necessary skills. This can be imperative for situations such as calling for help, ordering food, or plenty of daily tasks that would adversely affect a person with autism should they find themselves unprepared and without assistance.
5. Readies Your Child for Interactions with Unfamiliar People: When learning interpersonal skills, it should never be assumed that interactions can be easily generalized. If a child with autism learns a specific behavior or skill from a therapist or parent, they might need consistent practice with different people before the skill is truly learned.
6. Allows for New Skills to Augment Older Ones: Children with autism thrive on routine. If they are used to using one specific skill to work through certain situations, they will continue to do so – and often rightfully so. However, with consistent practice, it is possible to look at skill sets for certain environments and determine if a new skill can add more to the existing skill that your child has been practicing.
Keeping skills sharp is one of the most important elements of prolonged ABA therapy success. In turn, persistently supporting the development of your child’s skills may take much patience and diligence, but it will only prepare them for success for the rest of their life.
How to Maintain ABA Skills Across Environments
Consistency and intentional practice will usually yield stronger results when working on skills and behaviors learned in an ABA framework. Here are some easy ways to maintain ABA skills for life:
- Practice in Natural Environments – Generalization is always an important goal of learning ABA skills. Even if the learning component of a skill is contained – such as reading a book or using an iPad – you can have your child practice these skills at home, school, or at a playground. The repetitions in different environments will help reinforce that particular skill and how it applies to multiple contexts and locations.
- Keep Index Cards – Organizing the skills your child has learned and worked on in ABA therapy requires effort and communication; having a rotating box of ‘maintenance’ index cards is a great way to catalog which skills have been practiced most versus skills which might require some careful attention.
- Don’t Take Shortcuts – Life skills that require maintenance will fade if you allow your child to do them halfway or revert to easier behaviors that have worse outcomes. For example, if getting dressed is a skill your child is currently in the process of mastering, then don’t help your child when it’s time – let them practice the entire process on their own. Also, it’s important to plan time for your child to practice. Always leaving in a rush is going to work against your child in the long run if they still need to learn to dress themselves.
- Make It Part of a Routine – Children with autism benefit from having familiarity and routines. Making learning and practicing skills more comfortable and predictable will enhance the value of your child’s time practicing.
Keeping life skills sharp is necessary, healthy, and much of what’s involved in ABA therapy. If you have questions or concerns about the best ways to go about a practice routine, make sure to ask your ABA therapist or clinician for support.
Get the Best ABA Therapy for Autism in Arizona
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, our goal is to help children with autism live life to the fullest. Our therapists and clinicians create unique frameworks that develop skills by reinforcing them with consistent practice. We’d love to show you how your child and family can benefit from this effective treatment. If you’re looking to take the next step in getting ABA therapy for your child, please reach out today. We’d love to help.