Autism spectrum disorders can make certain activities challenging, such as learning basic skills and regulating emotions. However, there are great treatment options out there, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). 

This therapy method relies on conditioning principles, including classical conditioning and operant conditioning. In a nutshell, these theories mean that behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated, while behavior that is ignored or discouraged will not be repeated. ABA therapy for toddlers and older kids is all about identifying behavioral goals, breaking the goal into manageable steps, and then rewarding your little ones throughout the process so that they feel motivated to keep going. 

While you will get the most benefit from ABA therapy by working with a professional, you can begin to incorporate these techniques into everyday life, reinforcing what your child learns in therapy through consistent action. 

Let’s look at some of the most effective ABA techniques so that you can get an idea of how to utilize them yourself. 

Positive Reinforcement

First is positive reinforcement, which is one of the basic principles of ABA therapy. In essence, positive reinforcement means providing a desirable outcome after a certain behavior so that the behavior is more likely to be repeated.

You have likely been doing this already, such as cheering on your toddler as they practice writing activities to improve their fine motor skills, but understanding why it works can help you recognize opportunities for positive reinforcement in everyday life. The bigger the accomplishment, the more important it is that you reward your child so that they begin to associate this activity with feeling good. 

Modeling

The old adage, “monkey see, monkey do,” is very true for children, including autistic children. However, modeling in ABA therapy is often more visual and concrete in form, better matching an autistic child’s learning style. 

For example, if you want your child to brush their teeth on a regular basis, bring them into the bathroom with you as you brush your own teeth, letting them watch before you help them try it themselves. You can also incorporate charts into everyday life, such as a chore chart that can serve as a reminder until your child is able to remember the routine themselves. 

Modeling can also work to show a child how to respond to a certain action or how to self-soothe. You can model the behavior you would like your child to show in real time, serving as an example of what to do when they feel a certain way. 

Perhaps you are feeling stressed out because something didn’t go your way. You can stop, take a few deep breaths, and narrate for your child how it makes you feel better. They will then see the association between you performing the self-regulating activity and calming down, showing them that it is an effective method for reducing stress. 

Behavior Chain

A behavior chain is a way of slowing down learning by breaking it into smaller, more manageable actions and then building all the way up to the end result. You practice each component until it’s perfect, then add the next step, practicing the new routine until your child can successfully complete each element. 

This is the way that many people learn a new skill, whether that is riding a bike or dancing, but ABA therapy systematizes it to be more effective for children on the spectrum, using smaller chunks of behavior until adding more steps. 

As an example, perhaps your child is struggling to tie their shoelaces. Instead of just doing it for them, you can sit down together and show them how to hold the shoelaces to start with, praising them when they hold them correctly, then practicing this before moving on to the next part. 

Behavior Contracts

Autistic children thrive on concrete messages and consequences for behavior, and a behavior contract provides them exactly what they need, provided the child is able to comprehend the technique. This is a document that explains what you expect from them, what they will receive if they behave appropriately, and what will happen if they do not behave well. 

It’s best to be very clear about what the exact behavior is that you are looking for. It could be something like sitting still during dinner. You can then direct that if they sit still for the entire meal, they can play with a favorite toy, but if they do not, then they can’t. You must be sure to uphold your side of the deal, too, and remain consistent in your response to their behavior. 

Redirection

Redirection means drawing the child’s attention away from a disruptive behavior by focusing it on something else, such as starting a new activity or changing the environment. 

All of us use redirection to self-regulate; we may give ourselves a change of scenery to stop worrying about something or focus on another task when we find ourselves getting frustrated with our current one, circling back to it later. Because redirection is a key element of learning to self-soothe, it is a crucial skill to model and teach an autistic child who may struggle with emotional regulation. 

All of these techniques are used by trained ABA therapists for maximum benefit, but they can also be incorporated into daily life so that your child enjoys a seamless therapeutic experience, even outside of office time. By applying these skills, you can help your autistic child enjoy growing independence and confidence.