Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q What is ABA?

Q What is the difference between the terms "ASD", "Autism" and "Asperger's"?


  ABA in a Nutshell


Recently ABA has been the subject of much media discussion, with parents of children with autism now demanding the right of their children to access this form of intervention which has proven success rates . Although there are various factors which can effect the success rates , an ABA program is a data based intervention (ie, results are graphed) so the teacher can clearly see if the child isn’t learning and subsequently a different strategy is used and is implemented in such a way that makes it easier for the child to learn.

For example if a child is finding it difficult to learn the lines of a poem by reading them from a book, perhaps if the lines are presented to the child by means of an audio recording the child will find it easier to learn. ABA recognises that there are many ways to learn the same task. The method by which the child learns is called the learning channel set and the program is tailor made to suit each child’s individual learning needs.
“ If a child cannot learn in the way we teach then we must teach in the way a child can learn “ (Lovaas)

What is ABA ?

Pioneered by DR. O. Lovaas ABA is a therapy involving positive reinforcements of preferred behaviour and undesirable behaviour is ignored or redirected . It is based on the principle that if a behaviour is rewarded or reinforced then it is more likely to reoccur. ABA seeks to examine the antecedents ( what happens before a behaviour) and the consequences ( what happens after a behaviour) and investigates how changes in these can effect the behaviour itself. Behaviour is anything we can observe which occurs in the context of the environment. For example if a child with autism who refuses to sit on his chair, receives a piece of popcorn ( providing of course that he loves to eat popcorn ! ) each time he sits down ,then he is more likely to repeat the action when asked the next time because he knows he will receive more popcorn. The reinforcement is provided regularly at first when teaching a new skill and is always paired with verbal praise. Then it becomes more intermittent when the child begins to learn the skill. Eventually when the child has learnt the skill, verbal praise is enough to reinforce the behaviour. When a young child learns to walk, initially he is given exuberant praise for each step but this discontinues once the skill has been mastered.

What is a reinforcement ?

A reinforcement is a stimulus given, contingent on behaviour which increases the chance of that behaviour reoccurring. In other words a reinforcement increases behaviour be it preferred or non preferred behaviour.

Reinforcements may be :

Material : edibles, bubbles, stickers etc

Activity based: ie a trip to a playground, cinema etc

Social : a pat on the back, verbal praise etc

Token : tokens are tangible things which can be exchanged for material, activity or social reinforcers at a later time ie money

A reinforcement is something any person will work to get. Most of the things we do in life are reinforced ie we wash our faces in the morning for the reinforcement of feeling fresh and clean, we answer the phone for social reinforcement. So providing an incentive for a child with autism to repeat a behaviour that will be beneficial to his functioning independently is not ‘ bribery ‘ but rather a reinforcement which will encourage the behaviour to reoccur.

How is ABA taught and what influences success rates ?

Component teaching involves the breaking down of skills into small steps which can be specified, observed and measured.

Discrete trial training ( directly training a variety of skills that individuals with autism may not pick up naturally ) is used to teach these component elements through a manipulation of antecedents and/or consequences to effect behaviour. Adult cues or prompts are given to gradually shape the behaviour as required which can be faded over time. Maladaptive behaviours are not reinforced. Functional analyses are carried out. This is a broad process for gathering information to understand problem behaviour and develop effective support plans,

Research has shown that ABA programs have a higher success rate :

(1) with early intervention - age 2 to 3 years
(2) intensive program - 30 or more hours a week
(3) one to one intervention initially
(4) min 2 year program
(5) delivered by people with advance training and expertise
(6) structured settings
(7) parental involvement as active co-therapists

Lovaas himself acknowledges ABA therapy is no quick fix. It is a long road marked by small steps, but these steps can take you far if you persevere. “ We were expecting a sudden step forward…..such a leap would have been so gratifying. It never happened, instead , progress followed a slow upward progression with only a few and minor spurts ahead. We learnt to settle down for hard work” (Lovaas)

ABA is not the ‘ miracle ‘ cure but it serves to reduce the typical behaviours associated with autism and opens up a world of learning and social interaction that the child might not otherwise ever realise.



Q What is the difference between the terms "ASD", "Autism" and "Asperger's"?

ASD - Refers to Autism Spectrum Disorders.

This spectrum is quite wide and tries to embrace a large amount of people who have varying degrees of autistic tendencies. Some tendencies are very mild and largely go unnoticed whereas others on the spectrum may be severely affected and may be non-verbal. 

So there are many different disorders along the spectrum. Autism disorder and Asperger's Syndrome are examples of two types of disorders.

Autism Disorder: This is a distinct disorder.

Specific details on Autism are outlined on this link on our website. Again there can be large differences between people with autism disorder. No two individuals have identical symptoms but have enough similarities to fit the autism diagnosis. Some maybe high functioning. 

Asperger's Syndrome : This is another disorder.

More details on Asperger's are included here.