I recently read an interesting article on one of my favorite blogs, Reports from a Resident Alien. In this article the blogger, a college-aged woman with Asperger’s, is complaining about the prevalent use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as a therapy approach for autism.
(ABA, for those who don’t know, is a highly popular therapy that uses behavior-based interventions and principles to improve “socially significant” behaviors. People who believe in it swear by it.)
I shared her post on Twitter and Facebook and asked others what they thought of the idea that “it’s time to take autism out of 1950s behaviorism.” In return, fellow music therapist Michelle Erfurt asked “Are you going to do a blog post about this? I’d like to hear what you think.”
Here you go, Michelle.
First, a few disclaimers. I fully admit that I am not well-versed in ABA nor do I consider myself an autism expert. But perhaps this is an advantage and give me a fresh perspective on the debate? I’ve outlined below what I believe in at this point in my growth as a therapist.
Let’s see how it stacks up in the ABA debate…
Behaviors are a Form of Communication
I believe that behaviors are a form of communication. As the therapist, why not observe and analyze these behaviors, asking yourself: what is that child is trying to communicate? Are his senses overloaded? Does he need more sensory input? Is something else wrong?
It’s likely not enough to try and change the behavior. That seems too “superficial” to me. Instead, use the behavior to try and understand what’s really going on. It’s like reading someone’s nonverbal cues–you can often better understand how that person really feels through nonverbal cues than through words.
There’s a Place for Behavior-Based Therapy
I believe behavior-based principles have a place. I use them with my own children–positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, generalization–and can see a place for them when working with other children. Especially when it comes to trying to teach a new skill or behavior.
Extremes Do Not Work
I believe that extremes don’t work. We long ago realized that it’s not nature or nurture…it’s the interaction of the two. Therefore, it’s not all about the behaviors nor is it all NOT about the behaviors. Behaviors have a place in helping us piece together a picture of how our client is doing. But that’s certainly not all there is.
Children are Individuals
I believe that children are individuals. Therefore, a behavior-based treatment may work for some children and may not for others. There is a lot of research supporting ABA and it’s worth it for parents to try it as a treatment approach. Then, if ABA doesn’t work for your child, move on to something else.
In conclusion, I seems I believe that behavior-based treatment may have a place for some children–but it likely won’t be the only thing that works.
Those are my thoughts–what do YOU think? Please leave a comment in the boxes below to share your thoughts on the ABA debate.