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What to Expect from ABA Therapy

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ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. It’s a therapy that focuses on learning and behavior, with a goal to determine the reason a child behaves the way he or she does and then find ways to encourage good behaviors and correct harmful ones. Positive reinforcement is one of the primary strategies used by an ABA therapy clinic that encourages positive changes in behavior in addition to improving communication, social skills, academic performance, language, and memory.

Before beginning ABA therapy, your insurance provider will likely need to be contacted to determine whether it will cover these sessions. Fortunately, most will for children with autism spectrum disorder, which affects 1 in 54 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Here’s what you can expect once it’s time for your child to start ABA therapy.

An Assessment

Your child will have an assessment to determine what they can do and which things they struggle with to design a treatment program. The therapist will also want to know what particular problems you’re dealing with. Goals will be set to increase necessary skills and decrease behavior that might interfere with learning and other functions. Typically that might include increasing social, communication, language, and play skills while reducing aggressive behaviors by teaching more appropriate skills. 

Getting Other Healthcare Professionals Involved

The therapist may want to talk to other healthcare professionals involved in the child’s care to see how the various therapies can work together. 

Parent Training

It’s important for the parents to be involved in the entire process, so the therapist will likely discuss at length how to continue therapy at home in between sessions. They’ll also provide helpful information so that you can cope with challenges that might come up.

Getting Comfortable

During the early stages of the program building rapport is essential, which means the staff working with your child will focus on developing a positive relationship that includes lots of play and conversation. They’ll get to know your child and what he or she likes, such as toys, games, snacks, and high fives, providing plenty of positive experiences that help make them feel more comfortable. 


Demands will be kept to a minimum initially, but once your child is comfortable, they will gradually be increased. Reinforcements may be used like verbal praise, high fives, and tokens, depending on what your child is motivated by. That will help with the rate of learning and produce more desirable outcomes.

ABA therapy is conducted through what’s referred to as Natural Environment Training (NET) and Discrete Trial Training (DTT). DTT is a simplified method of teaching that involves structured steps. Rather than teaching a new skill all at once, it’s broken down and then built one step at a time. The therapist will provide reinforcement for correct answers and corrections for errors. With NET, skills are taught in a natural environment. It might begin with DDT by teaching a student how to label colors of items on a table. As part of NET, the student might practice by labeling colors of crayons that the therapist is using or by requesting particular colors of Playdoh, for example.