For decades now Applied Behavior Analysis has been the method of choice in treating children with autism spectrum disorder. ABA therapy teaches children to think and learn and helps to foster positive behavior without the ineffective method of punishing negative behavior, which does not work in these cases. When first examining and learning about ABA therapy, however, many parents are turned off by the idea that the therapy appears to simple teach children to produce robot like imitations of words or movements. What parents much understand, however, is that treating autism is a process, and that these seemingly robotic responses are critical to helping a child think critically and independently.
One way to better understand how ABA works is to compare it to learning a foreign language. Before you can learn to put together sentences and utilize grammatical structure, you must spend a significant period of time repeating new words. In the beginning your intonations will be little more than robotic repetitions, but as you commit the words and their meanings to memory, you will slowly begin to understand the language, developing the ability to use it and to create sentences and paragraphs and even compose lyrics with it.
Applied Behavior Analysis works much like learning a foreign language. Repeating words and commands and slowly coming to understand their meanings is crucial to learning to think independently and understand broader concepts. While the words for water and sky may be repeatable, it will take an understanding of both of them for the concept of rain to be understandable. For children with an autism spectrum disorder, this type of understanding comes from first practicing repetition until the basic principles are understood.
While many parents fear at first that they are turning their children into robots or teaching them simply to mimic other people, those who have seen or experienced the end result of ABA therapy understand why such repetition is necessary. ABA is designed to help children reach their maximum potential for learning and functioning in society and the classroom, and many children are able to develop a normal or near normal level of functioning with intensive ABA therapy. These results have been proven time and time again, which is why so many parents are willing to take the chance even when they fear they are merely programming their child’s responses.
At the end of the day, repetition with ABA therapy is not at all a way of programming your children to provide robotic responses, but is instead a method of helping them to understand basic language, commands, and concepts. ABA is the groundwork for higher functioning in children with an autism spectrum disorder and is designed to help them prepare to enter typical schools and to function normally alongside their peers. While the methods associated with ABA may seem strange to parents, when it is understood that these children simply need to learn differently, the difference becomes decidedly worthwhile.