When you hear the diagnosis that your child has autism, one of the first things you may wonder is, “How am I going to teach this child?” When you are dealing with autism spectrum disorders, teaching means much more than teaching academic skills. A child with autism will most likely need instruction about how to communicate, how to be social with others, and how to deal with their symptoms of autism. Some children will even need to learn how to learn. Many children with autism are not going to learn in the same way as children who are not on the spectrum. Therefore, it is really important to find a teaching method which is uniquely suited for your child. In this two-part series I am going to talk about four popular methods of teaching autistic children.
One of our members has recently asked a question about the difference between ABA and PRT. I will try to help you to make sense of all these acronyms as well as tell you my personal experience with using each of these teaching methods. One major point I want to make is that any of these methods could also potentially be used for a child who has ADHD as a way to teach a particular skill, improve communication, increase attention span, teach social skills, or increase appropriate behavior. These teaching methods incorporate many important general teaching techniques which can be used in the home or classroom setting.
ABA or Applied Behavioral Analysis
What it is: ABA is a method for teaching children with autism which has been around a long time. One of the core principles of ABA is the belief that behavior is controlled by rewards and punishments. ABA folk believe that you can shape a child’s behavior and learning through a systematic approach of delivering reinforcement for accurate or appropriate responses.
ABA was developed way back in the 1960’s by Dr. Ivar Lovaas. Dr. Lovaas published a book in 1981 called The Me Book, a groundbreaking publication as it was one of the first manuals to give detailed instructions of how to implement behavioral treatment for children on the autism spectrum. ABA therapy is adult-led and can be quite intense for the child. Most ABA proponents recommend a training program of 20-40 hours a week.
Advocates for the use of ABA, report that it is the teaching method with the most scientific evidence of being effective. ABA can be quite expensive due to the special training of the instructors and due to the number of hours of therapy required each week.
What I like about this method: This method is good for teaching complex skills which need to be broken down into more manageable parts. For example, toothbrushing can be broken down into smaller tasks such as turning on the water, wetting the toothbrush, etc. ABA has specific instructions for the teacher or therapist to follow as well as rules as to how to record progress. You can readily see the progress in learning and this provides reinforcement for the instructor and parent.