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ABA Therapy: What Is the Most Effective Age to Start?

With a name like ABA Centers of Florida, it’s safe to assume we get a lot of questions regarding Applied Behavioral Analysis (or ABA), such as “How does ABA therapy work?” and “What should parents expect?” One of the most frequent questions is, “What is the best age to start ABA therapy?” The difference between that question and many others is that it doesn’t require many probing follow-ups before answering, “Probably right now.”

That’s not an opinion. Consider the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when they write, “ABA works with people of all ages, but it is best to start as early as possible.” Research shows that ABA helps children with autism learn at whatever age autism gets diagnosed. 

Is There a “Best” Age to Begin ABA Therapy?

Statistically, most children begin ABA therapy between 2 and 6 years old. Suppose a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2. In that case, effective ABA therapy can help them prepare for preschool by focusing on communication skills and helping them follow simple directions. If the children are older, ABA therapy is a tool to teach more advanced social skills, alter problematic behavior, and introduce good habits for daily living.

At AutismSpeaks.org, they point out that research on ABA-based interventions has focused heavily on early interventions (2 years and up). And they agree that the research shows early interventions contribute to better long-term outcomes, which has created an emphasis on early screenings. “However, this isn’t to say that adolescents and even adults with autism don’t benefit from ABA-based interventions.” The article reveals that ABA helps children, teens, and adults across the autism spectrum. Research and comprehensive clinical experience demonstrate effectiveness for mildly to severely affected people.

But, again, experts agree that the most effective means to treat a child’s autism is to enter a program as soon as possible. It isn’t easy to overstate the importance of starting effective ABA therapy immediately after a diagnosis for them to get the most from the therapy. It is understandable when autism parents and caregivers feel overwhelmed by an ASD diagnosis. If your child has ASD and you’re on the Internet researching as much information as you can because you can’t stop asking yourself, “what now?” ABA Centers of Florida is here to help.

Why Does Early Intervention Make So Much Difference?

As soon as you inquire about ABA, a therapist will provide you with an informational guide that illustrates “typical” behavior for your child’s stage of development. The first few months of care are dedicated to monitoring your child’s behaviors compared to the average, helping everyone understand where support is most needed.

Early intervention enhances the effectiveness of ABA therapy, as it provides the earliest possible roadmap for the therapists to access your child’s needs. A significant reason earlier is better is the frequent critical periods of development children must endure. The earlier they receive help positively coping with changes in events or disagreeable stimuli, the better prepared they will be for the next surprise life has in store. It’s during the growing pains stages when everyone is most sensitive to their environment. Establishing controlled responses during these formative years will create a more stable foundation upon which they can build their future.

When a child learns critical and age-relevant skills and behaviors before kindergarten, their time at school is immediately more meaningful and productive. They don’t have to be in school to learn how to raise their hand for help or how to initiate playing socially, but it does require time and dedication. Effective ABA therapy prepares them for academic and social environments so they have a much better chance of success.

Can Challenging Behaviors Get Worse? Yes, They Can.

But here’s the good news. With the right ABA therapy provider, ASD symptoms can get better.

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will identify, assess, and plan a custom care program to directly and indirectly address the most problematic areas. The BCBA will then supervise the plan’s implementation by the Registered Behavioral Technician (RBT), who will most interact with your child, teaching through games and play. It is all crafted to make incremental gains over a targeted amount of time.

Whether a child, teenager or adult with ASD, there will be a propensity for repetitive behavior patterns, not all of which are harmless. It could be self-harm, such as head-banging or biting. Or it could be less alarming, such as rocking, hand flapping, or spinning. Either way, early intervention can assist in reducing obsessions and frequencies by redirecting their attention to play.

ASD creates an obsession with routines and rituals, igniting frustration when something changes. ABA teaches how to better adapt to change and a desire to control emotional responses.

ASD can affect coordination, making kids feel clumsy or stiff. ABA creates safe social interactions where they learn it’s ok to be themselves and everyone improves at the best pace they can.

When a child is fascinated by an object, their ABA therapist will explain the purpose or function of the object and then ask them to repeat what they’ve heard. It establishes more familiarity with the world and better prepares them for interaction.

The BCBA and RBTs will help autism parents and caregivers cater to their environment better to meet the child’s needs. It might be about the ambient light (ASD often comes with unusual sensitivity to light and sounds), or it might be about how to stealthily expand their food preferences. There is very little about the life of autism that trained and experienced therapists cannot impact positively.

What Happens When ASD Remains Untreated?

As with any condition, untreated ASD symptoms will get worse over time. The sooner your child gets help, the more likely they will reach their full development potential. However, nothing is absolute. Even families who have already received ABA therapy services can find themselves addressing challenging behaviors in the future, which is another reason why there’s no specific age barrier. ABA therapy addresses their current needs, no matter what age.

BCBAs and RBTs study their client’s current behavioral, communication, social, and academic needs from different curricular areas. Hence, most individuals benefit from ABA therapy regardless of when they begin to receive care. Due to its emphasis on individualization, ABA therapy can benefit many individuals at any point in their development. Still, again, earlier is better.

Studies have shown that children who start ABA therapy have the potential to make the most significant improvements. For example, by accessing inclusive educational settings in a standard classroom, children who receive early access to ABA therapy have several advantages and demonstrate more long-term gains when introduced to a peer-populated environment.

Conclusion: It’s Never Too Late to Start ABA Therapy, But Early Intervention Works Best

The best time to start ABA therapy is early and between the ages of 2 and 6. But there does not need to be a lifelong commitment to ABA therapy. Several indications will flag when ABA Therapy should stop, which the ABA Centers of Florida team will happily address with you and your family.

No magic number says how long every child should spend in ABA therapy. That is specific for your child and the needs/goals they require. However, as to when to begin, early intervention is essential to address challenging behaviors before they become entrenched with age. With no individualized, function-based plan, challenging behaviors can increase in frequency, severity, and duration. Reinforcement over time strengthens the desired behaviors and best prepares those with autism for the rest of life’s challenges.

ABA Centers of Florida – Your Partner in Effective Autism Care Via ABA Therapy

Call ABA Centers of Florida today. We can provide the skills necessary to set up your child for long-term success. Through friendly and fun play activities, our therapists provide your children with the space they need to grow and get better. Our experienced team of Board-Certified Behavior Analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians work in our local clinic, or we can visit your home or your child’s school. For more information on our services, contact us today for a free consultation.

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