Chances are that if a loved one has received a diagnosis related to a developmental disorder, particularly autism spectrum disorder, you’ve likely come across Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. The principles behind ABA encompass a wide range of approaches and techniques carefully designed to assist children with autism in acquiring skills while helping reduce disruptive behaviors affecting their daily lives. However, autism spectrum disorder encompasses various diagnoses and leads us to wonder: Which disorders are treated with ABA? This question will guide us as we explore the different conditions that can benefit from applied behavior analysis in this article by ABA Centers of Florida.
What is Applied Behavior Analysis, and Which Disorders Are Treated with ABA?
ABA therapy is an approach that emerged more than four decades ago and has proven to be highly beneficial in assisting numerous individuals in acquiring a wide range of skills. It is founded on psychological principles supported by science and has demonstrated its effectiveness in facilitating the acquisition of essential life skills in individuals with developmental disorders such as autism.
The primary objective of ABA therapy is to comprehend how behavior functions in real-world scenarios to examine how the environment can impact behavior and affect the learning process. ABA principles enable identifying and addressing the root causes of problem behaviors that hinder learning while increasing the frequency of desired behaviors through a reward system known as positive reinforcement.
ABA therapy programs aim to enhance an extensive array of skills, encompassing language, communication, and interpersonal abilities. Additionally, they concentrate on developing social skills, concentration, attention, memory, and academic performance.
ABA therapy is a remarkably adaptable treatment designed to cater to the specific needs of each individual, using techniques centered on understanding behavior and tackling the underlying causes of problematic behaviors.
This therapy can happen in various settings, including the home, community, medical centers, and schools, to teach valuable life skills in one-on-one or group settings.
Thanks to its flexibility in adapting to individual needs and its capacity to promote the acquisition of essential skills, ABA therapy treats various disorders, including all those encompassed by autism spectrum disorder. Which disorders can be treated with ABA therapy? Below, we will delve into some examples of these disorders.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
As its name suggests, autism is a spectrum that encompasses several neurodevelopmental disorders, each located along this spectrum. In the past, many autism experts used to classify autism into different types based on clinical features, leading to diagnoses with names such as Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, or Kanner Syndrome. However 2013, the American Psychiatric Association established the correct terminology for autism in academic, social, and clinical contexts, as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
While these names referring to “types of autism” are still in use and group together different symptoms characteristic of autism, their usage has significantly decreased. Terminology is critical in promoting inclusion in the autism community, as each person with autism possesses unique strengths and weaknesses. In other words, no two cases of autism are identical. Therefore, experts have chosen to consolidate the diagnosis under a more encompassing term: autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
So, in answer to the question, which disorders can be treated with ABA? It is important to note that ABA therapy applies to all conditions of the autism spectrum disorder, including those who have received previous diagnoses such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) and Kanner’s Syndrome, as they are all ultimately included in the autism spectrum disorder.
Anxiety disorders are relatively common in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), approximately 40% of children with autism receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, making it one of the most prevalent psychiatric conditions among youth with autism.
Anxiety disorders manifest in autism can take various forms, including social anxiety, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, and selective mutism. Anxiety is an emotion that causes prolonged feelings of tension, excessive worry, and physical changes without always having an exact, identifiable cause. These symptoms can complicate the daily lives of those who experience them.
Although anxiety is not an intrinsic feature of autism, a lack of social skills, communication difficulties, changes in routines, and sensory sensitivities are some of the factors that can trigger anxiety in children with autism.
To address the question of “Which disorders are treated with ABA?” Given the association between anxiety and autism characteristics, such as challenges in expressing emotions and communicating needs and a lack of coping mechanisms for handling changes, ABA therapy addresses these deficiencies. It imparts social skills, effective communication alternatives, and coping tools that empower neurodiverse individuals to manage anxiety and enhance their quality of life.
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder
Doctors often diagnose Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as behavior disorders in childhood. These disorders encompass inattention, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association defines three different types of ADHD:
- Combined type ADHD involves impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, inattention, and distractibility.
- Impulsive or hyperactive type ADHD includes impulsive and hyperactive behaviors but not inattention or distractibility.
- Inattentive type ADHD primarily involves inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.
ADHD symptoms can interfere with children’s learning and their ability to meet expectations in the school environment. In addition to hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, children with ADHD have difficulty listening to others, problems understanding details, poor organizational and study skills for their age, issues waiting their turn in school or during play, difficulty staying seated, excessive movement, excessive talking, difficulty engaging in quiet activities, an inability to concentrate, and challenges in completing tasks.
According to research by Frontiers in Psychiatry and shared by the National Library of Medicine, it is estimated that around 50 to 70% of individuals with ASD also present ADHD symptoms. Due to the similarity in some symptoms between ADHD and autism, experts state that both conditions often coexist, and it is necessary to undergo a series of physical, neurological, and psychological tests to rule out other conditions. Therefore, we can add ADHD to the answer to “Which disorders are treated with ABA?”
ABA therapy can benefit children with ADHD and autism by teaching them self-control skills, strategies for focusing, achieving specific behavioral goals, tools for following routines, adhering to instructions, managing transitions, and promoting desired behaviors.
Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition with an extra chromosome 21, leading to intellectual and physical developmental delays. Individuals with Down’s syndrome display distinctive facial features, low muscle tone, and delays in cognitive development. Each person with Down syndrome possesses unique abilities and faces distinct challenges. However, they often require assistance with language development, motor skills, and social interactions.
The identification and diagnosis of Down’s syndrome may be more straightforward than that of autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders since we can identify the exact cause of Down’s Syndrome. Nonetheless, these developmental disorders share characteristics that can complicate the acquisition of specific skills in individuals with this condition.
Through early intervention and ABA support, individuals with Down’s syndrome can progress toward a more independent life, strengthening their communication and interaction skills while reducing challenging behaviors.
ABA Centers of Florida and ABA therapy
Regardless of the severity of a child’s symptoms on the spectrum or if they have other neurodevelopmental disorders besides an autism diagnosis, ABA therapy is a valuable approach for reducing challenging behaviors and acquiring essential life and developmental skills.
If you have a loved one with autism and a developmental disorder who could benefit from ABA therapy and are in Boca Raton, Orlando, or Tampa, please call us at (772) 773-1975 for a free consultation; we offer ABA therapy at home or the clinic. You can also leave all your questions in our online contact box, and we will respond as soon as possible.
At ABA Centers of Florida, we work tirelessly to provide comprehensive ABA therapy services for all children and adolescents on the spectrum and those with other developmental disorders. We understand the daily challenges and aim to empower them to overcome these hurdles!