Myth Busting ABA: Understanding ABA in Practice Part 2

Myth Busting ABA: Understanding ABA in Practice Part 2

The previous post on this blog, “Myth Busting ABA: Understanding ABA in Practice,” addressed certain myths that surround Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in relation to autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This post will a take look at three other myths that continue to contribute to misconceptions about the therapy. These false perceptions include unethical treatment, a lack of research and verifiable results, and the idea that it trains a child to perform like a robot.

Many parents seeking ABA for a family member receive recommendations from friends, teachers, physicians, etc. Yet many of these parents begin their search with little to no education about the technique; many of them expect ABA to be inappropriate for their child. Common misconceptions include the inability of their child to sit at a table for extended periods. Many believe that the technique trains children through repetitious drilling exercises; others believe the family need not be involved for success or that progress is immediately seen. Unfortunately, too many children with autism and autism spectrum disorders do not receive the full benefit of applied behavior analysis because of the false beliefs and lack of implementation along with parallel treatments.

Yet these three myths are incorrect and based on mere rumors.

Myth #4: ABA is comprised solely of drilling exercises.

A common misconception among parents is the assumption that ABA is solely about discrete trial training (DTT). DTT does require sitting at a table while reinforcing appropriate responses. These trials are short and structured, centered around completing a task. A brief break follows.

While DTT is an element of ABA, other treatments include Pivotal Response Therapy, incidental teaching, and others. Pivotal Response Therapy seeks to increase motivation through various skills, such as turn-taking, and reinforce appropriate responses. This then allows the child to choose activities.

Myth: The family does not need to be involved.

The recommended treatment for a comprehensive program should include between 20 to 40 hours of direct therapy per week, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. This amount can increase or decrease depending on the availability of the client and the goals and objectives determined.

This sounds like a daunting commitment. Yet, even with a full 40 hours a week, ABA has been shown to be more successful when performed in the child’s natural environment. This means that when a family becomes involved in the process and incorporates ABA techniques in daily life, the child benefits. This includes school settings and other environments outside of therapy.

Myth: The child will show immediate progress.

This myth tends to disappoint parents the most. When ABA interventions are conducted correctly, they can help a child make crucial gains in daily functioning. However, progress may not always show up quickly. Progress will depend upon many variables, including the child’s age, caregivers’ involvement, level of functioning, goals, and others. Progress may be seen almost immediately, or it may be several weeks or months of intense work.

Overcoming Misconceptions about ABA

ABA has increasingly garnered more attention as the rates of diagnosed autism and ASD continue to climb. Even with 30 years of research that validates its effectiveness, the misconceptions continue. While ABA has been shown to be beneficial for changing behaviors, it is not a treatment solely for autism or ASD. The principles behind ABA can be used to change behaviors in anyone. Behavior analysts seek to understand how to alter behaviors, how to lessen maladaptive behaviors, and how to help an individual acquire new, more adaptive behavior based upon what may be socially important to them.

Many behavior analysts will acknowledge that ABA is never enough for a child with autism. When choosing an ABA therapist, ensure that the professional is secure with reinforcement. In addition, a parent should pay close attention to the child’s reaction to the therapist. The child should react well and want to be around that person. Running away or crying during ABA therapy is counterproductive. A poor situation can lead to even more myths as parents relay unpleasant experiences.

It is critical to take into account the training and background of the therapist who will be writing and executing the child’s program. Insurance companies are increasingly accepting and paying for ABA as an effective, reimbursable therapy for autism and ASD; however, the insurance companies also mandate that the treatment be implemented by a therapist who is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

As ABA is increasingly implemented as an element of an effective, comprehensive treatment plan, myths should begin to fall away. In the meantime, children with autism and ASD whose parents look beyond the fear mongering and myth-making will most likely see improvement in their child’s behavior.


Wendy Hoke is a successful writer with a background in the health and medical industry. She is deeply interested in staying abreast of and reporting on the latest issues and regulations surrounding healthcare.

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