In the realm of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), many evidence-based techniques discreetly come into play to teach individuals with autism spectrum disorder how to navigate the world around them. Some goals of ABA therapy may include increasing desired behaviors, teaching social and behavioral skills, developing socially significant behaviors, and reducing inappropriate behavior. The specific strategies used may not always be immediately apparent in their importance to development, yet their impact can be profound in teaching new skills and treating autism.
In this article, we’ll delve into seven different ABA therapy examples; real activities that may be used during ABA therapy. We will look at why these practices improve a learner’s skills and understanding of the world around them. As parents, you play an integral role in your child’s growth. Understanding some of the nuances of ABA therapy can empower you to actively participate in their progress and provide you with a deeper understanding of the purposes behind different ABA therapy activities.
#1: Playing in a Language-Rich Environment
Playing is not only fun for children, but it is essential in teaching them about their world. It is also one of the most fundamental components of any successful ABA program for children for many different reasons. Playing allows children to create a positive connection with their ABA therapist and the broader ABA therapy experience. The joy and comfort derived from enjoyable interactions play a pivotal role in facilitating learning and nurturing a positive rapport between the child and their ABA therapist. This is absolutely necessary for effective treatment. A positive learning environment will lead to more positive outcomes.
Playing also creates an immersive and engaging space where the child can naturally develop their language and communication skills. By incorporating a language-rich environment, such as narrating play and labeling items in the natural environment, children connect spoken words with their surroundings. They can learn new ways to play with toys or be introduced to new interests. These outcomes can help create a positive behavior change by teaching new vocabulary, motor skills, interests, and better ways to engage with others. Play should stand as a foundational element in every ABA therapy session.
#2: Role-Playing or Pretend Play
Closely related to playing as described above, role-playing and pretend-play activities are important in a child’s education and development. These activities often look like playing out various different scenarios while using relevant language and actions. For example, an ABA therapist may pretend to be a customer while the child pretends to be a cashier. These immersive interactions not only enhance their social skills but also equip them for various naturally occurring situations.
The use of role-playing and pretend play delve deeper into concepts and interactions between themselves, others, and items in the environment. It enables children to connect the things they know to practical applications, such as being able to identify a hammer versus understanding how it is used.
These activities prepare children for real-world scenarios, whether it’s simulating dentist appointments or other everyday situations. Engaging in imaginative dialogues and role-playing scenarios allows children to acquire a deeper understanding of the world and how different ideas are connected, fostering essential life skills.
#3: Matching Games
Matching games are also used in guiding a child’s education and development, offering a range of valuable benefits. Firstly, matching games encourage children to visually scan an area, a crucial prerequisite skill that lays the foundation for other essential abilities. Teaching children to match items or pictures not only enhances their ability to focus on critical elements in various situations through scanning but also improves focus and short-term memory.
Matching activities facilitate the establishment of connections between related items and concepts. Through matching games, children learn to recognize patterns and relationships, further deepening their understanding of concepts. For example, teaching children to match different pictures of dogs will give them a deeper understanding of how dogs differ from cats or other animals.
This process fosters a deeper understanding of the world around them and nurtures their capacity to draw meaningful connections. By encouraging scanning, improving memory, enhancing focus, and promoting the formation of connections, these activities equip children with a broader skill set, enhancing their overall development.
#4: Sensory Bins
Sensory bins may also be used in ABA therapy for children with autism. These bins can assist children in developing a tolerance for new sensory experiences. They expose children to various textures, temperatures, and sensations in a positive and non-threatening environment, encouraging a sense of comfort and curiosity.
Sensory bins can motivate children to explore and interact with a wider range of objects and materials in the individual’s environment and engage a child’s sense of touch, smell, and sometimes taste to allow a multi-sensory learning experience. This approach to sensory exploration can enhance a child’s ability to process and respond to sensory input effectively.
These bins can also prepare children for potential high-sensory scenarios they may encounter in everyday life. Whether it’s getting dirty during outdoor play or accidentally spilling something on themselves, exposure to different sensory elements through sensory bins equips children with the skills to navigate these situations with confidence. In this way, sensory bins serve as valuable tools in promoting sensory integration and helping children with autism thrive in various sensory-rich environments.
#5: Solving Puzzles
An ABA therapist may also include the use of puzzles in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. Puzzles are incredible tools for honing fine motor skills. Holding, moving, and placing puzzle pieces can aid in improving precision and dexterity. Puzzle solving also contributes to enhancing hand-eye coordination. The precise manipulation of puzzle pieces to match shapes and patterns sharpens a child’s ability to synchronize their visual perception with motor movements, a skill that extends far beyond puzzle-solving to various real-life activities.
They can also be employed as effective vehicles for teaching new vocabulary. By incorporating images or themes into puzzles, ABA therapists can introduce children to a wide range of words and concepts. As children identify and place puzzle pieces, they associate these images with specific vocabulary, expanding language in an engaging way.
In addition, puzzles help to cultivate problem-solving skills. Assembling a puzzle involves logical thinking, spatial reasoning, and the ability to visualize the larger picture from individual pieces. Through puzzle-solving, children can learn to approach challenges methodically. Overall, an ABA therapist completing puzzles with children with autism can stimulate comprehensive growth and crucial cognitive skill development.
#6: Singing Songs
Singing songs is an activity that offers numerous benefits for children during their ABA therapy sessions. Singing provides excellent practice for developing echoic and vocal skills. Children learn to listen to and mimic the sounds and words in songs, working on their ability to reproduce sounds accurately. This skill lays the groundwork for improved verbal communication skills and language development.
Songs also serve as practical tools for teaching fill-in responses, a crucial step in building more complex language skills. For instance, singing songs and pausing for the child to fill in the blanks (e.g., “The wheels on the bus go…”) can help to develop more complex skills such as answering questions. These exercises encourage children to complete sentences and engage in more verbal exchanges, facilitating communication growth.
Singing songs can introduce a fresh and engaging approach to learning. They can be used to teach various concepts in a more captivating and catchy manner. For example, using singing the alphabet while looking at written letters reinforces letter recognition skills. By combining auditory input with visual cues, this approach enhances a child’s ability to identify and understand letters and their corresponding sounds.
#7: Reading Stories
Reading stories serves as an effective means for an ABA therapist to teach children about various social skills, emotions, and common daily interactions. Through storytelling, children are exposed to diverse characters and situations, teaching them to navigate various complex social dynamics. They can learn to identify emotions, interpret social cues, and grasp the structure of everyday interactions, fostering improved social awareness.
Stories can children with new avenues for interaction. As they engage with characters and storylines, they can explore different ways of communicating and responding to various situations, such as doctor’s visits and what to do if they are feeling angry. Different types of social narratives can help open doors to more versatile and adaptive social interactions.
They can be used to teach children positive behaviors and identify problem behaviors. Narratives often feature characters making choices and experiencing consequences, teaching children to learn the concept of cause and effect. ABA therapists can leverage these narratives to teach desired behaviors and their positive outcomes, as well as the consequences of problem behaviors. This approach can help children internalize these lessons in a relatable and memorable way.
Reading stories also aids in the development of joint attention, a crucial skill that prepares children for classroom settings and other social contexts. As children engage in shared story-reading experiences, they learn to focus their attention on the same events as their caregivers or peers. Joint attention fosters enhanced communication, cooperation, and engagement, which provides a solid foundation for successful interactions in group settings.
Which Activity For Which Child?
One of the best parts of ABA therapy is its emphasis on personalized treatment. Every child possesses unique preferences, skills, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. An ABA therapist ensures that these personal facets are taken into consideration while creating treatment plans. Board-certified behavior analysts collaborate closely with parents to establish goals that hold genuine significance for the child. The activities described earlier can be altered or simplified to align with the child’s current abilities and needs.
Some children may respond well to social narratives, while others might thrive when learning through music or songs. For some, the focus may be on mastering basic identical matching tasks, while others may be working on matching written words to corresponding pictures. Regardless of the specific approach, the overall objective remains constant: ensuring that the child is having fun learning in an enriching and supportive environment.
Examples of ABA Therapy Success
One of the best parts of ABA therapy is its emphasis on personalized treatment. Recognizing that each child possesses unique preferences, skills, strengths, weaknesses, and interests, board-certified behavior analysts collaborate closely with parents to establish goals that hold genuine significance for the child. The activities described earlier can be altered or simplified to align with the child’s current abilities and needs.
In my experience working with children across the autism spectrum, I have had the privilege of witnessing remarkable transformations through the use of these diverse activities and many others not covered. These interventions have not only improved the lives of countless children but have also brought hope and relief to their families.
I have worked with children who initially entered ABA programs with no vocal skills and left the program confidently expressing themselves in full sentences. Witnessing such growth is not only immensely rewarding but also a testament to the efficacy of ABA therapy in nurturing language development.
I’ve had the privilege of helping children who used to engage in severe head-hitting and aggression towards others to communicate. Through patient and targeted interventions, they were taught how to effectively request their needs and desires, significantly reducing those dangerous behaviors. The transformations are nothing short of astonishing. The power of ABA therapy is incredible in enhancing the quality of life for both the child and their family.
These are just a few of the numerous success stories I’ve been fortunate to witness throughout my career. Each child’s journey is unique, and their progress is a testament to the dedication and expertise of the ABA teams I have worked with. The activities described above are just a few of the many that aid in the treatment of autism. These activities and many others can be used at home by parents to continue to cultivate learning throughout the day.