What is ABA Therapy for Teens Really Like?

It is assumed by many that applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a treatment for younger children, typically around the ages of 2 to 5. While ABA therapy can make considerable improvements as an early intervention for those whose autism was recognized early on in life, the assumption that it is only for children is untrue. ABA therapy is an effective approach that can be beneficial to individuals of all ages, including teenagers and even adults, regardless of when an autism diagnosis is made.

For teenagers with autism spectrum disorder, ABA therapy can be used to teach independent living skills, social skills, communication skills, and other new skills while reducing problematic behaviors. Through the use of various techniques and strategies, ABA therapy services can bring about significant improvements to both family members and teenagers on the autism spectrum by promoting personal independence and addressing the specific needs of the individual. It is crucial that parents are informed of the benefits and goals of ABA therapy for teens to determine if it is the right choice of treatment. More than that, parents need to know that a late diagnosis is not a diagnosis too late.

What is ABA Therapy for Teens?

Through years of research, science has shown us that our behaviors are a result of variables in the environment around us. How we interact with the world around us is a reflection of the ongoing connection between our actions and the environment’s responses. These environmental variables can be changed in ways that allow us to predict and change behaviors. Applied behavior analysis uses this and other principles of behavior to make improvements in the lives of others. While examples of ABA can be found in nearly all settings, it has been especially successful in the treatment of individuals with autism. It is a widely recognized and evidence-based treatment for autism spectrum disorder.

ABA therapy helps teenagers with ASD address the unique challenges that they are faced with during this developmental stage of their lives. There are specific social, communication, and behavioral skills that are essential for adolescents in this stage of life. These skills allow teenagers to thrive, create meaningful connections with others, and maintain a sense of well-being. ABA emphasizes the importance of an individualized approach, creating treatment plans that are tailored to meet the needs of the individual while giving special attention to current strengths and weaknesses. It meets the person where they are developmentally, to teach them essential skills with an overall goal of improving their daily life.

Benefits of ABA Therapy for Teens

ABA therapy for teens

High-quality ABA interventions can lead to benefits for teenagers across multiple different domains of development. Overall behavior can be improved significantly, which is especially important for teens who engage in disruptive, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate behaviors. Learning new alternative behaviors can allow teens with ASD to communicate their needs in a more meaningful and acceptable manner while maintaining a safe environment. Developing new alternative behaviors and teaching coping skills can provide a stronger foundation for teaching other important skills.

Moreover, ABA therapy can aid teens in improving communication and social skills, helping them to create meaningful relationships and connect with peers. Educational settings with peers can be much harder to navigate when there are social and communication deficits. Non-verbal social cues, taking turns, asking questions, and other skills can be taught to teens with autism so that they are more confident and comfortable in social situations. Overall, ABA assists individuals in becoming more involved with those around them, an important component of daily life and an essential prerequisite to many other important skills.

With the support of ABA therapy, teenagers on the autism spectrum could also develop more daily living skills to promote independence. Independence becomes increasingly important as people work through adolescence into adulthood.

Making sure that these teens are learning adaptive skills such as navigation, shopping, or brushing their teeth can better equip teenagers for future endeavors. Such skills are essential if they plan on going to college, applying for a job, or running errands without immediate assistance.

Independence, improved communication, enhanced social development, and reduction of problem behaviors are just some of the many benefits that ABA can offer to teen clients.

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How Does ABA Therapy for Teens Work?

Expecting standardized or blanket ABA therapy sessions before beginning treatment is unrealistic and not advised. For each individual, ABA treatment can vary significantly in session length, number of sessions, treatment goals, and techniques used.

Each family has different expectations for their child’s growth and perceptions of what is significant to improve. Each treatment plan will therefore be different, and expectations for sessions will be set through discussions between families and the behavioral teams they work closely with.

Typically, session activities are guided by the interests of the teenager and use positive reinforcement to teach the skills outlined in their treatment plans. For many teens receiving ABA services, sessions last a few hours and occur as often as five days per week.

Who Performs ABA Therapy for Teens?

ABA therapy techniques for teens

Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) work 1:1 with clients during sessions while Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) oversee client progress. Others may occasionally participate in session activities (e.g., family members or trainees), however, the RBTs who work with the teens most often receive thorough and continuous training through testing and supervision by BCBAs. Monitoring of RBTs, supervision of clients, creation of treatment plans, parent training, and other related tasks are responsibilities of the BCBAs. To become a BCBA, individuals must complete their own supervision hours, obtain their master’s degree in ABA or a related field, and pass a certification exam.

How Long to See Results?

How long parents must wait to start seeing results is dependent on the individual’s abilities, session lengths, family involvement, and more. Even if sessions are frequent and families are involved, behavior changes can take time so the process should be seen as a marathon and not a sprint.

Evaluation of effectiveness and progress tracking should be discussed with the teen’s BCBA, who will be able to present visual evidence of how treatment is going. Data on behaviors and acquired skills is constantly being collected by the behavioral team and they would be more than happy to share that data with parents in a way that is easy to read. Graphs are a BCBA’s best friend and they love to show them off! Establishing clear goals, continuous collaboration with the behavioral team, and creating a positive learning environment will significantly contribute to the best possible timeline for success in ABA therapy.

How to Start ABA Therapy for a Teen?

ABA therapy sessions can take place in various settings. No one particular setting is better than others, but each of them has its own benefits and disadvantages. Deciding on the appropriate setting depends on what insurance will cover, the availability of services in the area, the individual’s behavioral challenges, and the goals of treatment. In clinic services offer a more structured learning environment and may offer additional services in one setting such as speech therapy and social group sessions, but may be difficult to implement into the family schedule.

Many ABA companies offer in-home services that allow for a more naturalistic setting for behaviors to occur, but the home environment may not be as well equipped with learning resources. Therapy at home may also not allow for peer interactions. Home services also allow family members to see how techniques are used, encouraging family involvement throughout the day.

It is also possible that services may be offered in the school setting, although they may not available in certain districts. Nevertheless, in-school services offer a naturalistic setting, collaboration with educators, social interactions, and more. Knowing what services are available in the area is an important first step to starting treatment, although the individual will be set up for success regardless of the setting chosen.

ABA Therapy is Most Beneficial If…

If your teenager has an autism diagnosis and has concerns when it comes to problem behaviors, social and communication skills, or other issues with adaptive behavior in their daily life, ABA services may provide support and improve their overall well-being and development.

Not only is ABA effective for reducing problem behaviors in teens, but it also allows for the individual to be more involved with their family as a whole by promoting connections to others and teaching prosocial behaviors. Growing evidence continually supports the use of ABA therapy in improving the quality of life for both teenagers on the spectrum and their families. More than just a therapy for autistic individuals, ABA treatment is a journey of growth, self-discovery, and achievement.

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