Dr. Doreen Samelson
Applied behavior analysis or ABA is an intensive behavioral treatment for autism and related developmental disabilities. ABA has been shown to improve the communication and social skills of young children and decrease challenging behaviors. The fact that ABA is considered intensive is often interpreted as meaning very high ABA hours or daily ABA. If you are the parent of a young child with autism you may have received a recommendation for ABA and you may have wondered, “how much ABA does my young child need?”
How much ABA?
The question of how much ABA is related to the two different methods for providing ABA to a young child. Before we consider how much ABA let’s look at the two methods for providing ABA:
- Parent-mediated ABA
- Paraprofessional-mediated ABA
Parent-mediated ABA is also called parent-led ABA. In this method you the parent, receive training in ABA. The training is provided to you by a licensed or certified clinician usually a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst® (BCBA®). The training you receive allows you to use ABA as you parent your young child. Your ABA clinician(s) will guide and coach you and before long you will be using ABA to teach your child new skills and address challenging behaviors. The goal of Parent-led ABA is as you learn new skills that are evidence-based (meaning they’ve been proven to be effective) your child will also learn new skills.
In paraprofessional-mediated ABA, also called practitioner-mediated ABA, a paraprofessional provides the direct ABA to your child. Like parents who participate in parent-mediated ABA the paraprofessional receives supervision from a licensed or certified clinician who is an expert in ABA. And like the parent-mediated method of ABA supervision is often done by BCBA. In this ABA method the paraprofessional works directly with your young child to teach them new skills and address challenging behaviors. Usually, this method of ABA is done in your home, but it can also happen in a clinic. For most families this requires changes to the family’s schedule. In many cases this effects schedules for siblings too because parents need to be at home when the paraprofessional is there.
Which type of ABA is best?
Both types of ABA can improve communication skills in young children and decrease challenging behaviors. Catalight’s research shows better social skill development for parent-mediated ABA children, but otherwise the progress that young children make is the same for both methods. There are some differences between the two methods in how parents benefit. Parents in parent-mediated ABA gain confidence in teaching their young child, and in dealing with challenging behaviors. We don’t see an improvement in confidence in parents whose children are in paraprofessional-mediated ABA (Sneed & Samelson, 2022).
So which type of ABA is best for you and your child?
The answer is both types of ABA are effective, but if you want to improve your confidence in being able to teach your child and respond to challenging behaviors parent-mediated ABA is best. You might also choose parent-mediated ABA if you very concerned about your child’s social skills. But what if you think paraprofessional-mediated ABA is the best fit for your child and family? Well, first you should know that the old idea that your child will need high ABA hours, up to 30-40 hours a week, is being challenged. Newer research and Catalight’s own data, tells us that high hours are not necessary for young children to make good progress (Rodgers et al., 2021). While the number of hours that is best for individual children can differ, the good news for the paraprofessional-mediated ABA method is your child can make good progress with 15 hours a week or less. And even a few hours a week can make a difference.
ABA every day?
ABA every day is one of the advantages of parent-mediated ABA. This is because you will be using ABA as you parent your child. In parent-mediated ABA there is no special time for ABA but rather ABA becomes the way you parent. This means you child is learning during their regular routines in their usual environments. How about ABA at the park? Or ABA when you and your child are visiting grandma? Or ABA when you’re at the grocery store? With parent-mediated ABA your young child can learn new skills anywhere and at anytime! And you can respond to behavior problems whenever and wherever they happen. As one dad put it “it’s hard to know when ABA begins and ends because I parent with ABA.”