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To ABA or not to ABA for your autistic child?

This article on whether to ABA or not to ABA for your atusitic child is offered by the Nevada Autism Center.

As research in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder has progressed and treatment interventions have been identified and trialed, Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, has repeatedly been the only evidence-based treatment for autism in 2022 in the United States. If this is proven in science, why would there be any question if parents should seek ABA therapy for their autistic child? Those who question ABA therapy are right to do so and should consider all research, options of available therapists, and locations before coming to any conclusions about what will be best for their child.

Let’s explore some reasons why parents may question if ABA therapy is right for their child by addressing more common concerns and beliefs.

To ABA or not to ABA
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The field of ABA has a history of abusive methods

There is no getting around it, it absolutely is fact that the field of Applied Behavior Analysis formerly employed unnecessary harsh and cruel treatments to change behavior. There is no defending the individuals utilizing methods such as electric shock, public nudity/humiliation, and starvation to change behaviors they did not see as acceptable during those times (Devita-Raeburn, 2016).

Applied Behavior Analysis was in its infancy when abusive measures were used and it was not until the 1980s that the field dramatically changed and the use of electric shock and other harmful treatments ceased as public support fell for such methods (Devita-Raeburn, 2016).

Shortly after the dramatic change in the field of ABA came the Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB), where standards of practice were developed along with a code of ethics. Professionals working with individuals diagnosed with autism had to meet certain requirements to practice and these guidelines are ever-changing and evaluated frequently.

Professionals in this field work on the “know better, do better” mentality, acknowledging the field’s past and wanting to do and see better for clients, knowing that the science of ABA is a scientifically proven method.

ABA therapy has my child in a chair at a table for hours doing repetitive work

Once again, we revisit the past regarding what was known as Discrete Trial Training, or DTT. DTT used to be one of the sole methods in ABA therapy used to teach new skills to children. DTT involves heavy use of repetition for skill and language building. Today, however, DTT is just one of many clinically proven methods to teach autistic individuals and help them learn new skills. ABA therapy employs a variety of teaching methods and programs to help children of any ability learn new skills and language, including the use of naturalistic teaching, where children learn through play with their therapist in their home or other familiar environment. A good ABA therapy program should not make heavy use of discrete trial training and a child should not be kept sitting and repetitively practicing their work for long periods of time.

ABA focuses on making my child a compliant robot and not accepting his Autism

Prior to the 1960s, children diagnosed with autism who had more “severe” symptoms were often institutionalized. Whatever behaviors the “therapists” deemed “unacceptable” were treated as such. Stereotypy was highly frowned upon and harsh and cruel methods such as shock therapy were used to try to tame or eliminate the behaviors (Kirkham, 2017).

In today’s accepting and self-aware society, however, this is not how ABA therapists address target behaviors. Today, a child entering ABA therapy has a team of professionals that includes his family to determine target behaviors for change and identify what skills may be necessary to lead a successful life, such as social skills or skills for job interviews, etc.

Careful consideration is taken for every individual’s plan of care, which is 100% individualized to the person’s skills and deficits. Parents have parent-training sessions in which further communication takes place regarding the child’s treatment plan and the methods employed to obtain those goals. The child’s treatment team has an ethical obligation to ensure the rights of their client and ensure that each behavior targeted for change is one that benefits the individual first and foremost (BACB, 2014).

My child is autistic and doesn’t need therapy!

When we talk about individualism in 2022, there has never been a time in our history where we as a country have been so accepting of alternative beliefs and lifestyles. Depending on your child’s specific symptoms of autism, it may be rather black and white to say he doesn’t require any therapy to lead a great life. That is any parent’s decision to make.

Concepts like stereotypy that used to be punished are now accepted and aren’t a cause for concern as they were when research was not where it is today. However, ABA treatment methods have been proven to help with skill and language acquisition and it will always remain a tool in a parent’s toolbox, should the time come where it might be useful.


Applied Behavior Analysis is a field with a complex history and more recently, a stigma regarding its former attempts at masking symptoms of autism or trying to push an individual into a fully compliant state. Like all medical treatments, parents should fully consider all sides of the treatment before deciding it is right for them. The science to ABA is there, however, and the high standards of professionals in the field in 2022 allow children to have fun in therapy while building their language and skill repertoires.

Parents should always do their research into any therapist or center their child will attend for any type of therapy and ensure they feel at ease with the level of care their child will receive. No treatment method or therapist is a one-size-fits-all and with the proper information, parents will be armed to make an appropriate choice for treatment for their autistic child’s symptoms.


If you need help looking for services for an individual with an autism spectrum condition, we will do our best to help. Click below for the Autism Placement Support Service.