Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy programs can help increase language and communication skills; improve attention, focus, social skills, everyday living skills, self-care skills, academics, and memory; and decrease problem behaviors. ABA is based on the science of learning and behavior, and it applies the understanding of how behavior works to real-life situations. Ultimately, the goal of ABA is to increase helpful behaviors and decrease those that are harmful or negatively affect learning.
ABA has been used to help individuals with autism and other developmental disorders for many years and is one of the only treatments recognized by the Surgeon General as most effective for autism and related disorders. Unfortunately, there are some common misconceptions about ABA because of the methods used by certain clinics. “A lot of families have researched things online and have seen that ABA appears very strict,” says clinical director Megan Hunn. She adds that there are many resources online depicting the use of restraints in ABA treatment. Those types of methods, however, are never utilized at Heartfelt Solutions.
“We don’t use any restraints here,” she says. “ABA is often perceived as having a lot of punishment procedures — but science shows that reinforcement and more positive methods should be used before any punishment procedures are even considered.” At Heartfelt Solutions we focus heavily on proactive and preventive procedures. We want our learners to experience success and feel empowered.
Megan clarifies that the term “punishment” holds a slightly different meaning in the behavior analytic world than it does in everyday use. “It may just mean the removal or addition of a stimulus. For example, adding rules or expectations can be a ‘punishment procedure’ if it decreases behavior,” she says. This is a commonly used and often effective strategy. We work with families to help them understand misconceptions with our terminology and that punishment procedures should not be a first resort.”
Director of operations Missy Hughes adds that most of the ABA methods used at Heartfelt Solutions involve the environment, making slight adjustments and changes to see how the individual responds. “We focus on meaningful behaviors for the individual to help them live a more socially significant life — that is the goal of ABA,” she says.
Compassion is key when it comes to ABA, and that is something families may not realize when they initially seek information about therapy options. “All ABA work should be forged in compassion,” says mental health clinic coordinator Katelyn Wernz. “The ways that ABA can show compassion are through a commitment to evidence-based practice — we want our work to be the most helpful and successful and make the most impact.
She adds that following the data and the science allows the Heartfelt Solutions team to tailor treatment toward each individual. There is no cookie-cutter experience when it comes to ABA; because no two people are identical, no type of treatment or intervention is the same. “We collect, analyze, and follow the data,” Katelyn adds. “We’re cognizant of each individual’s history, family history, family dynamics, etc. We use all of the information collected to create an individual plan for the client and their support systems.”
She adds that the goals created for each individual are carefully created to set them up to be in the least restrictive environment long term. Goals are anticipatory, so the team works toward teaching and coaching clients on life skills, leisure skills, and coping skills so that they can have better self-care throughout their lives. Heartfelt Solutions works on social skills for today, as well as those that can be transferred to other environments in the future.
“We show compassion by not only planning for the here and now,” Katelyn says, “but also planning for the future of the individual. We want to support them in their journey to be the best self that they can be in one year or 10 years.” The team at Heartfelt Solutions strives each and every day to put a heartbeat and compassion into ABA.
Watch the video below from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board for an overview of ABA.
Interested in learning more about ABA services at Heartfelt Solutions? Give us a call today at (502) 915-8343 or send us a message online.