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May 23, 2013
Q. My son has been diagnosed with autism and the team recommended he receive “ABA therapy.” But I don’t even know what that means, or where I can get it.

A. ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis, which studies how we learn and how we can change behaviors. We break down complex skills like having a conversation or getting dressed into smaller, more manageable pieces, and use a system of prompts and rewards to motivate learners. ABA treatment is usually conducted by board certified behavior analysts and can help with a variety of skills such as communication, socialization, play, self-help skills, tantrums, feeding, sleeping and toileting, just to name a few.

Q. What is a board certified behavior analyst?

A. A board certified behavior analyst, or BCBA, is a masters’-level clinician who has had specialized training in the field of ABA. BCBAs must hold a master’s degree and also must complete specialized coursework, supervised experience and pass a national exam. BCBAs are part of a “tiered service delivery model” in which they help set up the therapy goals and train other service providers (ABA tutors) and/or caregivers to implement the therapy.

Q. Can ABA help with my daughter’s temper tantrums? She’s three and it seems like the day is just one long battle after another. I’m at my wit’s end.

A. Behavior “problems” are one of the areas ABA is pretty well-known for targeting. The key is to figure out what is causing the tantrums. Is it trouble communicating, or difficulty waiting or transitioning? ABA therapy can help parents target the causes of behavior problems and teach strategies to reduce these problems.

Q. I’m the not-so-thrilled mom of a very picky eater. My son eats about five foods, and he’s even becoming rigid about how the food is prepared. If the food is touching other food, or it’s on the “wrong” plate, he has a fit. What can I do?

A. Luckily, principles of ABA can help here, too. Feeding disorders and “picky” eating respond very well to a behavioral approach. Again, breaking down the skill of “eating a healthy variety and amount of food” into step-by-step goals can turn the challenge around.

McAtee is a limited licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst, Center for Human Development, Beaumont Children’s Hospital . Call her at (313) 473-4703.

Warner is a licensed psychologist and director, Center for Human Development, Beaumont Children’s Hospital. She can be reached at (248) -691-4774. The Center for Human Development is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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