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What Is ABA-VB Therapy?

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy?

ABA is an intensive, structured teaching program which simplifies complex sets of behaviors and skills into simple components. Children learn each component through trials which tests to see how they respond to a stimulus (e.g. sound or object) – correct responses are rewarded and incorrect responses ignored.

At the start, the therapists use physical rewards such as food and toys until they become paired (i.e. associated) with these rewards. Gradually, the therapists would also use social rewards such as hugs and praise in conjunction with physical rewards.

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Over time, the therapists raise the difficulty for earning the rewards and eventually replace the physical rewards with the social ones. As the child learns more and more components, they can be generalized and then combined into useful skills.

ABA is the only therapy for autism endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General. ABA programs often require up to 40 hours per week of one-to-one training over a continuous period of 2 or more years.

Based on groundbreaking research published by psychologist B.F. Skinner and his colleagues, it was successfully used in 1967 to treat autism. It became popular in 1993, after extraordinary gains were documented (“Long Term Outcome for Children With Autism Who Received Early Intensive Behavioral Treatment” by McEachin, Smith, & Lovaas) as well as the publication of Catherine Maurice’s book (“Let Me Hear Your Voice”) about her two children’s recovery from autism.

What is Verbal Behavior (VB) Therapy?

What’s in it for me to speak with other people?” – This is the question that ABA-VB aims to help children understand using the principles of ABA.

Unlike traditional ABA which tends to get the child to sit through an otherwise boring lesson to achieve a reward, the Verbal Behavior Approach to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA-VB) aims to demonstrate to the child the value of communicating in words. This makes sense when we observe that children’s initial language use usually serves their desire to obtain something from someone.

In ABA-VB, the child starts by learning to mand – requesting for desired items, information and activities. Care is also taken to teach the child to mand the desired object only when they are naturally expressing interest, such as manding for snacks when they are hungry. This is unlike traditional ABA which does not care if the child is interested or not.

As the child becomes more motivated and competent with language, other aspects of language are also introduced and reinforced while maintaining his motivation:

Receptive repertoire: following instructions non-verbally

Intraverbal: verbally responding to other people’s speech

Tact: Describing, naming or labelling objects

Echoic: Repeating other people’s speech

Imitation: Copying observed behaviour

Textural: Reading skills

Transcriptive: Writing skills


Going beyond memorizing definitions and correct patterns of behaviors (which traditional ABA considers sufficient), the end result is a child who understands words and uses speech actively in his daily life. This provides a firm foundation for him to eventually lose his diagnosis of autism and enter the mainstream educational system.

ABA-VB Therapy FAQ

Of all forms of therapy and education that are available for children with autism, ABA is the most established with 40 years of research backing it. It is the only treatment whose benefits have been consistently validated by independent scientific research. It has been endorsed by many organizations including (but not limited to) the following:

  1. United States Surgeon General
  2. American Academy of Neurology
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics
  5. American Psychological Association
  6. Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
  7. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
  8. National Institute of Mental Health
  9. Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT)
  10. New York State Department of Health

We provide a more advanced version of ABA, which focuses on helping children with autism develop and use language skills. You may also like to read a New York Times’ article to learn more about the effectiveness of ABA therapy.

ABA is a Reinforcement based science. It is within human nature to be motivated by foreseeable things that will help us achieve certain goals, and children are no different when it comes to this. Reinforcement encourages positive behavior and promotes frequency in a child practicing good behavior in the future. The fact that Reinforcement is defined as occurring after a behavior shows that the terms “Bribe” and “Reinforcement” are not synonymous. Bribes involve saying to someone, “If you do this, I will give you this.” Bribes are dependent on a negotiation before the behavior occurs. Since Reinforcement occurs only after a behavior is completed, they are not one in the same.In fact, most ABA programs teach that the use of “If, Then,” statements are often contrary to good teaching. ABA focuses on identifying strong motivational things in order to help children engage in the program and there are no limits as to what reinforcers can be.
 
Yes! ABA is a science that was theorized and developed long before there was any thought of applying it to Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA is used to help all kinds of people overcome all kinds of social and behavioral problems, such as quitting smoking, personality disorders, relationship counseling, obsessive compulsive disorders, and many other common human issues. Behavioral principles only began being used for children with autism in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
 
Our programs are very flexible and customized to suit individual needs. When designing a program, we look at factors such as your child’s age, language ability and existent skills. We treat both high and low functioning children, of which some are non-verbal. We can incorporate practices instructed by other professionals into the program, e.g. oral exercises instructed by your child’s speech therapist.
 
The cost depends on number of ABA sessions conducted per month and the experience of therapists assigned to your child. It is not uncommon for people to use ABA services costing HKD$30,000 or more per month.
 
The cost of ABA therapy is high given the frequency of ABA sessions. Its success also requires parents to commit time and effort to instructing and training their children outside therapy time. ABA is best seen as a long term treatment, supporting the child’s learning through the years of early schooling and adolescence. However, the program and delivery of ABA may change as the child progresses through different stages of life. For instance, when a child approaches school-age, the program may be geared more heavily toward specific academic and social skills. In return for investing precious resources into ABA, parents can expect to see their child progress in skills, behavior and general quality of life.
 
ABA therapy is generally considered an intensive form of therapy. However, we are mindful to ease children into the flow of activities during the session, especially when they first begin an ABA program. Since the Verbal Behavior approach is loosely structured around a child’s preferences and infused with age-appropriate leisure activities, instead of being mundane and tiring, sessions are actually invigorating and enjoyable for the child. Consequently, motivation for learning is heightened. We recommend a minimum of three sessions per week in order for the child to benefit from the effects of the program.
 
It is important to be understanding and watchful with your child’s behavior pattern. It is often the case that children with autism have difficulty getting their ideas and thoughts across which may lead to frustration when misunderstood. Being taught to communicate effectively is the best way to counter this issue along with providing positive reinforcement to motivate your child.

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