(typically 18 months to 5 years, or learners who are functioning in that range)
For our younger learners (typically 2-5 years old) who need to develop basic verbal and social skills, we focus on what are called “verbal operants” in the ABA world. Those are the basic building blocks of language and include:
“mands” – asking for something to meet a want/need
“tacts” – labeling what they see around them)
“echoic” – repeating what someone else says
“intraverbals” – back and forth conversation
“listener responding” – following instructions
“motor imitation” – copying movements of others
“visual perceptual” – matching, sorting, and aligning
We will have done an assessment (usually the VB-MAPP – which is short for the Verbal Behavioral Milestones Assessment and Placement Program) which gives the BCBA an idea of which skills your child already has under their belt and which skills need to be worked on next.
Sessions are usually at least two hours long, depending on how much stamina your child has and the level of need. A lot is covered in an ABA therapy session and we aim to maximize every single minute.
For learners that have lower levels of skill, we work first on building interest in the staff. This is known as building “instructional control,” which really just means that your child will learn that his or her RBT is the source of all the good and fun things and that directions need to be followed in order to get the fun. Skills like building eye contact, sharing interest in an object, learning to sit in a specific place, respond when called, and imitating physical and vocal behaviors will happen here. Our goal is to make your child’s sessions enjoyable from start to finish, so this is all accomplished mostly through play at first.
Next, we’ll work on what’s known as a “mand repertoire.” Essentially, your child needs to first learn how to use words to get their wants and needs met. This is a great place to start because your child is already motivated to try and get what they want and will therefore be more open to trying out a new skill that might be really hard at first. This will usually take place during naturally occurring situations like play or meal times, but don’t be fooled! It’s not just play time. Your child’s behavior technician is setting up the environment so that there are many, many opportunities to learn these new skills.
We first teach what’s known as an “omnibus mand”, which lets your child learn to make requests without needing much sophisticated language. This is a new concept in the field of ABA that results in significant self-empowerment and language development, while also teaching kids the concept of “not right now” and “no” from an early stage. This avoid some of the common problems with typical mand training where children learn they get whatever they want just by asking, which can create some “spoiled child” type behaviors.
Echoic skills are taught along the way to ensure the new words your child is learning can be understood by others around them. We use a technique called “shaping” to get words to sound closer and closer like what they should over time. We also will use pictures or an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device if your child has difficulty forming vocal speech.
Giving your child a voice is one of the most empowering parts of ABA therapy. You will see growth in his or her personality as new words are learned and generalized outside of therapy sessions. And the feeling of being able to speak up for yourself when you need to cannot be matched.
Once those basic skills have been established, your ABA team will begin working on building up receptive language repertoires through listener responding and visual perceptual tasks. Processing language spoken by others always develops prior to being able to use the language yourself. So we work one step ahead on receptive language while we also begin to develop expressive (spoken) language through tacting programs. At this point, your child has likely begun to sit at the table to do some work during sessions, as well as continuing to learn in the “natural environment” through play.
Again, as your child progresses, back and forth conversation skills will begin. At first, it might look like completing nursery rhymes, answering basic questions, and learning the noises that animals make. These are all the building blocks for more advanced skills like answering “wh” questions. Your child will be exposed to basic content that is learned in most preschool programs to prepare them to interact with a wide variety of information and communicate with others.
Your child is going to be exposed to a wide variety of concepts during their time in ABA. Our goal is to prepare them for the real world and match the standards of preschool and elementary school programs. If their school program is replaced with ABA, we want them to be getting the same content they would receive at their home school and match our goals to the highest educational standards.
Social skills at this level looks like developing play skills. Typically, our learners on the Autism Spectrum do not engage in play with others, even what’s known as “parallel play” (playing with a toy next to another child who is playing with a different toy and not really interacting much). So we will work to develop the skills of noticing others, sharing, taking turns, imaginary play, requesting from others, talking to others, and much more.
During this critical initial language development period, we will work on skills that typically develop up to the age of 48 months (4 years old). This also includes skills like toilet training, reducing food selectivity, working on sleep related problems, and reducing any problem behaviors that arise. As children develop new skills, they also develop new challenging behaviors (think the “terrible two”) because they are testing the limits of the people around them. It’s a natural part of growing up and, even though it can be a rough period of time, it’s exciting to see as they begin to close the skill gap.
You as a parent are a critical part of the ABA team. These initial skills don’t develop nearly as quickly without practice, practice, practice. And while some learners may qualify for 30-40 hours per week of service, that still leaves time when no behavior technician or BCBA is around. Parents, we’ll train you on how to get your child to use the same skills we’re teaching in ABA therapy sessions through parent training. In addition, we love to chat with your child’s other therapy providers (speech, occupational therapy, school, physical therapy) to make sure we’re all on the same page. We love to work as a team!
You will have regular meetings with your child’s BCBA and behavior technician team to review your child’s progress. You’ll look at graphs that depict progress toward goals, talk about how those skills are being worked on outside of therapy, be able to ask any questions you might have, express concerns, and be a part of setting goals as you go. We want to hear what you want! It’s very important that your quality of life be improved as a direct result of ABA, as well as your child’s. We are here for you and your family every step of the way.
No matter where you’re at in the process, we would love to hear your questions and concerns. We are here to help. Give us a call! Family Support would love to learn more about your loved one with autism and your family.
When you’re ready, we’d love to meet you! When you’re ready to move forward, we will schedule an initial intake appointment. This is designed to let you meet one of our clinical staff and have more specific questions answered. And if you’re ready, this can be a jumping off point to begin therapy.
At the initial intake appointment, we just want to have a conversation with you as a parent about your concerns for your child. Our Lead BCBA will be the one to meet your family for the first time and will ask questions about your child, your concerns, and what you’ve experience so far. This meeting is just a conversation and should be a comfortable place for you to ask questions and express yourself.
A diagnostic interview will be conducted with you, the parents and/or caregivers, to obtain detailed information about the referral concerns and your child’s developmental history, medical history, and family history.
Direct observations of your child by a Behavior Analyst (BCBA), an Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), or a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), all of whom are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
At the end of the intake appointment, the Behavior Analyst will discuss clinical impressions and schedule 1 to 2 follow up assessment sessions, during which we will work more specifically with your child to find areas of strength and deficit to help us set more accurate goals.