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ABA Therapy in the Classroom

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Today, a general education teacher regularly faces children who demonstrate challenging behaviors in their classroom. 

Teachers are expected to handle various situations, from tantrums, aggression, and impulse control to kids with difficulty transitioning from one activity to another and others who exhibit attention-seeking behaviors.

A classroom with children exhibiting challenging behaviors means the teacher spends more time controlling and disciplining her students than teaching them.

The solution lies in ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy. Whether your child is in a unique autism-specific room or is part of a neurotypical class, in-school ABA therapy can benefit them tremendously. 

At Heartlinks, our therapists regularly work in classroom settings with their autistic clients. Children on the autism spectrum can learn valuable life and social skills in a location they’re most comfortable through ABA therapy at school. 

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy is scientifically based to encourage positive behavior while discouraging less desirable behaviors. 

ABA uses tested reinforcement strategies to reward autistic children for good behavior and improved social, communication, and learning skills. 

Strategies For ABA Therapy In The Classroom

There are many different approaches that an ABA therapist can use when working with an autistic child in the classroom. Yet five basic strategies are most popular, especially when in a school setting. They are:

  • Contingent Observation
  • Token Economy
  • Discrete Trial Teaching
  • Pivotal Response Treatment
  • Naturalist Teaching

Contingent Observation

Simply put, contingent observation is a gentle time-out for young autistic children. If a child (usually a pre-schooler or early elementary age) exhibits aggressive or disruptive behavior in a social group, they’re physically removed from the circle. They’re placed a few feet away from the group of kids that are playing together. That way, they can still see what’s happening (a reinforcement activity) but aren’t allowed to participate. Then after a few minutes, they’re invited back into the group. 

Token Economy

The token economy approach is based almost entirely on reinforcement. In the same way that money works. Yet, in ABA therapy in the classroom, the token isn’t money but something that would appeal to the child (i.e., stickers, small prizes, or points). Students quickly understand that specific behaviors, such as paying attention when the teacher speaks, will earn them tokens. At the same time, other behaviors, such as being rowdy and getting out of their desk, will not earn them anything. 

Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete trial teaching takes a significant task or skill and breaks it into smaller, more manageable pieces. Then each sub-task is taught separately. Therefore instead of a child feeling overwhelmed about completing one giant skill, they feel calmer knowing they can break it down into manageable portions.

Teacher helping student in class

Pivotal Response Training 

Rather than working on individual behaviors, pivotal response training focuses on critical areas of a child’s development. Examples of these pivotal areas include responsivity, motivation, and self-management. The goal is by working on these broad pivotal areas; therapists will see improvements in other areas like a child’s communication, academic, or social skills.

Naturalistic Teaching

Naturalistic teaching leverages a child’s unique needs, abilities, and interests. Rather than devoting a specific time to regular therapy, naturalistic teaching occurs throughout a child’s school day. Therapists offer feedback to the child and coach them regarding pre-determined target behavior. This means little adult interference with the child’s learning during the day. 

How In-School ABA Therapy Can Help

The advantage of ABA therapy in the classroom is it can be applied immediately to what your child is doing or learning in school. This will help them apply new skills immediately. Other advantages include the following:

Reduce Unwanted Behaviors

In-school ABA therapy can enhance a child’s academic performance by reducing the behaviors that interfere with their learning of the material. Examples of disruptive behavior include aggression, temper tantrums, and constant fidgeting. When these behaviors are under control, an autistic child can focus more on the task at hand: learning.

Improved Social Skills

In-school ABA therapy can help a child on the spectrum learn about active listening, problem-solving, and how to read others’ feelings. These abilities can help the child develop stronger relationships with their peers and teachers.

Better Communication Skills and Increased Language 

Providing ABA therapy in the classroom can help a child on the spectrum increase their language and improve their communication skills. The naturalistic setting of the school means that the child can use their newly acquired words and communication skills with their classmates. 

Teacher helping boy at his desk

How Does ABA Therapy In The Classroom Work?

Implementing ABA therapy as an autism treatment in a classroom setting depends on where you live.

In some areas of the country, ABA therapy in the classroom is available as part of your child’s curriculum because they’re considered someone with special needs. In this situation, the treatment might be paid for by insurance or the state.

In most states, public schools are mandated by law to provide accommodations for special needs kids, including children with autism. 

If your child attends a private school, contact their teacher or principal to determine the best course of action. 

Get Help from Heartlinks

ABA therapy may have begun in a clinical setting, but classroom environments increasingly show incredible potential for improvement in children. 

In-school ABA therapy is beneficial in teaching children on the spectrum the social and life skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. 

At Heartlinks, we have the therapists and the resources to ensure your child has the best opportunity to learn in a classroom setting.

Contact us here for more information on how we can help with your ABA therapy journey.

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