Myth: ABA is just animal training adapted for use with people
Truth: Applied Behavior Analysis is a comprehensive understanding of why people tend to make the choices that they do. It is the application of that understanding that allows ABA consultants to help people make choices that are more effective and support happier and more successful living. The fact that some behaviorists use this understanding to help adults, to help children and to train animals does not diminish its value in supporting better choice making in children with autism. I always laugh when I hear this myth and think, “hmm, people sometimes choose to feed meat bones to their dogs. Does that mean that my New York steak with peppercorn sauce is merely dog food adapted for use with humans?”
Myth: ABA just uses food and toys to bribe kids into doing things / ABA gets kids hooked on edible rewards
Truth: One of the most misunderstood concepts of ABA is the value and importance of reinforcement. ABA is a reinforcement based science. If you said to your son/daughter "today if we play nicely with each other at the park, we will go to get an ice cream afterwards"...that would be considered positive reinforcement (if it increased the desired behavior in the future). However, if you waited until your kids were fighting at the park and then said, "if you calm down and stop fighting we can get ice cream" ...that would be considered bribery (because the challenging behavior is dictating the reward). Additionally, a critical component of a good ABA program is the move to work from lower level reinforcers such as food to higher level reinforcers such as praise over time, and to reduce the frequency at which the child is being reinforced.
Myth: ABA is a specialized Autism therapy and is not useful for people with other diagnoses
Truth: ABA is used around the world to help all kinds of people overcome all kinds of social and behavioral problems such as quitting smoking, addressing personality disorders, relationship counseling, obsessive compulsive disorders, and many other common issues.
Myth: ABA turns kids into “little robots”
Truth: When implemented correctly, ABA will maximize a child’s ability to express their own personality and preferences by teaching them the skills they need to communicate, play, and otherwise enjoy life…by teaching them how to LEARN.
Myth: ABA addresses “behavior” only, it’s not language focused
Truth: ABA programs are comprehensive programs – meaning that an ABA program will address all aspects of a child’s life. These areas include behavioral needs in addition to social skills, language/communication skills, cognitive skills, self-help/daily living skills, play skills and motor skills.
Myth: ABA is all table work
Truth: While ABA therapy programs do involve table work, ABA therapy is NOT solely “table work.” The therapy is a comprehensive program which involves time working and playing at the table, away from the table, in the backyard, around the house, in the community, at school, in structured peer play sessions, and anywhere else the child needs to be able to learn and apply skills! ABA also involves a lot of time spent engaged in fun, reinforcing activities to ensure that the child is enjoying therapy time.
Myth: ABA uses aversives / physical punishment
Truth: NO. ABA therapy programs do not use physical punishment to treat autism.
Myth: Discourages socialization by keeping kids home
Truth: ABA therapy encourages socialization by teaching children the pre-requisite skills they need to be successful in a social environment before placing them into an automatic self-contained placement. When children are placed into a more stressful social school or other social environments without the pre-requisite skills, they are significantly more likely to have an increased level of behavioral programs, which decreases the likelihood that they will be successful in a classroom setting and make friends. Compare this to being dropped off at college while you were only a high school freshman – would you have been ready socially?
Myth: Skills only “work” at the table, with the therapist
Truth: If skills are only taught in one place with one person in one way, yes, that is how they are likely to be exhibited. However, as stated above, a good ABA program incorporates generalization components from an early stage to prevent just this aspect. The entire goal of the program is “learning to learn,” meaning that the child will not only be able to demonstrate learned skills in any environment with any person, they will also be able to LEARN new skills in other environments, from other people.
Myth: Children hear “no” 70% of the time
Truth: Absolutely not. This tends to come from people who do not understand ABA therapy, and take the x, x, p rule (which is only for MASTERED material) to mean that every time we introduce something new to a child, we always let them get it wrong twice before we ever tell them the answer or help them at all. This would go against all of our training and research about how to introduce a new skill. The other MAJOR flaw with this logic is that it assumes that the child never, ever get anything correct on their own! Sessions are structured to keep children successful overall!