What Is an Autism Therapy Program Using a Behavioral Approach
Most autism therap programs adopt either a behavioral or a developmental approach. The most well-known behavioral therapy programs are: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) created by Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas at UCLA, and Verbal Behavior (VB) with the curriculum developed by Dr. James W. Partington and Mark L. Sundberg. VB is a modified version of ABA, placing more emphasis on utilization of the natural environment, to make is less robotic. (For example, you would teach the word “ball” when you are playing a ball, but not when you are sitting at a table holding the picture of a ball.) There are many other programs that also utilize the behavioral-based principle, including TEACH and Direct Instruction.

Generally speaking, all of these behavioral-based therapy programs follow the principle discovered by Dr. B. F. Skinner's in 1950s, called the Stimulus Response principle. The often cited experiment is that you can train a dog to saliva (response) whenever a bell rings (stimulus), if the dog repeatedly gets food (reward/reinforcer) when the bell rings--even when you fade out the food later. Similarly, you can train a child to say a word, if the child always gets a reward when s/he says the word--even when the reward is faded out later.

Advantages of Behavioral-Based Therapy
While rewarding a child with positive reinforcement is a commonsensical practice of all parents, the behavioral therapists have developed a comprehensive program that guides you through the teaching of various language and life skills. This is a good program for a child whose main deficit is language. It is also good for teaching other specific skills that can be structured and modeled, such as academic or life skills. Because of the systematic nature of the therapy, many scientific studies have been conducted to confirm its effectiveness. And because schools are required to implement research-based interventions, the behavioral approach has become the dominant method for autism intervention at school (though they may not necessarily provide 1:1 therapy). In addition, most therapy clinics and Waiver service-providers also use the behavioral approach.

ABA Therapy Centers in Bloomington

  1. Reach High Consulting (2101 W. Tapp Rd., phone 812-330-4460) offers ABA/VB and life-skill training in 1:1 and small group settings throughout the day. There is also an OT on staff. They do not bill Medicaid, but they will help you bill private insurances or utilize your Waiver hours if you have a waiver. They will also help you apply for a small waiver called Children's Special Health Care Services Program of Indiana, which can pay for enough hours for 8 weeks (about one summer). The Director of this Center is versed in various therapy models and can incoporate Developmental Therapy elements when needed.
  2. Collaborating for Kids (located on 640 S. Walker Street, 812-650-4804) is a newer therapy center. They offer ABA as well as OT, Speech and Physical Therapies, and tutoring. Therapy can be provided at the clinic or at home. They accept Medicaid, Children's Special Health Care Services, and some private insurances. They are good at offering highly structured ABA therapy, if you want a strict behavioral program.

How to Start a Behavioral (ABA/VB) Program at Home

  1. To set up an ABA program at home, you will need the program book that includes a long list of language and life skills, with teaching and data-taking instructions. The standard program book is A Work in Progress: Behavior Management Strategies & A Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism edited by Drs. Ron Leaf and John McEachin.
  2. To set up a VB program at home, you will need the program book that includes a complete list of language skills. The standard curriculum book is ABLLSavailable on Amazon.
  3. For additional teaching tools applicable for both ABA and VB, including flashcards, you can search online. There are a great number of stores. Here is one example.
  4. For recruiting and training home therapists, see the end of this page.

Caveat of the Behavioral Approach:
The defining factor of autism is the lack of social motivation, though language is often the accompanied deficit. As amazing as it is how behavioral therapy can bypass the social-motivation deficit to teach language, the social deficit may remain, if the behavioral therapist does not also foster spontaneity. For example, a child may learn to talk through ABA therapy, but the same child may not necessarily have the desire to communicate or interact with others. Even though this is not an official part of an ABA program, a good behavior therapist would still naturally try to build on the child's interest and motivation, and be open to let the child take the lead. So, be sure to interview the therapists who will be working with your child. In addition, you can look into the developmental approach and try to incorporate aspects of this other approach that foster social motivation.  Even if you decide to implement a behavioral therapy program, you may still want to bring in some elements (especially the "joining" part) from the Son-rise program, a developmental therapy model.