aba therapy

By Mark Mautone, M.A. ABA

When educating children with Angelman Syndrome (AS), many parents look for the best schools that have teachers with extensive experience working with children with special needs. The programs that the parents observe are classrooms that educate children with different disabilities. These classrooms are categorized as Multiply Disabled (MD).  These classes are always perceived to be the “generic” solution for children who possess deficits that are difficult to address in other classes. With saying that, these classrooms can be very effective for most children. However one type of educational setting that is overlooked, is a classroom that implements the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA is mostly associated with the field of autism. ABA is the science of applying experimentally derived principles of behavior to improve social significant behaviors. (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Before we go any further let’s briefly define what “social significant behaviors” are and their function. To do so, I am going to breakdown the term in the simplest form.  Social means relating to people or society. Significant refers to having meaning.  However, when the word “behavior” is mentioned, most people think of maladaptive or stereotypic behaviors such as hitting, spitting, kicking, or repetitive motor/vocal behaviors.  In reality, everything we do is considered a “behavior”.

Behaviors are observed in many forms such as blinking an eye, waving a hand, saying “Hi”, or walking. Most people do not look at these behaviors as a “behavior” because they are automatic for most people. Unfortunately, society has always associated “behavior” with negative actions.  Let’s start to think differently.  Social significant behaviors are behaviors people produce that are meaningful actions that are observe in many forms that are present in society.  This may include decreasing maladaptive/stereotypic behaviors and/or increase appropriate learning and social behaviors.

Most research in ABA relates to individuals who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, like individuals with ASD, social, communication and behavior deficits are also evident in children with AS. In the past, ASD and AS were perceived as very similar disorders.  Although research is limited in using ABA with children with AS, there are two studies (Summers, J & Szatmari, 2009 and Summers, J & Hall, E. 2008) that show evidence that select principles of ABA are effective educating a child with AS. These procedures included discrete trial, shaping, chaining, reinforcement and task analysis of skills (Summers, J & Szatmari, 2009). Summers, J & Hall, E. 2008 investigated the correct implementation of ABA teaching procedures by parents with AS using an ABA skills training manual. The results of this study showed differences in results across 4 parents. Two of the parents showed improvement in responding across 4 of 5 domains, one parent did not demonstrate change, and the last parent had mixed results that may have due to the child’s disruptive behavior according to the study.

Even though there is limited research on applying the ABA methodologies there is sufficient evidence to show that educating a child with AS is effective.

IMG_2537As a professional who is not only educated in ABA methodology, I am also a teacher who applies these principles on a daily basis. A few months ago I had the opportunity to meet an extraordinary young boy named Max. Max is diagnosed with AS. Max’s mother, Sybille requested me to work with her son using ABA procedures.  After I evaluated Max, it was certain that we needed to work on sitting at the table and the  ability to maintain appropriate use of his hands while sitting, such keeping hands down when working. Max has a history of swiping items off the table and had difficulty sitting.  His program was only focused on those behaviors.  Those two behaviors are pre-requisites to learning and attending.  I work with Max once week for an hour. I am happy to report that by the 6th week Max was able to walk to his work area and sit down. His reinforcement is delivered for producing the target behavior with preferred videos on the iPad for keeping his hands down. We are moving into the phase of programming, which will be introducing educational programs using ABA principles.

“This article was written two months ago. Today Max is able to start the timer on the iPad, chose his activity, finish it and go to the next one. We started “proloquo2go” program and he loved it. He is learning quickly with his ABA therapist and I truly believe there is no particular age to start ABA therapy. If you have a great therapist you can do miracles with your angel.” – Sybille Kraft Bellamy

Mark Mautone, M.A. ABA

ITPADD – Educational and Technology Consulting



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