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Get the Best Behavioral Therapy for Your Child with Autism

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Updated March 05, 2008

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Know What Behavioral Therapy Should Look Like
Most doctors and schools recommend behavioral therapy for children with autism. The most common form of behavioral therapy is called applied behavioral analysis (ABA).

In its most basic form, ABA is deceptively simple. It's an old-fashioned reward and consequence approach to education. Do what you're asked to do, and you are rewarded. Don't do what you're asked to do, and the reward is withheld. Over time, the learner associates rewards with good behavior. In the long-run, the good behavior continues even in the absence of the reward.

Parents of children with autism may be familiar with ABA in the form of an approach called "discrete trials." This approach to therapy involves a therapist who sits across a table from a child with autism and ask for a behavior (give me the spoon). When the child complies, he receives a reward -- very often a bit of food. The the therapist asks for another behavior, and another -- sometimes for as many as 40 hours a week.

Training for this type of behavioral therapy is relatively brief (it can be as short as just a few weeks). But therapy at this level, even for many hours a week, is unlikely to be ideal.

According to Jim Partington, PhD, board certified behavior analyst and director of Behavior Analysts Inc. in Pleasant Hill, Calif., a child engaged in behavioral therapy should be having fun, responding to the therapist's facial expressions, and working not just at a table but also in natural settings (playgrounds, classrooms, and so forth).

If your child clearly dreads therapy, prefers not to engage during therapy, or is always seated at a table with a therapist, it may be time to intervene.

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