As of 2023, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One of the more functional and successful interventions for children with autism is applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA is a therapeutic intervention based on the science of learning and behavior. The applied part of ABA refers to understanding how behavior works in real-life situations.
The American Psychological Association (APA) considers ABA an evidence-based practice, meaning that it has been thoroughly researched and tested and is deemed an effective science-based therapy. In modern times, technology is not only used to benefit the child in behavior therapy but also to benefit the clinicians, parents, and educators. Read on to learn more about how technology is integrated with ABA for clinicians, parents, and educators.
Using ABA Technology: For BCBAs and RBTs
Being technology-savvy is a must for ABA practitioners, particularly board-certified board analysts (BCBAs). Clinicians need a powerful software suite to accomplish many tasks: ABA software is not just medical software or analytics software—it is a blend of many features. More robust software suites include features that can run payroll functions. Quite often, BCBAs may be running their own small business. On their shoulders also falls the task of filing insurance claims and paying their employees, so a fully functional software suite is necessary for an ABA clinic of any size.
After the BCBA initially draws up your child’s treatment plan, they will track and assess as goals are met over time. The treatment plan is an ever-changing document catered to your child’s strengths and the areas in which they need support. Tracking your child’s progress over time requires data plots and analytics.
You may often see your clinical team working with technology during sessions. Sometimes the team will be using technology as part of therapy and interaction, and sometimes technology is used for data collection. Though technology is necessary with respect to data, there should be plenty of non-screen time in which your clinical team is interacting directly with your child. The team members will subtly take data throughout the session as your child demonstrates skills related to their targeted goals.
For example, let’s say one behavior you would like to see decrease is elopement. You may have safety concerns if your child tends to wander out of the home or run away from you in public, or you may be concentrating on elopement from tasks, such as when your child loses attention and wanders away from expected tasks. Let’s say it’s a combination of both. Every time your child elopes in session, your clinician will record the data on their device. Over time, this data collection can be inputted into software and then analyzed. If elopement decreases, the goals outlined in the treatment plan are effective; if elopement does not change or increases, the clinician knows it’s time to try different interventions.
Clinicians, of course, use technology with children during sessions, so they must also be familiar with those types of technology. Very often, apps and games used with children in session are intuitive because they must be simple enough for the child to navigate, but clinicians come in contact with more complex software, such as those used on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. These devices may include speech and communication software, which can sometimes have a bit of a learning curve. While your child’s speech therapist will most often use a speech AAC device, your ABA clinician will also be familiar with the software.
Registered behavior technicians (RBTs) are the staff that will be working most closely with your child day-to-day, so they are very familiar with different levels of software as well. In the absence of the BCBA, RBTs collect data and report back to the BCBA. Both BCBAs and RBTs should also consider continuing education and certifications to keep pace with the latest technologies so they can be easily implemented in treatment.
The ABA world was thrown a curveball in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As clinics began to close nationwide, worries quickly mounted about how children with autism would receive treatment. Without regular routine and contact with their educators and therapists, there was a genuine worry over regression.
Telehealth became a model of treatment not just for ABA clinicians but for the medical world at large. However, clinicians were thrust into learning how to use Telehealth software quickly to deliver treatment. Throughout the height of the pandemic, Telehealth became the go-to until restrictions were lifted. It is still widely used several years later for families in rural areas or when traveling is difficult. It can also be used as a replacement for an in-clinic appointment when your clinician, yourself, or your child is ill.
Using ABA Technology: For Parents
While parents aren’t expected to understand data plot points or analytics, parent training is an essential part of applied behavior analysis, and parents should be familiar with the technology their child is using so that parents can continue ABA principles in the clinician’s absence. Your BCBA (and speech therapist) may help parents navigate AAC devices better, as the communication apps can be highly complex and customizable.
Your ABA team may also use apps during sessions, which you can download on your own devices to help your child in between sessions. There are a myriad of apps to focus on many skill areas. Suppose your child is in early intervention or is under the age of three. In that case, your child’s therapists may use apps geared toward learning letters, numbers, and colors, while an older child may use apps dedicated to safety or to help navigate social situations.
It’s also a wise idea for parents to be familiar with Telehealth technology as well. Even if it’s something you haven’t used in the past, Telehealth can work well for continuity’s sake when there are missed appointments (e.g., vacation, illness). Generally, Telehealth technology isn’t too difficult to navigate—you’ll need an internet connection, a mobile device or computer with a webcam and microphone, and a link from your service provider. Typically, all you need to do is click the link to begin the session, but different providers use different Telehealth platforms, so ask to be sure.
Using ABA Technology: For Educators
Technology can be implemented in the classroom as well, and many of the devices that educators, clinicians, and students will use are similar to those used in the clinic or during home sessions, such as
- Digital timers
- AAC devices
- Computer and mobile apps
- DVD players
All of these technologies and devices can be used alongside common ABA techniques in the classroom. Educators can implement technology during:
- Functional communication. Improved communication is a goal of many treatment plans and individualized education plans (IEPs). To foster this communication, particularly for a child who is nonverbal, educators can use AAC devices in the classroom to help children learn to communicate and get their needs across. Alternatively, low tech materials may be used such as pictures or other visual cues to be exchanged.
- Naturalistic teaching (NET). Naturalistic teaching occurs during the natural course of the day and targets a student’s specific needs, likes, and abilities. Educators can engage students through apps to help them learn, especially considering screen time is often a natural part of the day for all children.
- Reinforcement. Innumerable technologies can be used with reinforcement, with everything from digital token boards and digital schedules to using screen time as a reward for completing a non preferred activity.
Educators can apply ABA principles using technology, or the BCBA can work with children directly in order for them to meet their treatment goals. Teachers can also use technology synchronously or asynchronously, as they can send ABA-led assignments home for children to complete, or children can engage in telesessions with their teachers and educators in the event of illness or inclement weather.
Using ABA Technology: Advocacy
If your child is nonverbal or needs extra help in some areas, you may have to advocate in order for them to use an AAC device. Quite often, AAC devices are available for classroom use, but in many cases, you can have it written into the IEP so that your child can have access to technology that goes back and forth between home and school.
Developing communication skills is particularly important during early intervention, and it’s imperative that your child have access to technology that will help them grow and succeed. Unfortunately, and often because of budget restraints, you may come into contact with pushback at the public education level. You can ask your ABA clinicians, as well as your other outside providers, such as your child’s pediatrician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech therapist, to speak on your behalf as to your child’s need for assistive technology. In some cases, you may have to hire an advocate to get your point across.
Some schools have assistive technology programs in place with outside providers, but there can be a long waiting list for access to the technology, so if you want your child to access an AAC device, speak to someone in your child’s public school system as soon as possible to get the ball rolling. Alternatively, you can purchase devices and assistive technology applications yourself, but they are often quite expensive.
To learn more about ABA, parent training, or to schedule an appointment or assessment, contact the professionals at Acclaim Autism today.
Applied Behavior Analysis. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/applied-behavior-analysis
Autism Prevalence Higher, According to Data from 11 ADDM Communities | CDC Online Newsroom. (2023, March 22). CDC. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2023/p0323-autism.html
5 Ways Technology is Used in Applied Behavior Analysis. (n.d.). Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com/lists/5-ways-technology-is-used-in-applied-behavior-analysis/
Hoeft, H. (2023, March 2). How To Implement ABA In The Classroom – Different Roads to Learning Blog. Different Roads to Learning Blog -. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://blog.difflearn.com/2023/03/02/how-to-implement-aba-in-the-classroom/
Leveraging Technology for Training, Skill Development, and Onboarding of ABA Practices. (2023, June 16). CentralReach. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://centralreach.com/leveraging-technology-for-training-skill-development-and-onboarding-of-aba-practices/
The SEED Autism Center – Stamford, CT – Technology Use In ABA Therapy. (n.d.). The SEED Center. Retrieved August 6, 2023, from https://seedautismcenter.com/blog/technology-use-in-aba-therapy/Zoder-Martell, K. A., Markelz, A. M., Floress, M. T., Skriba, H. A., & Sayyah, L. E. (2020, June 22). Technology to Facilitate Telehealth in Applied Behavior Analysis. Behavioral Analysis in Practice, 13(3), 596-603. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7307496/