A Peek Inside An ABA Therapy Session

You’ve heard about ABA and how it can benefit your child, you’ve read up on what it is and how it works, but maybe you’re wondering what an ABA session actually looks like. The truth of the matter is that no ABA session looks the same, because each learner is different, and the sessions are tailored to their individual needs. However, the majority of an ABA session focuses on teaching new skills. Below we will discuss some skills taught and the most common ABA teaching approaches that you might encounter in an ABA session.

What Kinds of Skills Are Taught in an ABA Session?
ABA can be used to teach any new skills or behavior. Behavior analysts assess the learner’s skill repertoire, and determine what needs to be addressed. Skills taught during ABA sessions generally fall under the domains of communication (including alternative communication for learners who have limited vocal communication), social and activities of daily living, such as hygiene, self-feeding and leisure activities. Pre-academics, community skills and other important skills may also be addressed. During ABA sessions, replacement behaviors are also taught for any problematic behaviors that may occur, such as swiping papers off the table or yelling when spoken to.

ABA Teaching Approaches
Let’s look at a brief overview of some ABA teaching approaches. The approaches we’ll discuss have varied characteristics and appear to be different, however since they are all part of ABA, they all share some key features. All ABA teaching approaches are based on the science of behavior, which means behavior analysts examine the circumstances surrounding a behavior and make changes in those circumstances to change the behavior. Additionally, regardless of which approach is being used, ABA therapists always take data during therapy, which is then analyzed to determine if progress is sufficient and what steps to take next.  

  1. Discrete Trial Training
    Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is the most commonly known ABA teaching method. DTT is highly structured, utilizes repetition and simplifies teaching of skills. DTT sessions consist of multiple trials, which are bite-sized lessons that teach one skill at a time.
  2. Natural Environment Training
    Natural Environment Training (NET) is a less-structured approach to teaching skills using ABA. There are a few teaching methods that fall under NET. We’re going to focus on Pivotal Response Training and Incidental Teaching.

    • Pivotal Response Training
      Pivotal Response Training (PRT) focuses on pivotal behaviors—behaviors that when learned are likely to lead to acquiring other behaviors without additional teaching. The pivotal behaviors PRT addresses are motivation, self-management, self-initiation and learning to focus on multiple aspects of the environment. PRT is usually implemented during play time, but it can be used whenever there is an opportunity for learning.
    • Incidental Teaching
      Incidental Teaching (IT) uses natural opportunities to improve communication skills, specifically spontaneous communication, which is when the learner initiates interactions. It’s most often used during unstructured play time but can also be implemented during meal times and self-care task completion.

Characteristics of Teaching Approaches

NET
DTT PRT IT
For people who can learn in a less-structured, more natural setting
For young children or learners who need a more structured learning setting
Usually takes place at a desk/table
Uses natural opportunities in the learner’s environment
Learning targets are specific
Learning targets are more general
Fast paced, many trials per session
Slow pace, few skills addressed per session
Activities and materials are selected by the learner
Activities and materials are selected by the therapist
To begin, therapist gains the learner’s attention and gives an instruction
To begin, therapist waits for the learner to initiate
Prompts (cues) are used if needed
Reinforcement is natural (related to skill being taught)
Reinforcement is unrelated to the skill taught
Can be used in combination with other teaching approaches

Skills Gained with Each Approach

NET
DTT PRT IT
Language/Communication
Play & Leisure
Social Skills
Self-Care/ADL 
Community Skills
Pre-Academics/Readiness Skills

The ABA teaching approaches we discussed look different when they’re implemented, and focus on teaching different skills. However, studies have shown that they are all effective in teaching the important skills your child might need to live their best life.

Find out if your child can benefit from ABA therapy.
If your child is struggling to learn new skills, ABA therapy may be right for them. If your child is already receiving ABA services and you think they could benefit from a different ABA teaching method than is being used, don’t hesitate to advocate for them with their clinical team. ABA therapy looks different for each child because each child is unique and has individual challenges. Contact the professional team at Empirian to find out what an ABA session might look like for your child.

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