At AST, we incorporate the major principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in all our programs. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically validated method for studying observable behavior, teaching functional skills, and evaluating progress. The process involves examining how a particular behavior looks, how long it lasts, and how often it occurs, then applying ABA principles to reinforce appropriate behaviors and/or discourage inappropriate behaviors.
Various ABA approaches such as Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Self-Management, and a range of social skills training techniques are all critical in teaching individuals with autism. We work closely with families to monitor progress and determine the right mix for their child so that sessions are enjoyable and productive. Ultimately, our goal is to find a way to motivate the child using a number of strategies and positive reinforcement techniques.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a component of most ABA programs for children with autism, and there is strong evidence that these techniques can produce rapid gains. DTT consists of a series of repeated lessons or “trials” taught one-on-one. For younger children, we often begin with a series of brief, simple trials that build “learning to learn” skills and help to increase attention span. DTT encourages motivation by rewarding certain behaviors with praise, toys, extra time to play, and so forth.
Like the hub of a wheel, Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is used to teach behaviors that are central to broad areas of functioning. Rather than target specific behaviors one at a time, PRT focuses on “pivotal” behaviors that can lead to improvements in other areas of behavior. A strength of pivotal response training is enhanced motivation. Children with autism typically lack the motivation to learn new tasks and participate in their social environment, which may be observed as temper tantrums, crying, fidgeting, staring, noncompliance, inattention or lethargy. PRT targets motivation by encouraging the child to respond to increasing expectations related to communication and socialization, using methods such as turn-taking, child choice, modeling, shaping, and direct reinforcement. The child plays a central role in determining what activities and objects will be used during a PRT session.
Both Pivotal Response Training (PRT) and Discrete Trial Training (DTT) incorporate the major principles of ABA to teach specified behaviors to individuals with autism. DTT is more highly structured and is useful for teaching specific behavioral skills. PRT uses a less structured, more play-based format to develop skills, and utilizes discrete trials as needed.
Many young children with autism lack the language skills that other children have, which makes it difficult and frustrating for them to communicate their needs. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is designed to teach children with limited language skills how to initiate communication with other people. Typically, training begins by teaching the child to give a picture of a desired item to a partner (such as a parent or a therapist) in exchange for that item. Later, as the child progresses, the program focuses on sentence structure and the child is taught to use sentence strips to make longer requests and comments. Children are encouraged to seek out “communication partners” in naturally occurring settings, and an emphasis is made on communication that is child-initiated, meaningful and empowering.
Self Management Training helps a child with autism achieve personal autonomy and rely less on others, such as teachers and parents. The process uses different techniques, including self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self-reinforcement. These techniques help a child to be more aware of his/her own behavior, to determine whether or not he/she has engaged in appropriate behavior, and to reward him- or herself for reaching set behavior goals.
We believe it’s important to go beyond typical discrete trial methods as the child builds a larger repertoire of communication skills. Play-based ABA approaches gradually expand sessions into more unstructured formats, which help prevent rote responses and allow a child to apply new skills to a range of activities, individuals and situations.
At AST, there is no cookie cutter, “one size fits all” approach to treating autism. For example, some children get the greatest benefit from a blend of DTT and PRT. The right proportion of intervention techniques is decided through close supervision and collaboration between interventionists and parents.