What is Autism?

According to Autism Speaks, Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four distinct autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They included autistic disorder, childhood dis-integrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

We know that there is not one autism but many sub-types, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.

The timing and intensity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, behaviors become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.

Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.

What are the signs of autism?

The following may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, ask your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation right away:

By 6 months

  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful and engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact

By 9 months

  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions

By 12 months

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
  • Little or no response to name
  • By 16 months
  • Very few or no words

By 24 months

  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)

At any age

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

If you have concerns, get your child screened and contact your healthcare provider.

Information above courtesy of Autism Speaks.

What is ABA?

Hundreds of studies have shown that ABA is the most effective form of therapy for those with developmental disabilities including autism, and the use of ABA is endorsed by the US Surgeon General.

To appreciate ABA therapy, it is essential to have a basic understanding of the scientific field called behavior analysis.


Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968, 1987) defined ABA as the use of the principles and methods of behavior analysis to bring about meaningful changes in socially important behaviors. They also specified the dimensions that clearly differentiate ABA interventions from others. To be characterized accurately as ABA, an intervention must be:

  • Applied: addresses behaviors that are important to the client and his/her system of care.
  • Behavioral: focuses on and directly measures the client behavior(s) in need of improvement
  • Analytical: consistently produces change in the targeted behavior
  • Technological: protocols and procedures are described with sufficient detail and clarity
  • Conceptually systematic: behavior is a function of environmental events and described in terms of behavior analytic principles
  • Effective: improves target behaviors to a practical degree
  • Generalized: produces changes in target behaviors that last over time; occur in situations other than those in which the interventions were implemented initially; positively impacts behaviors that were not treated directly.

Principles of Behavior Analysis

ABA employs distinct principles to understand the relationship between a member’s behavior and their environment, and how one influences the other. The principles of behavior analysis are relatively few, however each principle lends itself to multiple procedures that produce change. ABA interventions have all the defining features of ABA and are designed and overseen by appropriately credentialed professionals.

Professional Practice of ABA

Behavior analysis is a recognized profession. To practice ABA, that is, to design, deliver, train others to deliver, oversee, and revise interventions one must receive both substantial initial and ongoing specialized training. The professional practice of ABA is overseen by a national regulatory body, the Behavior Analysis Certification Board® (BACB®) and in many states a licensing board.

What is the Goal of ABA Therapy?

  • Improve behaviors and skills identified as important to the member and their support system
  • Help a member acquire socially significant behaviors and skills
  • Help a member use their new skills in situations outside of the therapy setting

What Age Group is Appropriate for ABA Therapy?

ABA is effective across the life span. Clinical needs, not age should drive the use of ABA therapy. When possible, ABA should be provided as soon as possible after diagnosis, and in some cases prior to diagnosis. The earlier treatment begins, the greater the possibility of positive long-term outcomes.

Where Should ABA Therapy Occur?

The use of ABA therapy is not specific to a particular location and all may be delivered in a variety of settings including

  • residential treatment facilities
  • inpatient and outpatient programs
  • homes
  • schools
  • transportation
  • various places in the communities