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Don’t Leave ABA Without Them: Top 3 Must Have Skills for All Children with Autism

It’s no secret that services based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are considered to be the gold standard in treatment options for children with autism (e.g., endorsements from US Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, US legislated insurance coverage). Access to ABA-based treatment can ultimately improve the quality of lives for children with autism. Simply put, ABA gives us powerful tools that can teach children with autism all sorts of things. But as with all good things in life, time and resources are limited. Therefore, it’s crucial that careful considerations be made with respect to what should be taught in ABA programs. What skills have the largest impact in improving the quality of a child’s life?

Our team of BCBAs has been involved in the treatment of hundreds of children in ABA-based programs. We’ve had the privilege of watching children with autism grow up and we’ve witnessed first hand what skills they need to be successful in the “real world”. Here are our top three must have skills for all children with autism:

1) Getting what you want: In the world of ABA, we call this the “mand”. This is essentially the ability for a child to request when they are motivated to do so. Motivation is important because if a child can learn to ask when he/she is motivated alone, he/she is not relying on waiting for someone to ask him/her or for the item to be present. Simply, the child is motivated and so they spontaneously request. At the very minimum, every child should be given opportunities to learn to request for a variety of things, actions, and attention. Some kids may vocalize to get what they need, others may use the Picture Exchange Communcation System (PECS) and others may use other Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems (e.g., an iPad, a Springboard). No matter what the form of communication is, every child with autism should have the opportunity to learn “manding” skills. We consider this a fundamental human right.

2) Asking for things to go away: Learning how to get what you want is only scratching the surface; we can’t forget to teach kids with autism how to make things go away. Think about how many times in a day you let people know if something is bothering you, you ask for someone to stop doing something, you ask for a break, you tell someone that something is too hard, and the list goes on and on. Now imagine, if you couldn’t do that. Life would be pretty tough, wouldn’t it? That’s why  ABA programs at Breakthrough Autism alway include, systematic teaching opportunities to learn how to ask for things to go away or stop in a polite manner (e.g., “please stop”, “that’s too hard”, “I need a break”, “I don’t like that”). Again, the form of communication doesn’t matter (e.g., vocal, PECS, iPad), every child with autism should have the opportunity to learn this skill.

3) Tolerating  “no” and learning to wait: There’s no denying that the Rolling Stones were bang on when they said “you can’t always get what you want”. That’s the real world and we want kids with autism to be successful in it. So, once kids learn how to ask for what they want and ask for things to go away, the next step must include learning how to tolerate when someone else says no and learning how to wait for things. At Breakthrough Autism, we firmly believe that mastery of this skill is closely related to the quality of a person’s life. Disappointment is a fact of life, we all have to deal with it. People who are better at waiting and dealing with “no” tend to be those that are most successful. Therefore, teaching kids with autism these skills will set them up for future success!

Want to learn more about how we teach these skills? Here at Breakthrough Autism, we have Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) who have expertise in creating customized programs in these areas. Contact us today for more details.


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Our aim is to keep you and your family informed.