In her #1 New York Times bestselling book The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin quotes Anthony Trollope:
“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.”
If you’re trying to figure out how to integrate additional ABA time into your family’s daily routine, this is the quotation for you. Write it down, print it out, and heed its wisdom.
As Trollope so aptly noted, real progress is not about making some major, heroic effort every now and then. Rather, it’s about creating a sustainable daily practice that moves you toward your goals step by steady step.
At FirstPath Autism, we understand that undertaking an ABA therapy program is a commitment of time and energy for the whole family. While your child is the primary learner, your role is also key.
As a parent, you have the power to encourage your child’s growth … so why not use it for good? Why not decide to engage in “a small daily task” to support your child’s development?
Well, one reason why you might not choose to undertake an at-home ABA program is because you’re not convinced that it can effect change.
If you’re secretly wondering Why does ABA reinforcement at home matter so much? Can it really make a huge difference?, then this post is for you. Here, we’ve compiled scientifically proven reasons why putting in the extra effort is worthwhile.
Practice at home keeps new material current and prior learning fresh.
Engaging in ABA sessions at home helps to ensure that your child doesn’t lose ground or forget lessons learned.
Regular practice is essential for skill-set maintenance. After all, we don’t use every life skill we know every single day. Seasons change, routines shift, and once-familiar tasks fall by the wayside.
For example, if your son has gone several weeks without wearing a button-down shirt, he might struggle to button the shirt himself. Or, if your daughter hasn’t zipped up her coat since last winter, she might not remember how to work zippers properly.
The solution? Continued practice with daily-life skills (like getting dressed) until your child exhibits ongoing mastery. That way, you won’t have to deal with the discouragement that can arise when infrequently-used skills must be re-learned.
All FirstPath members (even free trial users!) can check out our Dressing Skills video lesson to see this activity in action. The lesson teaches the full process of independently getting dressed, from choosing/retrieving clothes, to putting them on appropriately, to putting them away after taking them off.
Practice facilitates the creation of new brain pathways.
ABA is a kind of neurological exercise program. When your child repeats exercises and receives rewards for a given set of behaviors, the result is the creation of new neural pathways.
This is especially important for children with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain function.
As researchers Catherine Y Wan and Gottfried Schlaug note in their National Institute of Health article, Neural pathways for language in autism: the potential for music-based treatments:
“To fully characterize the neural underpinnings of autism, it may be necessary to view it as a disorder of connections between brain regions rather than at the level of a single region.”
In other words, autism negatively affects the connections between various brain regions. That’s one reason why ABA therapy is so helpful for children on the spectrum: because it helps to build up those networks of neural connections.
ABA therapy catalyzes positive change in a feedback loop. Your child learns vital life skills and positively changes the structure of their brain in the process, which then contributes to further new learning, further changes in the brain, and so on!
Plus, young children have a high degree of neuroplasticity. This means that their brains have a tremendous ability to change, form new connections, and effectively rewire themselves. That’s why it’s important to begin ABA therapy early.
That said, there’s no age cap on this process! If your child is willing to learn and engage in ABA therapy, then his or her brain can physically change for the better.
ABA practice gives you an opportunity to take data and shape a positive behavior support plan.
Practicing ABA lessons at home gives you a valuable opportunity to collect both skill and behavioral data. When you share that data with your child’s therapist, you aid in the creation of future lessons and behavioral support plans too.
If you’re dealing with aggressive and self-injurious behavior, regular reinforcement through in-home behavioral supports becomes all the more critical.
As we wrote in our blog post Tips for getting the most out of ABA therapy:
“In partnership with your child’s ABA clinician, decide which behaviors you’ll track at home …. These [Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence] data sheets will help you and your child’s support team to understand the motivations behind the behavior. Furthermore, the data will shape a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP), which emphasizes prevention of problem behaviors such as self-injury via antecedent management.”
The more you can be consistent in tracking and responding to your child’s challenging behaviors at home, the more you’ll be empowered to contribute to decreasing those behaviors.
ABA reinforcement can help you to be the best parent (and spouse, employer, and friend!) that you can be.
Continuing ABA work at home doesn’t just benefit your child. It can impact your whole family, giving everyone the tools they need to succeed.
Shirley Nutt is an autism parent whose son Wyatt was treated by FirstPath founder Romey Kiryakous and her team at the Genesis Behavior Center in Turlock, CA.
Hear about Shirley’s experience:
Nutt shared her experience in a guest post on our blog, How ABA reinforcement at home helped one family:
“Using [ABA] at home means we are able to be better parents to our other teenage son. We have a stronger marriage because we can look past an undesirable behavior and gain better understanding for each other, and I have even used it in my career to manage my employees.”
That said, Nutt acknowledges the difficulty in maintaining those in-home reinforcers. “Learning ABA is not the tricky part,” she says. “ABA reinforcement on a consistent basis is the tricky part.”
It’s true, developing a daily in-home routine and sticking to it can be a challenge. But we believe that you’re up to it, and we’re here for you every step of the way.