ABA: Limitations

Task analysis, as in the example below, involves breaking a task down into small parts. Feeding oneself includes sitting at the table, looking at the food, picking up a spoon, bringing the spoon near the food, putting the spoon in the food, bringing the spoon to one’s mouth, opening one’s mouth, putting the spoon in and swallowing the food. Each step in this task may need to be taught and reinforced.

Applied Behavior Analysis is not the simple answer to all the problems of a child with autism. Nothing is. Blastland describes their experiences with his son, Joe. His example demonstrates both the benefits and weaknesses of ABA.

“We spent several years teaching Joe intensively using a technique known as applied behavioral analysis, increasingly popular with the parents of children with autism, but relentless and exhausting, taking anything up to forty hours a week of one-to-one instruction. The child’s attention is directed wherever possible by an adult – no childish curiosity can be depended on for motivation – and there are strict rules about the management of behavior. The main educating principle of ABA is that everything to be learned is broken down into component parts and the lesson repeated innumerable times until, it is hoped, an idea sinks in. For example, we taught Joe prepositions – in, on, under, next to – by repeated demonstration with toy animals. The program did bring certain benefits and there are reports of dramatic improvement in some children, but our biggest problem was that he found great difficulty inn carrying these detailed lessons into any wider, more general context. It was as if what he learned at the tabletop was a particular that applied nowhere else.”

In The OAISIS Guide to Asperger’s, the authors state that people with Asperger’s often do not respond to incentives or rewards unless these rewards make sense to them. So, if I offer you points for good behavior and you could care less about the points, whether you earn the trip to McDonalds and cannot understand the relationship between turning in your reading homework or talking to a classmate and eating at McDonalds, then the whole thing is going to be a failure.