Parents and caregivers should focus on rewarding appropriate behaviors rather than punishing inappropriate behaviors

For many families who have a child with autism, activities such as going to a large family gathering or an amusement park can be difficult to navigate, as the child may act out due to being overwhelmed by extra noises and stimulation.

ABA is the science of understanding why people behave in certain ways and how understanding those motivations can shape behavior. I believe that parents and caregivers can and should work with autism specialists to implement ABA-based activities at home to support the overall behavior treatment plan. ABA specialists are able to analyze behaviors and determine what motivates a person to behave in a particular way. Once the reason for a behavior is understood, specialists can help to reduce problem behaviors and reinforce appropriate behaviors.

At the Thompson Centre, the question we get asked most often is: Why is my kid doing this? And that’s exactly the kind of question ABA can try to answer, while knowing that the answer will be different for every patient. So we look at what motivates each person to behave in a certain way—for example, they could be avoiding completing a task or trying to attract attention. Then, once we know the “why” behind a specific behavior, we can help parents and caregivers address behavioral issues for children with autism.

Parents and caregivers can further help children with autism to live happy and productive lives by monitoring the ABA treatment and participating in training sessions and consultations with the ABA specialist. To plan ahead, parents should understand what the particular challenges for their child might be and talk to the host in advance to discuss strategies for handling potential problems. For example, they might identify a quiet place where the child can take a break if things get too overwhelming, or they might like to bring something the child prefers (e.g., a favorite toy or comfort item) so that appropriate behavior can be rewarded while away from home.

Dr. Kahng recently developed a new Master’s degree program in ABA at the University of Missouri (MU) MU to address the provider shortage of trained ABA specialists across the country. Kahng has authored more than 60 peer-reviewed journals articles and nine book chapters and serves on the Board of Editors of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavioral Intervention. The MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is a national leader in confronting the challenges of autism and other developmental conditions through its collaborative research, training, and service programs.