Dr. Amy Cooper McComas is the CEO and Founder of Great Heights, an applied behavior analysis (ABA) center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In this Q&A, Dr. Cooper McComas discusses ABA treatment and how it is helping individuals with autism achieve the unexpected.
What is ABA therapy?
Applied behavior analysis, often referred to as ABA therapy and ABA treatment, is the only treatment of autism recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. ABA is based on the science of learning and focuses on using reinforcement to shape behavior and build skills. The outcome we are working towards in ABA treatment is accelerated learning. We want to help a child who is behind get to where they should be for their age level.
How does it help children with autism?
Each child that begins ABA treatment has her/his own individualized plan. No two children are alike; each child has different strengths and challenges, so an individualized plan is most effective. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) determines where improvement needs to be made and makes a plan that aligns with those individualized needs. Once a plan is made, one-to-one treatment begins, as well as extensive caregiver training. With effort and dedication, children begin to improve their communication skills, social interactions, and to engage in more appropriate behaviors, like playing.
Tell me about some of the changes you see in children resulting from ABA therapy.
The progress that is made with ABA treatment is inspiring. Changes vary based on the severity of autism. We have seen non-verbal children begin speaking after beginning ABA treatment. We have seen kids who were unable to go to school with their peers transition into a mainstream classroom and even progress to a point where their own teacher no longer detects symptoms of autism in the classroom. Parents who thought their child would never be able to go on a play date share stories about dropping their child off at a birthday party.
Even things as seemingly small as a child initiating a hug with a family member or saying “Mom” out loud for the first time – these milestones impact kids and their families in a huge, positive way. Children diagnosed with autism really can achieve the unimaginable with the right help.
What is something that you want parents of children with autism to know?
ABA treatment is effective and can change your child’s life and your family’s. I hope all parents learn about ABA and understand its ability to positively impact your child and the way they experience the world. I have been practicing ABA treatment for more than 15 years and have witnessed repeatedly how much dedication, compassion, hope and ABA can change lives.
Is there anything else you want parents to know?
ABA treatment of autism is often a long process. I want parents to know that they aren’t alone in their journey. There are people and services like Great Heights that will be with you every step of the way as challenges are addressed and progress is made. Never give up on hope.