Frequently Asked Questions About Autism

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control describes ASDs as: “developmental disabilities that cause substantial impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with ASDs also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, and reacting to different sensations. The thinking and learning abilities of people with ASDs can vary—from gifted to severely challenged. An ASD begins before the age of 3 and lasts throughout a person’s life.”

With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

How common is autism?

The most recent prevelance rate for ASD estimates 1 in 68 American children on the spectrum with over 3 million affected in the United States and 10 million affected worldwide.

What is ABA therapy?

Applied behavior analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991).

Several thousand published studies have documented the effectiveness of ABA across a wide range of populations and settings. ABA is an objective and evidence based field. ABA focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.

ABA therapy is used in populations affected by autism in the following ways:

  • Increase desired behaviors such as appropriate social interactions, on-task behavior, or other functional behaviors.
  • Teach new skills such as functionally appropriate social, self help, and communication skills. These are typically taught through instruction procedures such as task analyses, shaping, and chaining procedures.
  • Maintenance of skills previously taught (mastered) by demonstration of these skills over time and across thinner schedules of reinforcement then what was used in the orginal teaching procedure.
  • Generalize behavior from one situation, person or response to a different one, often to a more naturalistic setting. Examples include behavior occurring in sessions with a behavioral therapist to occurring in schools or playgrounds (the more naturalistic settings in this case).
  • Restrict conditions under which challenging and interfering behaviors may occur and broaden conditions where desirable behavior will occur. Typically this is an environmental modification to the learning environment such as removing distracters pr removing of potentially dangerous objects or situations.
  • To reduce challenging behaviors that are unsafe or interfere such as aggression or self injurious behaviors.

What does credential BCBA stand for and mean?

BCBA’s (Board Certified Behavior Analysts) are independent practitioners who also may work as employees or independent contractors for an organization. The BCBA conducts descriptive and systematic behavioral assessments, including functional analyses, and provides behavior analytic interpretations of the results. The BCBA designs and supervises behavior analytic interventions. The BCBA is able to effectively develop and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods for use in unfamiliar situations and for a range of cases. The BCBA seeks the consultation of more experienced practitioners when necessary. The BCBA teaches others to carry out ethical and effective behavior analytic interventions based on published research and designs and delivers instruction in behavior analysis. BCBAs supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and others who implement behavior analytic interventions.

How can I get help funding services?

Your local Regional Center is an excellent resource to getting assistance obtaining services and learning helpful information. Typically, funding from the Regional Center is a last resort, however the new law SB946 requires most health care plans to provide coverage for applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment for pervasive developmental disorder or autism. The new law does not apply to self-funded plans, out-of-state plans, or Medi-Cal plans.

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