Applied Behavioral Analysis and Autism

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest column by Dr. Domonique Randall

As parents, there seems to be an endless list of things to worry about when it comes to our children. Those concerns start the day a baby is born, with parents constantly tracking their child’s developmental path, concerned whether or not they are hitting their age-appropriate milestones.

A major developmental concern amongst parents is autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2014 Community Report on Autism, the new estimate of autism prevalence is 1 in 68 children.

That can be a scary statistic for parents, but there is hope through early detection and proven evidence-based approaches, including applied behavior analysis (ABA).

ABA, which is the recommended treatment for ASD by several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General, is an evidence-based treatment approach. ABA is focused on understanding how behavior is affected by the environment. The scientific principles of learning are applied to behavioral deficiencies and excesses associated with ASD.  

The sooner a parent or physician can identify the signs of ASD, the better!  Some research has identified risk factors for ASD as early as a child’s first birthday.  Early intervention yields the best outcomes as far as developmental gains are concerned and increased IQ.  Studies show early intensive intervention, such as ABA, improves learning, communication and social skills.

The following early detection signs may indicate that your child is at risk for ASD. If your child exhibits any of these signs, please do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician.  Appropriate screening can determine whether a child is at risk for autism.

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Once a parent is faced with an autism diagnosis, so many questions run through their head – one of them being, “What do we do now?” While there is currently no single known cause or cure for autism, there is a way to improve the everyday struggles, but time is of the essence. Choosing the best treatment and getting started early is critical.

First, make a commitment to choose only evidence-based treatments, such as ABA. It can be overwhelming when you search the Internet, so a good starting place is the First 100 Day Kit available on

Next, be sure you have a support system in place with family and friends that will support you in your efforts to start and maintain ABA treatment. Often times the focus of ABA treatment will require that you, family and friends change your responses to the child’s behavior to support his or her learning.

Third, find quality ABA treatment programs that will focus on your child’s needs as well as your family’s needs.

Here are some key components of quality programs:

  1. Qualified Professionals – this includes Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Behavior Technicians
  2. Data-driven treatment decisions
  3. Individualized assessment and treatment based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses
  4. Several forms of teaching to promote acquisition and generalization of skills- naturalist training, structured teaching, and social learning opportunities
  5. Parent training and support in ABA principles and techniques
  6. Teaches replacement behavior through the use of positive reinforcement

Finally, consider the commitment in terms of resources and time. Intensive ABA often consists of 30 plus hours per week for multiple years. A total of 38 states now require some coverage for diagnosis and treatment for autism. To learn more about this mandate, visit.

Being your child’s advocate is important. Just remember, early detection and intervention is key. The sooner the signs of autism are identified and evidence-based treatment, such as ABA can begin, the better the outcome for your child.


Dr. Domonique Randall, BCBA-D, is the founder and CEO of The Shape of Behavior, an ABA clinic for individuals with ASD and other disabilities. She has over 17 years of experience in autism treatment. To learn more about The Shape of Behavior and its services, visit

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