The Myths I Believed About ABA Therapy

Janine Shapiro, CCC-SLP, BCBA

by Janine Shapiro, Co-Clinical Director of Access Behavior Analysis


As the first dually certified speech-language pathologist and behavior analyst in Indiana, I fully believe in the power of fusing speech, language, social, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) sciences together for a more effective treatment.

But I haven’t always been a proponent of ABA. Early on in my career, I even wrote a scientific article refuting some of the science behind ABA. But much has changed from then to now.


Learning as a Student

When I was a speech-language pathologist graduate student, I heard many common misconceptions about ABA. For example, I was told it was outdated and created “rote” or robotic behavior in children. And I believed most of it. So much so that it led me to perform a scientific studywith a fellow student and under the direction of a doctorate-level clinical supervisorto examine the effectiveness of five social therapy techniques.

Published in the respected Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2008, the article focused heavily on how the specific social therapy philosophy we studied differed from an ABA approach to social skills — and, more importantly, how those differences made the targeted social therapy more effective than the ABA techniques.

I truly believed at the time in the value of the research we performed and the explanation of the promising results we published. Now, though, I realize that many of the components we used in the research study were behavior analytic. I dismissed the value of the science while inadvertently using it.

In fact, I believe that without the behavior analytic components of the therapy we studied, the intervention would not have been successful. Had I known then what I know now, I would have applied the principles of behavior analysis in a more targeted, judicious manner, and we would have likely had even more impressive outcomes to publish.


Meeting Angie and ABA

I started working at a private practice about a year later. The owner announced one day that she’d hired a speech-language pathologist who was also a BCBAa Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Id never even heard of the term BCBA, but was appalled the moment I learned it was related to ABA.

I immediately went to Google for a refresher on all the negative statements I’d heard about ABA. And, of course, found numerous hits that confirmed my worst fears.  But then I met Angie, the new speech-language pathologist/BCBA, and she exposed me to the truth about ABA therapy for the first time. Just observing her at work, I realized she had an enormously effective skill set that I didnt possess. The truth was undeniable.

Somewhere along the way, I realized I wasnt alone. I discovered that most practitioners dont understand what ABA is, what it addresses and what occurs during an ABA session

Applying Both Sciences to My Practice

My mind started flipping through a Rolodex of past patients who could have benefited from the principles of ABA, its procedures, and many of the therapeutic strategies developed by its practitioners. And I decided to fully pursue certification as a BCBAonly turning back to convince other speech-language pathologists of the value I’d found in the science I once publicly maligned.

Over the years, Ive seen how combining these sciences into one treatment is much more effective than the standard method of segregating the various types of therapy.  Today, I can’t imagine being an effective speech-language pathologist without my knowledge of ABA — it plays an integral part in my daily therapy practices. At the same time, I lean heavily on the developed and respected sciences of speech and language.

People have asked me if I switch hats during the day from speech-language pathologist to behavior analyst. I don’t. I can’t tell you where one science ends and the other begins. It’s like asking a person, Which sense are you using right now?

I see ABA as a science that every practitioner who dreams of teaching anything to anyone should learn. It doesn’t typically advise what I teach or even the skill components that lead to the final outcome; these are informed by the speech and language research. But it does tell me how to make every aspect of the teaching process more efficient and effective. During daily practice, all of my training is so intertwined that one aspect cannot exist without the other.

Families are often surprised by the quick progress they observe when watching a therapy session that combines sciences. I can relate to this feeling of awe because I imagine it’s similar to what I experienced observing Angie a decade ago. That’s why I’m passionate about developing new procedures at Access Behavior Analysis, where we continually blend sciences for maximum impact.

By fusing the powers of speech, language, social and ABA therapies into one treatment, we’re helping patients more than their families ever thought possible.

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