“At the Center for Autism and Developing Brain, we see patients across the full lifespan, because autism is a lifelong disorder.” says Dr. Winter, who is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).
For young children diagnosed with autism, behavior therapy can help teach them developmentally appropriate skills, such as counting or holding a utensil. Dr. Winter says that therapy can be woven into regular family routines and playtime. “We embed teaching opportunities into routines that families are already doing,” she says. “So, if it’s snack time, and we know one of the goals we’re working on is counting, then maybe we count the crackers together.”
But understanding behavior and identifying treatments don’t end in childhood. “As people get older, we would shift and adjust how that treatment is being delivered,” she says. “That could include interventions such as social skills groups or job skills training.”
Several evidence-based treatments for autism are informed by principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA, the science of analyzing behavior to make meaningful change, itself is not a treatment. And behavior principles used in interventions for autism are the same strategies that people apply in their everyday lives. For parents of toddlers, this can look like using sticker reward charts to help teach toilet training. For adults, it could be as simple as saying thank you after someone does something nice. In both of these cases, it’s a form of positive reinforcement.
“We’re all using those principles in our own lives to influence our interactions with people all day long,” says Dr. Winter. “That’s a really important point for people to understand — that ABA is not a treatment and it’s not something special just for people with autism.”
Dr. Kanne stresses that as autism has become better understood and reframed, “We have to make sure we’re respectful of neurodiversity, while providing resources for those in need of help and support.”