ASD Support Basics: Applied Behavior Analysis Part One

Toby Mountjoy demystifies ABA therapy, offering a clear understanding of its principles.

ISTOCK BOUGHT ABA EXPERT

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TOBY MOUNTJOY

Biography:

Toby Mountjoy is a board-certified behavior analyst with a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), possessing over 25 years of experience working with individuals with ASD. He trained under experts such as Dr. Ronald Leaf, Dr. Mitchell Taubman, and Dr. John McEachin. Mr. Mountjoy oversees Autism Partnership operations in multiple locations, including China, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, and Kuwait, leading a team of over 500 staff comprised of psychologists, consultants, and therapists.

Could you outline what ABA therapy involves and its potential benefits for a child with autism?

ABA therapy is a teaching methodology derived from behavioral psychology, specifically designed to positively impact individuals. 

What makes ABA stand out is its versatility as a comprehensive treatment. It can address a diverse range of skill areas, encompassing behavior management, fostering effective and efficient learning, enhancing social skills, play skills, language skills, group skills, and independent skills, among others. The goal is to support individuals in various aspects of their development, creating a holistic and tailored approach to their unique needs.

Why is early intervention important when working with children with ASD?

Early intervention is essential for individuals with ASD to maximize their potential. Prior to five years of age, there are many critical periods in which learning is dramatically more efficient than it is later in life. 

Additionally, delaying intervention leads to more pronounced developmental gaps. The longer the delay, the harder it becomes to close these gaps. A relatable comparison involves learning a second language. Learning a second can be quite easy for a 2-year-old. However, if someone tries to learn a new language as an adult, the process is much more difficult.

All this said, ABA can still be effective for individuals of all ages. 

ISTOCK BOUGHT ABA EXPERT

How do you approach communication and language development for nonverbal children?

Almost every child I have worked with has become a vocal communicator. Many children initially join our services without having developed vocal speech, but we consistently see remarkable progress. How the actual teaching progresses depends upon the needs of the child, as all programming should be individualized. 

When it comes to talking, there are essential component skills that play a crucial role. These skills include being able to tell the difference between sounds; imitating motor actions, especially those related to the mouth; producing sounds; and linking specific sounds to a specific meaning. Our approach is tailored to nurture these skills, allowing each child to find their voice and become a confident communicator.

How do you address challenging behaviors commonly associated with ASD, such as tantrums or self-stimulatory behaviors?

Excessive tantrums and self-stimulatory behaviors are common in individuals with ASD. Addressing these challenges requires an individualized approach.

While there are some guidelines that can lead treatment in the right direction, a key strategy is teaching the child alternative behaviors. For example, broadening a child’s interests and improving play skills are essential for reducing self-stimulatory behaviors. Another critical component of effective intervention in this area is reducing the payoff of disruptive behaviors. 

To execute this strategy, a thorough understanding of the behavior's function is necessary. This understanding enables caregivers to respond appropriately when the behavior occurs and how to motivate the student to refrain from engaging in the behavior in the first place

Could you share some success stories where children with autism have benefited from ABA therapy?

A family joined our center after moving to Hong Kong from a country that lacked specialized services. Their child, was already five years of age, had no language or functional skills. After a little more than a year’s therapy, we made substantial gains across all areas. The child’s father told me, “As a parent, you know that your child can do so much more. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see all that he can do now.” 

Another child I worked with was minimally impaired but struggling. His older brother attended a highly competitive school and their parents dreamed of both sons attending the same school. It was heartwarming when I received a video message from the child, happily sharing that he was accepted into that school.  

With the implementation of thorough, effective and high-quality early intervention, the majority of children will demonstrate an intelligence quotient within the average range and thrive in mainstream schools.

 

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