Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically-validated approach to autism treatment, and one that is becoming more and more commonly accepted in the global medical community serving ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) patients.
According to a 2015 report from Burning Glass, a market research company, demand for ABAs doubled between 2012 and 2014. But only about 3,000 new Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) joined the workforce in 2014 nation-wide.
At the same time, ASD is estimated to afflict around 3 million Americans of all ages. That leaves quite a gap in available coverage, which can drive up the cost of treatment.
For parents of autistic kids from all demographic groups, this presents a real challenge. Harvard researchers estimated in 2014 that the average annual treatment costs per patient were more than $17,000.
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The same report showed that despite the significant expense of providing regular ABA therapy, families with autistic kids didn’t usually have to bear the burden of those costs directly thanks to services being made available through the public schools and because of recent reforms to autism therapy insurance reimbursement laws at the state level.
However, other studies offer a more comprehensive picture and have been telling a very different story… because the intensive attention autistic kids require at home often pulls one parent out of the workforce, average incomes in those families tend to plummet.
Reducing The Cost of Care By Finding Free ABA Services
All of these factors lead many families to search for free sources for applied behavior analysis services.
Private ABA Providers
Private clinics treating ASD patients have begun to pop up all across the country. Because they are businesses, they can’t afford to simply give away their services. But that does not mean they are not a potential resource for low-cost ABA services.
Many ABA providers offer free consultations. Some go further, offering free or sliding scale services for low-income families.
Social Services Sometimes Offer ABA Assistance
Social service agencies may also be a resource for free or discounted ABA services. Either supported through donations or by government assistance programs, both public and private agencies sometimes provide no or low-cost ABA therapy to qualified families.
This usually requires passing certain standards for income level and diagnosis. Only low-income families with officially diagnosed kids usually qualify. For some agencies, such as those with a mission focused on particular communities or ethnic groups, other standards may also apply.
These services may also be integrated into other programs that do not explicitly offer ABA therapy, such as after-school programs or day-care.
In other cases, the agency may serve as a more centralized resource, providing case management services that can help direct families to other low-cost or free ABA resources.
School Systems Are The Most Common Source For Free ABA Services
The most common source of free ABA services is usually your local school system, however. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) of 2004 mandates that school districts provide a free and appropriate public education for all students, including those with disabilities. The district is required to come up with whatever accommodations are necessary to serve a disabled student in the least restrictive environment possible to provide for their education.
Although this does not require the school to provide applied behavior analysis services specifically, in practice most will do so, since it is the only scientifically proven treatment method and one that more and more special education teachers are choosing to focus their graduate studies on learning.
This can result in a lot of free ABA services for ASD kids. In fact, more than $8,000 of the $17,000 cited in the Harvard study was typically absorbed by public schools providing in-class therapy services.
For students with severe cases of ASD, the assistance may extend to in-home services as well. Several court cases have been decided that require schools to provide additional in-home ABA treatment where that treatment was deemed necessary to the student’s individual education plan (IEP).
The Best Source of Low Cost ABA Care May Be You!
But the most important, and most accessible, source of free applied behavior analysis treatment available to most parents is surprising: it is the parents themselves.
Although ABAs go through extensive training and a rigorous certification process that includes professional licensing in many states, the principles behind ABA treatment are not difficult to understand. In fact, many parents use similar approaches in child-rearing whether their child is autistic or not.
If you’ve ever put one of your kids into a time-out for misbehavior, you’ve been applying the science of behavioral analysis. The technique was invented by one of the father’s of modern ABA, Montrose Wolf, and may be among the most widely applied developments of modern psychological practice in the world today.
Many ABA resources are available online for anyone with internet access.
- National Autism Network ABA Resources Page (registration required)
- Autism Web ABA Instructional Materials
- Center For Autism Positive Behavior Management
- Talk About Curing Autism In-home Therapy Program Guide
- I Love ABA Free Resources Guide
Not only are these resources free, but there is solid research suggesting that some of the most effective autism treatment comes from parents. According to a 2013 article in Spectrum News, an autism research news website, researchers have established that a responsive parenting style, where parents show interest in the things the child focuses on, whether its a favorite game or toy or particular area of interest, leads to improvements in language skills for those children.
Ad-hoc at-home therapy is no replacement for the skilled work certified applied behavior analysts do, but the reverse is also true—parents cannot simply outsource all of their child’s treatment and expect positive results.
And your ABA therapist isn’t going to have any problem with you supporting the work they do if you are willing to put in some additional work at home; far from it. In fact, most ABAs would welcome the ‘home work’ and both encourage and assist you in learning to provide consistent, supportive, loving reinforcement for your kid using the most effective techniques known to the ABA community.