If you’re the parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, chances are you’ve spent your fair share of time searching for the best treatments for autism. You may have considered starting your little one on the GAPS diet, investing in a Therapeutic Listening program, and incorporating various sensory integration activities into your daily routine, and you might spend your evenings weighing the pros and cons of biomedical treatments for autism as well.
Whatever path you choose to take, one thing is for certain: you feel overwhelmed.
With so many therapies for autism to choose from, it’s impossible to know where to begin, but if your little one struggles with behavioral challenges, finding the best behavioral techniques is probably a good starting point.
Developed in the 1970s, ABA therapy is a safe and effective treatment for autism, and while some children may show significant improvements in certain areas within a relatively short timeframe, intense intervention with ongoing instruction is often required. This can occur in both a structured and unstructured environment, which is why we’re excited to share some of our favorite ABA therapy activities with you. These can be enjoyed in both a clinical setting and at home, offering fun and innovative ways to engage with and teach your child.
We’ve shared our favorite ABA therapy activities at the bottom of this post, but before we get to that, let’s take a deeper look at ABA therapy. I often find the online literature about ABA to be too technical, and attempted to break it down for you!
What is ABA Therapy?
In short, ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis.
But what exactly does that mean?
Simply put, ABA therapy is a scientific approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. An ABA therapist will look at specific behaviors a child engages in (i.e. screaming, biting, kicking), attempt to understand why and under what circumstances those behaviors occur, and apply ABA principles to teach more appropriate ways of doing something.
The overarching goal of ABA therapy is to increase desired behaviors while also decreasing undesirable behaviors based on a child’s individual challenges. ABA therapy is used to help improve a child’s social and communication skills, academic performance, gross and fine motor skills, and basic life skills so her or she can lead a functional and happy life.
What makes ABA therapy so effective is that it is tailored for each individual. While the same basic ABA principals will be used, ABA therapists will evaluate your child’s skills and challenges, and will build a plan based on his or her specific goals and learning capabilities. Each goal is broken down into simple, teachable steps and positive reinforcement is used to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones.
Who will benefit from ABA therapy?
While ABA therapy has long been known as one of the best therapies for autism, it can also be beneficial to children with other types of learning disabilities or behavioral challenges as the goal of ABA is motivate children towards a specific goal.
Who can provide ABA therapy?
ABA is an intensive program run by ABA therapists who are BCBAcertified. They work under the supervision of a behavioral analyst and are required to have formal education in psychology and behavioral analysis. As an extension of therapy, the ABA approach can be used by parents and caregivers outside of a clinical setting.
ABA therapy activities
Whether you’re the parent or caregiver of a child with autism, or you’re an ABA therapist looking for fresh ideas to keep the children you work with engaged and learning, we’ve rounded up 13 fabulous ABA therapy activities for kids with autism!
Feature/Function Cards | The Autism Helper
You can buy lots of different flashcards online to incorporate into your child’s ABA therapy sessions, but I find this set of FREE feature/function cards by The Autism Helper take things a step further. All you need is a printer, laminator, white board markers, and a few picture storage boxes, and you’ve got a great DIY ABA therapy activity you can do from the comfort of your own home.
Sorting by Color | Teachers Pay Teachers
I love the Teachers Pay Teachers website as it’s FILLED with great activities you can purchase for a small fee to help your child develop and learn. This is a great hands-on sorting activity, and with a little velcro, you can turn this into an on-the-go ABA therapy activity too boot!
Emotions Sorting Game | Mom Endeavors
If your child struggles with emotional regulation, this is a great activity to explore. It’s based on the movie Inside Out, and these Inside Out figures provide so many opportunities to teach kids about anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and joy!
Early Intervention Bags | Primary Punch
There are so many ideas in this post that use toys you probably already have lying around the house, like Mr. Potato Head, Little People Playset, and stacking cups.
Where Does It Go? Life Skills Matching Game | Teachers Pay Teachers
This is another great ABA activity available for download on Teachers Pay Teachers, and is designed to teach children how to classify various household items. You can simple print this out, or laminate and add velcro to ensure it lasts longer (and to make it portable)!
My Emotions Sorting Mats | File Folder Heaven
This is another emotion identification activity, and while it’s certainly not as fun as the Inside Out version, it uses real photos, making it a more accurate depiction of what each emotion looks like.
Hurtful Behaviors Social Story | Teachers Pay Teachers
If your child is prone to hit, scratch, pinch, push, poke, etc., this is a great social story to help explain how our hands can hurt others, and the proper ways we should use our hands throughout the day.
Let’s Get Dressed File Folder Game | Teachers Pay Teachers
This FREE download includes dress up dolls as well as instructions to help develop simple sentence structure in children. It’s one of many great ABA therapy activities, but also doubles as a great speech therapy activity as well.
12 Quick & Easy Articulation Activities | Teaching Talking
Articulation cards aren’t just for speech therapy – they can also help in ABA therapy settings – and this collection of activities will inspire you to create fun and easy activities you can do at home and while on the go.
Emotions Play Dough Fun Set | Living Well Mom
If you need an excuse to get the playdoh out, this emotions set is it! Playdoh is a great sensory activity for children, and can also be very calming, and this set is a great compliment to the Zones of Regulation program.
Teaching WH Questions | Speechy Musings
If you struggle to work with your child on WH questions, this activity feels more like FUN than WORK!
3-Step Sequencing Boards | Teachers Pay Teachers
Get a head start on sequencing with this activity for beginners! Velcro the cards out of order at the bottom of the board and encourage your child to put them in order on the board. Simple, yet effective!
With so many therapies for autism to choose from, it can feel extremely overwhelming. Which ones work the best? Will they help with your child’s individual needs? How much do they cost? Oftentimes, researching and implementing an effective autism treatment plan can turn into a full-time job for parents, and while there will be days when the weight of it all seems too much to bear, there is hope.
You will find your footing and your child will make improvements.
It just takes time.
If you are the parent or caregiver or a child with behavioral challenges, I hope this collection of ABA therapy activities helps you find ways to turn learning into play!
If you found this collection of ABA therapy activities for kids with autism helpful, please share this post on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more autism-related tips and tricks, please follow our Autism and Sensory Processing board, where we share all kinds of useful information!
- Support Routines and Transitions. Most children with autism are sensitive to abrupt changes in routine and will learn best in routine situations. ...
- Use Visual Cues. ...
- Use Special Interests as a Gateway to Teaching Skills. ...
- Incorporate Sensory Tools. ...
- Support social skills practice.
- Task Analysis. Task analysis is the process of analyzing components in a task or antecedent in order to focus on each part through further behavioral strategies. ...
- Chaining. ...
- Prompting. ...
- Fading. ...
- Sit in the chair. You can incorporate this into daily activities where your child is required to sit in a chair, such as meal times. ...
- Look at me. This is a good exercise to encourage your child to make and maintain eye contact with you. ...
- Match the colors. ...
- Identify the emotions. ...
- Sort household items.
Hobbies such as collecting stamps, playing cards or board games, drawing and photography can also provide opportunities for enjoyment, as well as increased self-confidence and motivation individuals on the spectrum.
Find all your board games and bring them out for turn-taking with your child! Pick a game to play each day or every other day to include the whole family! Play Charades with your child or children! Have them either help create different subjects or make it fun by teaming up and having them act out a card together!
- Be empathetic. Empathy means listening and acknowledging their struggle without judgment. ...
- Make them feel safe and loved. ...
- Eliminate punishments. ...
- Focus on your child, not staring bystanders. ...
- Break out your sensory toolkit. ...
- Teach them coping strategies once they're calm.
High-functioning autism means that a person is able to read, write, speak, and handle daily tasks, such as eating and getting dressed independently. Despite having symptoms of autism, their behavior doesn't interfere too much with their work, school, or, relationships.
- Teach time management.
- Set realistic expectations.
- Reinforce positive behaviors.
- Give choices for non-preferred activities.
- Use visuals and social stories.
- Teach coping skills and calming strategies.
- Practice transitions.
- Be consistent each day.
Prominent ABA therapy examples include discrete trial training (DTT), modeling, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and reinforcement systems.
Behavior analysis helps us to understand:
- How behavior works.
- How behavior is affected by the environment.
- How learning takes place.
It is important that an individual's treatment plan has goals following these 7 dimensions: 1) Generality, 2) Effective, 3) Technological, 4) Applied, 5) Conceptually Systematic, 6) Analytic, 7) Behavioral.
So, now we know what ABA is and we know it's possible to do ABA therapy at home, let's break things down further. ABA Therapy, and autism therapy in general, can be expensive, which is why some families choose to take a free ABA therapy at home at-home approach. ABA Therapy doesn't require a ton of skill to perform.
You provide background on behavior. Develop a plan. You explain how your child prefers to learn. You help set goals for treatment, and you explain what interventions might improve your family's quality of life.
Every time you give your dog a treat when he sits after being told, or when you ignore your cat meowing incessantly, you are using principles of ABA. Every time you tell you son “great job!” when he makes his bed in the morning, or when you ground your daughter for missing curfew, you are using principles of ABA.
Many children enjoy crazy fun play with toys such as stuffing your shirt with toys and sneezing them out or wrapping playdough on animals and pretending they got hurt and need a cast. Have A Bag Of Goodies – This is highly important when you become an ABA therapist.
Try to have at least one break a session that is dedicated to simply engaging with a client on a fun and relaxed level. By having this interaction, without placing demands, the client and therapist can enjoy being together.
Prominent ABA therapy examples include discrete trial training (DTT) modeling, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and reinforcement systems. Here are a few ABA therapy examples of techniques that behavior therapists use to treat people with autism and those impacted by brain injuries.
Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA. When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change. First, the therapist identifies a goal behavior.
The best time to start ABA therapy is early and between the ages of 2 and 6. But there does not need to be a lifelong commitment to ABA therapy. There are several indications that will flag when ABA Therapy should stop.
Through parent instruction and participation in their child's therapy sessions as often as possible, parents can, and often do, become skilled defacto ABA providers.
Set aside time everyday to sit down with your child and “pair” with them. During pairing, allow your child free access to items or activities that your child loves, but ensure these reinforcing items are only available to the child through you. Put away these toys when you are not playing and pairing with the child.