As a parent, you can often intuitively tell that your child is making progress with Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA therapy), but it’s helpful to have data that supports what your gut is telling you. Likewise, if you’re not seeing obvious progress after multiple ABA therapy sessions, it can be reassuring to get information that shows you the specific ways in which your child is developing new skills. Here’s how we measure progress in Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy for our clients and their families.
Assessing Your Child’s Baseline Skills
When your child’s clinical team begins to work with your child, the supervising Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will work with you to assess your child’s baseline skills. The BCBA will then design an individualized treatment plan for your child that targets specific skills for instruction. The treatment plan will include long-term goals, typically measured every six months, and short-term objectives, which may change often as skills are mastered–probably every few days or weeks. Children who master short-term objectives, like speaking in three-word phrases, tying one’s shoes, or engaging in a back-and-forth conversation with a peer demonstrate a progressive path towards the achievement of their long-term goals, like regularly holding conversations with peers and mastering dressing themselves independently.
If your child is making good progress with Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, you’ll see them mastering short-term objectives frequently. For instance, once your child learns to independently identify the color red, a few weeks later, it’s likely they will have learned blue and yellow, too. Including these types of individualized, measurable goals and short-term objectives in your child’s treatment plan helps guide therapy sessions.
Tracking mastery of measurable goals help parents and clinicians understand a child’s gains. But how do you know how the progress they’re making with Applied Behavior Analysis therapy compares to the progress they might naturally make as they grow? At Kyo, in addition to monitoring our clients’ achievement of their goals, we use the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, a norm-referenced assessment, to measure progress. This helps your child’s care team track your child’s progress in therapy against the developmental path that they would have likely followed in the absence of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.
Monitoring Your Child’s Progress in ABA Therapy
We believe the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales is the most effective measurement tool currently available to Applied Behavior Analysis therapy clinicians. It shows us how children demonstrate the skills they learn in ABA therapy in their day-to-day lives. The scale is age-adjusted to measure each child’s skills, relative to what is typically demonstrated by kids at a given age.
Applied Behavior Analysis therapy helps children develop skills like following directions, communicating requests, and taking turns playing games. Such skills become truly useful when children use them outside of therapy sessions in their daily lives. This is called skill generalization. We use the Vineland to measure how children are using their new skills each day and also how children are progressing with therapy over time.
Here’s how Kyo uses the Vineland:
- Before treatment, Kyo staff complete the Vineland assessment in a semi-structured interview format, in partnership with a child’s parent, in order to establish baseline skills and treatment goals.
- Every 6 months after that, Kyo reconducts the assessment, to track a child’s progress over time.
- Because the Vineland measures skills across communication, socialization, and daily living domains, the scores over time allow Kyo BCBAs to see where a child is making progress and to pinpoint specific areas where a child may need additional support.
- We look at a child’s progress across each of the three major domains measured by the Vineland, as well as a child’s score in the Adaptive Behavior Composite category (ABC Composite).
The Vineland is a norm-referenced assessment, which means it’s highly objective. It provides an important counter-balance to Kyo’s goal-based assessment tools, which are more subjective. Children with autism who don’t participate in ABA therapy typically have Vineland scores that stay roughly at the same level over time. A child with an Adaptive Behavior Composite (ABC Composite) of 65 would typically demonstrate a similar score in subsequent administrations of the assessment. We look for Vineland scores that increase over time in either the ABC Composite or an individual domain targeted during therapy sessions, like communication, to determine whether a child’s therapy is effectively changing the child’s developmental trajectory.
Here’s an example of the information we would share with the child’s parents:
You can see that Daniel has made progress over time in his communication, daily living, and socialization skills. It’s also clear that ABA therapy has positively impacted his skills development. The behavior therapist would talk through all of this with Daniel’s parents and use the information and the conversation to create new goals to work toward with Daniel.
Regularly measuring a child’s progress by referencing goal attainment and Vineland achievement scores provides clinicians and parents with important information over time. That information tells us how a child is using the skills they learn in Applied Behavior Analysis therapy and how we can best support them going forward.