If your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their physician or therapist will likely recommend an evidence-based behavior treatment method. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered by the vast majority of the healthcare and mental health industry to be the gold standard for the treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Your child’s ABA therapist will use a science-based, data-driven approach to develop a multi-tiered treatment plan to help them reach ever-increasing milestones. This treatment plan will be based on the length of time the ABA therapist believes your child needs intervention.
It will also be influenced by the severity of the autism diagnosis. It might also include complementary medical treatments as well as educational support systems, and other important factors to help them learn the skills they need to live their best possible life.
Depending on their current skills and the severity of their ASD symptoms, your child might need up to 40 hours of ABA therapy per week. While this treatment timeline is intensive, it often decreases in intensity over time until the child ultimately no longer needs the therapy.
Many times keeping your child in treatment for as long as their ABA therapist recommends is essential for maximizing their outcomes. Though the process for determining just how long this is involves many factors.
A Personalized Treatment Plan To Determine the Length of Treatment
Autism Spectrum Disorder has a variety of different symptoms, each can range in severity from one child to the next. So, it’s safe to say that no two children have exactly the same type of ASD. At the same time, ASD often manifests with other conditions or comorbidities that also need to be addressed via ABA therapy.
A lot of children with ASD require intervention early in their lives to help reduce maladaptive behaviors, as well as to help them to develop positive behaviors. This will go a long way toward helping them to manage issues with communication, socialization, and cognition.
While there is no cure for ASD, there are several supportive therapies that can reduce symptom severity. They tend to be most effective when they are integrated into part of an early intervention treatment program that is guided by an ABA specialist or RBT.
One of the reasons why ABA therapy is so successful for the treatment of ASD is that it uses an evidence-based, data-driven approach that is guided by highly trained experts who specialize in the treatment of ASD. Throughout the process, your child’s ABA therapist gathers a plethora of information about your child’s behavioral needs, to assess the severity of their autism spectrum disorder symptoms.
This level is based on specific criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It uses key points of information to identify the severity of your child’s ASD symptoms and the data-driven, scientific methodologies used to address them.
Your child’s ABA therapist will then use all this information to generate a treatment plan with specific goals and measurable milestones. Should your child struggle to meet one or more of these milestones, their therapist can carefully adjust their approach. This allows the therapist, your child, and your child’s support team to continually refine the treatment strategy for the best short and long-term outcomes.
This also means that the length of each therapy session will vary, as will the number of sessions they need in a single week. It’s not uncommon for more sessions and longer sessions to be needed early on to clearly identify the symptoms and behavior patterns that are unique to your child’s ASD.
How ASD Symptom Severity Affects ABA Therapy Duration
A lot of children with ASD require long-term, intensive treatment through ABA therapy. Most children need to attend ABA therapy sessions regularly. This usually constitutes several hours each week, for several years. Many children will meet with an ABA therapist or ASD specialist for 25 to 40 hours of therapy every week, spanning several days within any given 7-day span.
The initial treatment strategy typically lasts for one to three years. The number of years recommended will depend on the child’s age as well as the severity of their ASD symptoms.
The DSM-5 carefully outlines 3 distinct levels of severity for individuals with ASD.
Level 1 ASD Symptoms
These are individuals with ASD who “Require Support” for mild symptoms of ASD. This night means that the child actively struggles with communication in social situations, which can lead to anxiety or stress.
Children with Level 1 ASD might be inflexible in certain contexts and have trouble switching between different activities. They might also struggle to organize or plan, which further hampers many other aspects of daily life. With appropriate therapy and other interventions, however, they often lead typical, balanced lives.
Level 2 ASD Symptoms
Level 2 ASD is defined as individuals who “Require Substantial Support.” They typically exhibit inflexible behaviors, with significant communication deficits, and social impairments. This makes it a struggle for them to work, get a quality education, and build healthy relationships.
Many individuals with level 2 ASD still have limited social interactions, even with support in place. This is often due to isolating behaviors as well as struggles with verbal communication, obsessive interests, and outbursts. In many of these level 2 ASD cases, behavior therapy helps significantly, but the person will still need consistent support in several areas of life.
Level 3 ASD Symptom
This level of ASD Severity is defined by the SDM-5 as “Requiring Very Substantial Support.” This often means that they are more than just behavior therapy and are likely dealing with other conditions or comorbidities.
A lot of these patients will also require medical interventions such as physical therapy or occupational therapy. Many need a caregiver to help coordinate their care as they lack the essential motor skills to do so or they have neurological issues that impede self-management of care. Many patients who are classified as level 3 ASD also have a hard time maintaining focus and avoiding repetitive behaviors. They typically exhibit severe dysfunction in communicating, both verbally and nonverbally.
The different symptoms and severity of your child’s ASD will directly influence the amount of time they need to spend in therapy or in a group therapeutic environment. At Magnolia Behavioral Therapy, our specialists have years of experience working with all levels of ASD and the families who support them to find the ideal duration of ABA therapy to meet all their important milestones.