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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Farah

ABA Overview & 4 Strategies To Get Started

We invited Melissa Farah with Milestones ABA a local (myrtle beach) company to share more about the topic of ABA. Autism acceptance month is this month (April) and ABA is a widely discussed therapy that is recommended often for families when their children receive a diagnosis of Autism. In efforts to share more about what ABA is and to guide our families through we wanted to direct you to someone that is reputable in the area and truly follows the child's lead - sharing in similar values and approaches as Communication Cottage Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is based on the science of learning and human behavior. Behavior Analysis helps us understand how behavior works, how the environment affects behavior, and how learning happens. The science drives how we teach, but therapy sessions should look far from scientific. ABA sessions should be fun, engaging, flexible,

and responsive to the needs of the individual learner. Building and maintaining a positive relationship is essential for creating meaningful behavior change, for therapist’s and parents alike. Below are 4 simple strategies that Milestones ABA teaches our families to use, that can help to do just that!


Distractions are plentiful in today’s world – try to set aside 10- 15 minutes each day to dedicate your undivided attention to your little one. Sit beside them, get on their level, and tune in to their body language – What are they seeing, touching, smelling, hearing? Label those things, narrate their play, and step into their world without asking questions, placing

demands, or setting any expectations. If you see an opportunity to make an activity even more enjoyable, show them – but if they’re not into it, let it go. Your goal is to earn their attention and engagement, not to force it. This is how we build and strengthen positive relationships, and it goes a LONG way! Try it out! When you notice your little one getting into something.. whether it’s a toy, TV show, or a song on the radio – jump in the backseat and let them drive the activity! Observe what they like about it and try to share in that experience – you’ll be amazed at all the things you’ve never noticed!

4:1 Ratio

Imagine praise as somebody handing you $10, and anytime someone gives you an instruction or a correction, you pay $10. The bigger the pot of money, the less of an impact it is when you have to pay up. Research consistently tells us a story about the power of positive interactions. Delivering praise at least four times more frequently than corrections or instructions can increase engagement and decrease disruptive behaviors. We call this the 4:1 ratio – and it’s more difficult than it sounds!

Corrections/Instructions Examples:

Reprimands (i.e. “Hey, don’t touch that!”.. “Please don’t do that”)

Demands (i.e. “Can you throw out your trash please?”.. “Come here” .. “It’s time to get your shoes on”)

Positive Interaction Examples

Compliments (i.e. “You are so brave!” .. “Your hair looks so cute today”)

Positive Statements (i.e. “I had so much fun with you at the park today”)

Positive Questions (i.e. “I heard you played soccer today at school, what did you like the most about playing?”)

Positive body language (smiling, thumbs up, high-fives, etc.)

Positive greetings (“I’m so happy to see you this morning!”)

Specific praise (“I noticed you working really hard on your picture!” .. “Thank you so for helping me clean up, I appreciate you!”)

Try it out! Take 1 hour out of your day and notice the things you’re saying to your little one. What does your ratio look like at baseline? See if you can move it towards 4:1 

Following Through

The more instructions we deliver without follow through, the more our children learn that they don’t have to follow our instructions. They learn over time that our words hold no value, and our instructions can quickly become background noise. This means, if we promise dessert if they’d only eat their broccoli, we better be ready to deliver! It also means, we shouldn’t say we’re canceling Santa when we have a closet full of Christmas gifts – it’s an empty threat, and a fool-proof way to damage your relationship. If you always say what you mean; mean what you say, your little ones will be more likely to listen in the future.

Choose your words carefully.

Only give instructions that you’re wiling and able to follow through on.

Think about your timing – how often do you jump up to respond when you’re right in the middle of something? Our kids are the same way, even if we can’t always see the value in what they’re doing.

Deliver small instructions throughout the day that your child is already about to do, and then praise them for listening (i.e. If you see your little one about to sit, tell them to sit down as they’re in the middle of the action & praise them for doing it).

Make tasks less effortful when your little one is trying. If you asked them once to put their shoes on, and they went right to their shoes, help them get it done quickly + pair that with praise. No struggle, no stress!

Phrase it as an instruction, not a question. “Are you ready to get dressed?” leaves room for ‘no’.. which is a fair answer! We want to teach our kids that saying ‘no’ means something, so we should be honoring that language whenever possible. Instead, we can provide simple, clear, and direct instructions with choices embedded – “It’s time to get dressed.. do you want to put your pants on first, or your shirt?” Small

change, big difference!

*Following through does not need to happen ‘at all costs’. If trying to follow through is resulting in a meltdown, step back. Think about why the instruction is triggering a major response – is the task too difficult? Is there some kind of sensory aspect that can be adjusted like volume/feeling/etc?

Tune in + try to tease out what your little one is really trying to communicate.. it may be something you can easily fix before presenting the instruction next time!

Controlled Choice

We all love to have a little control over our day. For young kids, choice is luxury as most of their day is decided by adults. Controlled choice is a powerful tool for your toolbox. It’s a win-win: you get the outcome you need, and the child gets to have some control over their


Offer a limited menu (2 choices), both of which you are ok with and are readily available

“It’s time to put on your shirt. Do you want to wear the red one, or the blue one?”

“Should we walk to the car super fast or super slow?

“Would you like Mom to read you a book, or Dad?”

Avoid presenting choices as threats

(i.e. one choice should never be related to negative consequences like ‘you can eat your

dinner or you can skip dessert’).

Choices should always be presented in a positive way, a way that leaves the ball in their

court “If you want dessert, you can eat two more carrots or two more scoops of potatoes, you choose!”

If your child is in need of ABA services we would recommend reaching out to Melissa and the team at Milestones

Written By: Melissa Farah

Content Graphics: by Melissa Farah + Milestones ABA

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