Can ABA Therapy be Used for ADHD?

When people think of ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) therapy, they tend to think of it as a treatment for people on the autism spectrum. And while it certainly is used to help with issues related to autism, it can also extend to other developmental disorders that children and adults experience.

One such disorder is ADHD, which is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in the US. According to the CDC, more than 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with ADHD. Let’s discuss the use of ABA therapy for ADHD, and how it can be used as a helpful tool for kids, teens, and adults.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs in childhood. While it is usually diagnosed in childhood, diagnosis can occur later in life, and the disorder will usually continue well into adulthood.

Symptoms Of ADHD:

This disorder is characterized by an extremely short attention span and impulsive behavior, amongst other things. The major symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Attention issues: Struggling to pay attention for more than short bursts of time, difficulting focusing on tasks.
  • Absentmindedness: Losing things, forgetting things, and frequently making mistakes due to carelessness.
  • Impulsivity: impulsive outburst, risktaking, lack of forethought, difficulty getting along with others.
  • Hyperactivity: Excessive talking and fidgeting, difficulty sitting still.

It’s important to remember that a child or adult with ADHD will not necessarily display all of these symptoms.

Types Of ADHD

There are three “types” of ADHD, all of which are characterized by a different set of symptoms.

Inattention – Someone with inattention ADHD will have difficulties maintaining concentration. They have short attention spans and are easily distracted, but they don’t experience hyperactivity symptoms.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity – The least common of the three types, people with this form of ADHD will not have issues with concentration or attention, but they will show clear signs of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Fidgeting, interrupting others, and difficulty sitting still are common markers.

Combined – the most common form of ADHD, which is a combination of the two types shown above. People with combined ADHD struggle with hyperactivity, impulsivitey, will be easily distracted and have trouble with focus/attention.

What Is Applied Behavioural Analysis?

Applied Behavioural Analysis Therapy (ABA) is a type of behavioral therapy that is most often used to treat autism patients. ABA focuses on teaching new skills and reinforcing positive behavior, while reducing negative behaviors related to the diagnosis.

These skills and behaviours are encouraged through positive reinforcement and rewards systems. Meaningful rewards and encouragement can help patients to continue developing skills and repeating positive behaviours, which should lead to permanent changes and improvement over time.

When it comes to negative behaviours, ABA therapy also implements understanding of ‘antecedents’ and ‘conseqences’ i.e what happens before and after negative behaviour occurs, and how this learning can lead to more desirable or appropriate behaviours,

Though ABA therapy can be carried out one-on-one or in groups, it is still a highly personalized practise. It works to understand how the individual’s behaviour and development of new skills is affected by their circumstances and environment at home, school, work etc.

ABA can be used to improve a wide variety of skills and behaviours, including those relating to language and communication, social skills, dexterity, memory, attention, focus, academics, grooming & hygiene and more.

How Can ABA Be Used To Treat ADHD?

Although ABA therapy is most widely used to treat children and adults on the autism spectrum, it has also been shown to address negative or inappropriate behavious in children with ADHD. The CDC (Center For Disease Control And Prevention) lists behavioural therapies including ABA as a useful treatment for ADHD.

Treatments That Can Help Those With ADHD

For children with ADHD, ABA therapy is most useful as a means of changing behaviour rather than developing skills. There are a variety of techniques that can be used to encourage functional or appropriate behaviours in children with ADHD.

  • Self-Management Training: This helps people with ADHD to regulate their behaviour and manage their symptoms in their own time. This is made possible by providing them with skills to do so, such as positive self talk, self-praise, and more. Self-management training is mostly used by teenagers and adults.
  • Discrete Trial Training: This technique takes a complex situation or set of behaviours and breaks them down into separate and more manageable steps. This way children get a better perspective of their behaviour, and can begin identifying where improvement is needed and working on that behaviour.
  • Diffferential reinforcement of behaviours: involves positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviours, with no reinforcement for negative behaviours. Concerning issues of safety, some mild form of punishment may be used.

When used to treat ADHD, specialists will recommend combining treatment with medication, particularly for young children. It should be noted that ABA therapy is not a cure for ADHD or autism. Instead, it is a helpful option for helping people to live their everyday lives with more ease and independence than they might otherwise have.

If you are interested in learning more about the use of ABA therapy for ADHD and ADD, get in touch with our team at Bolling ABA. We provide behavioural consultation for families and individuals with autism and related disorders, based in Atlanta, GA. You can send us an email or give us a call at +404-981-4105 to arrange your first appointment.

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