How is ABA Different from Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

Young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can benefit from different types of early interventions.

  • Speech therapy focuses on communication and feeding issues.
  • Occupational therapy focuses on mastering activities of daily living.
  • ABA therapy focuses on changing social and learning environments, and encompasses communication and life skills acquisition. It is the most researched-based treatment for children with ASD.

“How is ABA therapy different from the speech and occupational therapy services that I can get through early intervention?”

Making decisions about what therapies to prioritize for your child who is on the autism spectrum can be difficult. With multiple options, what should you focus on? We’ve broken down three of the most common therapies to show you how they are different from each other and what type of time commitment each one typically requires.

Sometimes these therapies work together in coordination, but at other times, you may need to focus on just one of the services.

Speech Therapy

Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP) help with communication and feeding issues. Their services include:

  • Screening for swallowing or communication disorders
  • Assessing problems within social or cultural context
  • Implementing treatment
  • Using sign language or assistive technology
  • Collaborating with other providers
  • Counseling, educating, and empowering families
  • Preventing new problems from arising
  • Helping improve overall services for the autism community

Often, speech therapists are the first professional that may notice signs of ASD since language delay may be one of the first symptoms to appear. Speech therapists also help with feeding problems related to sensory issues.

Time Commitment

Speech therapy is typically one to two hours per week.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists work both in clinical settings (like hospitals and clinics) as well as natural settings (like child care centers, schools, and homes). They focus on helping people with autism master activities of daily living

Occupational therapy strategies include: 

  • Physical activities (such as stringing beads or doing puzzles) that help a child develop motor coordination and body awareness 
  • Play activities to help with interaction and communication
  • Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair 
  • Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions 

Like speech therapists, occupational therapists can help with early detection of autism because they know what developmental milestones to look for by age.

Time Commitment

Occupational Therapy is usually one to two hours per week.

ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) 

Applied Behavioral Analyst (ABA) services are offered by Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBA). The focus of ABA for children with ASD is to treat autism by changing social and learning environments.

ABA services address:

  • Communication
  • Social issues
  • Adaptive issues
  • Behavioral issues

According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, “The successful remediation of core deficits of ASD, and the development of abilities documented in hundreds of peer-reviewed studies published over the past 50 years, has made ABA the standard of care for treatment of ASD.” 

ABA services are not usually provided until a child has already been diagnosed with ASD.

Time Commitment

For children under five, 30-40 hours per week of one-on-one treatment is typical. 

Conclusion

All three types of therapies can assist in your child’s development. ABA is the most intensive service, which means families would need to consider how 30-40 hours per week of service might fit into their current life. 

Despite that, ABA has the greatest documented evidence for significant long-term improvement in behavior and addresses all life domains.

Because of these facts, ABA therapy is most recommended for children with ASD. That’s why, if possible, ABA therapy should be the main service provided for children with ASD.