Ask a researcher – ABA and wellbeing in adults

Has any research been done regarding wellbeing and self-esteem (preferably self-reported rather than objective) in teens and adults who received ABA or similar?

Teenagers talking at lockers


We are not aware of any research assessing attitudes, wellbeing and self-esteem in teens and adults. However, we are aware of some studies that looked at whether ABA-type methods are effective in teaching teens and adults with autism new skills and more adaptive behaviours. All of these studies show positive outcomes. One could assume that wellbeing and self-esteem may also increase when people are taught new skills, but this was not assessed. For example, one study by Lerman et al (2015) successfully used ABA-related methods to teach adults with ASD to address problem behaviours of children with autism. To view click here.

A systematic review of several studies by Bishop-Fitzpatrick et al (2013) on the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for adults with ASD found that all of the ABA studies included in the review showed beneficial outcomes. To view click here.

Our researchers have recently undertaken a review of the literature on how best to support adults to gain employment, and found that using ABA based procedures as a way of teaching targeted workplace skills and behaviours had mostly positive outcomes. See Hedley et al (2016)

Indeed, whenever we speak with clinicians or consult websites of support organisations the advice is to apply behavioural techniques not only with children, but also with teens and adults, if required. There are some good blogs and Youtube videos around which you may want to have a look at, for example:

One of the key messages to take away is that ABA programs for teens and adults cannot be the same as those for young children, but have to be tailored to their specific needs for independent living and other more advanced skills.

Is it possible that adults who report negative experiences from ABA techniques may have had practitioners who were not very experienced with teaching adults or did not use these methods appropriately? Unfortunately, with the emphasis in Australia and other countries on young children and early intervention, the number of practitioners with these more advanced skills is somewhat limited.

You may also find the following blog helpful in understanding what modern ABA techniques involve, which may enable you to better understand and advise the adults and teens you see.

To view ProfHasting’s blog click here.


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