ABA. VB. SCERTS. What are these?

What do all these acronyms mean and what is the difference between them?
I am not an expert. A BCBA (that is someone with the equivalent of a Masters in ABA) would explain it better but…
My own understanding and experience is that ABA (applied behaviour analysis) is a generic ie an umbrella term for a few different types of therapy. All of which are intensive therapies delivered on a 1:1 basis. All of which can be started as young as two or from when a child is diagnosed with autism. All of which are successful with the right therapists and the right consultant in place.
ABA started out years ago in the form of Lovaas therapy, now viewed as more adult led than child led. It often involved children learning at a tabletop. Twenty years later, some still perceive ABA as being this rather outdated type of therapy.
By the time we started ABA over 16 years ago, there was a newer version of ABA known as VB (verbal behaviour) which was what my older boys all did a version of.  One obvious difference to me at the time was that the emphasis had switched from compliance to teaching communication as the starting point. Communication isn’t necessarily verbal. For some children it means learning to communicate using a form of sign language.
VB came with a new language of it’s own – mands were things children asked for and tacts were things they labelled.  VB could be carried out in any room, in any place, also known as NET (natural environment training). Learning can take place anywhere and make use of whatever is around the child at any time. It should be about helping a child to acquire the skills that children without autism learn naturally. Our children with autism need a bit more help or in many cases, a lot more help.
In an ideal world, all therapy programmes should be run by a BCBA, who has years of training. In an even more ideal world, those Consultants would attend other forms of training such as SCERTS (social communication – emotional regulation – transactional support) or Pivotal Response Therapy and integrate them within an ABA (VB) programme.
In a not ideal world, some local authorities might think that sending staff on one of these courses for a few days make them qualified in this field.  It doesn’t. Only years of training and hundreds of hours working with children with autism will make anyone ‘qualified’ to deliver decent therapy.
We were lucky enough with our youngest son to be able to integrate SCERTS into his VB programme. Although one of its declarations is that it is child led, it is not child led  in the sense of some other therapies which allow a child to do what they want and an adult is expected to ‘join in’. SCERTS is not that . It is more about making therapy meaningful for each child. That may mean teaching a child the names of all the Thomas the tank engine trains and not the names of kitchen utensils (that can come later). In the early days it is about making therapy fun and engaging.
All good programmes, whatever they are labelled,  need to be meaningful. A child needs to want to learn, to want to communicate and to look forward to the therapists arriving, not trying to run away from them.
If a child doesn’t want to engage, then there is something wrong with how the sessions are being run. Trust your instincts, it may be that a tutor and your child do not gel, not that the programme is wrong for your child. Some tutor training or a change of tutor may be all that you need.
Every child is unique and every programme needs to be individualised to each child. If you add learning difficulties to the mix that is autism, the emphasis within the programme may differ greatly from that of a child who has an average cognitive ability.
Our four boys are all very different despite them all having classic autism. They each needed to learn in different ways and their tutors needed to adapt to them as individuals. There is no one size fits all. But ABA was the one thing that not only ‘fitted’ them all, it changed their lives.
Do your research and don’t be overwhelmed by the technical terms. ABA works.

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