When a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reaches preschool age, many parents ask themselves whether a full-time ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) program or PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) is the best option for their child.
Both programs have value but take a fundamentally different approach.
After a child receives a diagnosis of ASD, the pediatrician or neurologist will often refer the child to a center for intensive ABA therapy. Based on decades of scientific research, ABA has proven itself as an effective and reliable treatment method for autism. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) create individualized treatment plans to cater to the specific needs of each child.
ABA consists of two major treatment methods: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural Environment Training (NET).
DTT teaches target behaviors or goals through simplified and structured steps. For instance, teaching a child to write his name could be broken down into a five to 10 step process. First, he might work on properly holding a pencil. Then, he might learn how to individually trace an “A,” and so forth. A typical DTT session is similar to how lessons are run in a typical classroom setting – oftentimes taught across a table or with workbooks.
NET sessions are more about learning through play and social interactions in a natural setting. Multiple children will play together in the room at the same time to provide a social setting similar to that of a typical school. This also helps children generalize their learned behaviors with multiple people.
The combination of DTT and NET helps children with autism gain improvements in a variety of areas of developmental delay, including communication, cognition, social skills, play skills, and day-to-day living skills.
Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
In order to start PPCD in Texas, children must first be evaluated and approved by the school district, and then if accepted into the program, Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals are set for the child. PPCD services typically happen in a classroom in a public school under supervision of a special education teacher.
PPCD classrooms typically contain around 12 or less students with special needs, supervised by one certified special education teacher and 2 educational associates. Each classroom will include children with a variety of special needs, ranging from moderate to severe disabilities. Based on the level of developmental delay, children will work on appropriate activities to improve language, social skills, pre-reading skills, cognitive skills, and self-help skills.
Breaking Down the Main Differences
- ABA therapy centers focus specifically on children with autism, while PPCD classrooms focus on children with a variety of special needs.
- BCBAs and therapists are trained in ABA for children with autism, while PPCD teachers have a background in special education.
- ABA therapy is conducted in a 1:1 child-to-therapist ratio, while PPCD classrooms typically have about 3 adults to 12 children.
- ABA programs (typically 40 hours a week) are more intensive than PPCD programs.
- ABA is backed by decades of research