with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA


Brain Anatomy of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 3 of 3)

Brain functioning and structure varies in individuals with autism spectrum disorder compared to individuals without ASD.

To learn about specific brain regions and their relation to ASD, review Part 1.

To learn about more specific brain information related to young children with ASD, review Part 2.

In this article, we will focus on adolescents and adults with ASD as the brain anatomy of individuals with ASD (as with all human beings) changes over time.
Social communication and social interaction


Brain Anatomy of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 2 of 3)

The Cortical Area of the Brain in Individuals with ASD
People with ASD tend to have thinner cortices and reduced surface area of the brain during adolescences and adulthood while they often have increased cortical development (greater expansion of the cortical surface area) in early childhood (Ha, et. al., 2015).

Individuals with ASD tend to have differences in cortical folding which is how the cerebral cortex is able to grow in size and increase in complexity. This process is essential to the evolution of the mammalian brain especially in humans (Llinares-Benadero & Borrell, 2019). This process just seems to happen differently in individuals with ASD.

Cortical gyrification is related to expansion of the outer cortical layers. It has to do with how the folds of the cerebral cortex that develop assist with the functioning of the individual (Ronan & Fletcher, 2014).

Youth with ASD tend to have enlarged gyrification of the frontal lobe compared to typically developing peers. Specific forms of gyrification, or cortical folding, may actually be associated with intelligence and cognitive abilities (Gregory, Kippenhan, Dickinson, Carrasco, Mattay, Weinberger, & Berman, 2016).

Cortical gyrification changes across the lifespan of the individual with ASD. Both genetic and environmental influences can impact the structure of cortical regions of the brain.


Brain Anatomy of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 1 of 3)

Everyone’s brain is structured slightly differently based upon genetic composition and changes that occur in the life experiences of the individual.

However, in general, there are some overall similarities in the human brain such as certain parts of the brain being for specific purposes or where particular regions of the brain are located.
Diagnoses Are Often Associated with Differences in Brain Functioning
When a diagnosable disorder is present, the brain may have some differences compared to most people in the general population.

This could be due to a genetic predisposition for the brain to be structured in a particular way or it could be due to operant conditioning – learning from life experiences that shape the brain’s structure including neuronal connections and functioning in various parts of the brain.


Why is it important that parents participate in their child’s ABA services?

Parent training has been used to help parents manage a variety of behavioral issues in kids with autism, ADHD, and other disorders.

Parent training based on behavioral science has been shown to be very beneficial for all children including those with autism spectrum disorder (Matson, Mahan, & Matson, 2009).

Parent training that is based on behavioral principles is highly recommended.
PARENT TRAINING – Supporting Socially Significant Outcomes


The Purpose of ABA According to the BACB Guidelines (with tips for parent training)

In the executive summary of the ABA Guidelines for ASD developed by the BACB, the following statement is made:

"The purpose of this document is to inform decision-making regarding the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to treat medically necessary conditions so as to develop, maintain, or restore, to the maximum extent practicable, the functioning of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in ways that are both efficacious and cost effective."

Let's take a closer look at what...


ABA Parent Training – Research Review and Tips

Let's review some of the research that has been published on the topic of applied behavior analysis parent training.
Pyramidal Training Model of ABA Parent Training
One study, by Conklin and Wallace (2019) used behavioral skills training in the format of a pyramidal model to train parents on how to use differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors (DRA).

The behavior analysts taught half the parents to use the DRA procedure. This was completed in a group setting. Then these...


Four Functions of Behavior – Basic ABA Concept with Examples

In applied behavior analysis, it is believed that all behavior occurs for a reason. Technically speaking, behavior analysts look at this idea with the behavioral principle that behavior is maintained by a function. In the ABA field, there are four functions of behavior.
4 Functions of Behavior


The individual behaves in order to get out of or avoid doing something he/she does not want to do.

EXAMPLE: Child throws ABA materials on the ground and is no longer required to complete the task that was presented to him or her. Child learns that throwing materials on the ground will get him or her out of having to do the work.
EXAMPLE: Child puts his head down on the desk when presented with academic work. Child is not expected to finish the academic work. Child learns that putting his head down on the desk will get him out of doing the non-preferred task of academic work.


What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)? ABA Parent Training Handout

What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)? (FIND THIS AS A PARENT HANDOUT HERE)
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior. ABA is systematic – meaning, ABA intervention is thoroughly planned and monitored to provide the best results and evaluate effectiveness of any intervention.

ABA is based on the principles of learning theory which provides ABA service providers a foundation for basing their services on scientific research and evidence based on human behavior and how people learn.

ABA focuses on improving socially significant behaviors. The treatment goals, programs, and targets that are selected to be worked on in treatment in ABA are meaningful and important for your child and your family. Socially significant means that working on that behavior or goal will help improve the life of your child.

ABA attempts to demonstrate that skill acquisition and improvements in behaviors are due to the treatment, that the interventions employed are responsible for the progress being made. To do this, ABA providers take data and analyze the data.


Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors in ASD Population & Automatic Reinforcement

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by:

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction as demonstrated by

deficits in social-emotional reciprocity,
deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and
deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as demonstrated by at least two of the following:

Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech
Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns...


Receptive Identification in ABA & Its Application to the Natural Environment

Listening to a speaker and comprehending what that speaker is saying is an essential skill for all people. Children with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with this skill of communication. This ability is referred to as receptive language skills. Sometimes it is known as listener skills or even auditory comprehension (Fischer, et. al., 2019).

Receptive identification of visual stimuli is a common goal for many children with autism spectrum disorder receiving applied behavior analysis. This is...