How Much Therapy?

Photo source:,

"Intensity"  is a term often used when describing very rigorous or challenging fitness programs, but did you know "intensity" is also how ABA treatment dosage is described? So when you wonder to yourself, or question the ABA team about "How much therapy does my child need? How much ABA is enough? Is this too much therapy? What if I can only afford a few hours a month?", what you are really asking about is intensity of treatment.

First, a little background information:

In 2014, the BACB published a helpful guide for insurance companies who must make decisions about how and when to fund ABA therapy. In this guide the ideal "magic number" of treatment intensity is described as an analysis of multiple variables, such as intensity of treatment goals, client needs & severity of deficits, and client response to treatment. A range of 10-25 hours/week for focused treatment and 30-40 hours/week for comprehensive treatment is recommended. It is important to note this recommendation does factor in instructional time outside of ABA intervention. For example, if the child participates in Special Olympics basketball 5 hours a month where they work on socialization, sportsmanship, gross motor skills, and more, that absolutely can be included as part of their intervention.

So now that you have some background information, what does all of this mean?

Basically, determining the ideal treatment dosage of ABA therapy for your child is a complex decision. Many factors have to be considered. Added to this, is that funding source recommendations may not line up with what the clinical team is recommending. In other words, your insurance provider may approve 10 hours of therapy/month, but the BCBA may tell you at least 15 hours/week will be necessary. What I see happen very often, is that the families I work with receive the therapy amount they can afford and not the the therapy amount that is needed.  

I know this question of "How much therapy does my child need?" is confusing and frustrating for the average parent. So here are some takeaway tips to aid your understanding. When I am making a decision about how much therapy to recommend for a particular client, these are some of the points I consider :
  •  What are the treatment goals? - The more intense the treatment goals, the more likely higher hours per week will be recommended. During a client intake, if the parents are telling me they want to work on feeding, toileting, language, severe behavior reduction, etc., what I am hearing them describe is an intensive and comprehensive ABA program. Think about it like this: for just one of those goals, literally hundreds of learning trials could be necessary for your child to master the skill. Its very unrealistic to ask for comprehensive treatment, but only request a few hours of therapy per week.
  • What is the treatment setting?- Will therapy sessions occur at home, at school, in the community, or at a clinic/center program? This can impact how much therapy the child can receive. For example if you only want behavioral help at your child's karate class, that limits the frequency of therapy to when the karate class is held. Conversely, if the child is not in school and therapy will occur at home then treatment intensity should increase to maximize the availability.
  • Can relevant stakeholders be considered on the "team"? - Buy In. Read it, learn it, live it. The less involved the parents, teacher, or related professionals with the ABA treatment plan, the more the weight of treatment integrity will fall on the ABA team. I see this all the time: a family is receiving ABA services, the ABA team expresses that the child is making huge gains, and the family disagrees. Why? Well, if the parents are not involved with treatment/not generalizing treatment then they likely won't see the gains that the therapists see. While your child will use words with me, when I leave your house they will go back to pulling you by the arm to indicate what they want. The more the ABA team can count on the family to reinforce the treatment plan, the more confidence they will have in decreasing therapy hours.
  • How therapeutic are the child's non-ABA hours? - This is closely related to the previous point. How much of the child's non-ABA hours are contributing to or generalizing the skills and behaviors being addressed? Ideally, there would be generalization across individuals and settings. I recently had to discuss this with a client, whose son has in -home ABA and is in an inclusive classroom. Unfortunately, the classroom environment is such that it encourages and reinforces the very problem behavior the ABA team is working to reduce. So in that scenario, I could not count school hours as therapeutic or likely to promote skill acquisition... quite the opposite. So this would be a situation where I recommend increasing the intensity of ABA services.
  • Are there any company policies/limitations to consider? -  Some companies won't staff a case for less than 5-10 hours a week of services. Another example is if your insurance provider will pay for 40 hrs of ABA a week, does the company have enough staff to cover that many hours? Sound like a silly question? Believe me, issues like this happen both with very low treatment intensity and very high treatment intensity.
  • Where are we in the course of treatment? -  Is the client new to ABA and an early learner, or have they received therapy for years and are now close to terminating services? This also must be considered when deciding how much therapy the individual should receive. It is typical that the intensity of ABA begins high, and then is carefully reduced over time until services are no longer necessary. If therapy services will be fading soon, or the client needs focused/short term help, then a lower intensity of therapy may be most appropriate.


Eldevik, S., Hastings, R. P., Hughes, J. C., Jahr, E., Eikeseth, S., & Cross, S. (2010). Using participant data to extend the evidence for intensive behavioral intervention for children with autism. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 115, 381-405.

No comments

Copyright T. Meadows 2011. All original content on this blog is protected by copyright. Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top