ABA vs. IBI: What is the difference?

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ABA vs. IBI: What is the difference?


The aftermath of having a child receive an autism diagnosis can feel like a whirlwind of emotions, as well as a whirlwind of acronyms. Many different acronyms start popping up such as: ASD, DFO, IBI, ABA, and TPAS. What do they all mean? We will attempt to help by defining two of the most important ones: ABA and IBI.

What is ABA?

Essentially Applied Behaviour Analysis, or ABA, is a set of principles based on the science of behaviour which are used to change behaviour. Behaviour change can mean increasing functional skills, such as communication, social skills, or play skills. It can also mean decreasing problematic behaviour, or behaviours which interfere with learning, such as aggression, flopping, or screaming. Behaviour Therapy (also called ABA therapy or BT) can be used with anyone with a behaviour problem, no diagnosis needed. Parents often seek the help of a behaviour analyst for issues such as, toilet training, tantrums, and social skills.

Confusingly, ABA can also refer to a type of therapy offered to individuals on the autism spectrum. ABA-based services and supports in Ontario “are intended to improve the communication, social/ interpersonal, daily living and behavioural/ emotional skills of children and youth with autism.” (MCYS, 2014) This service is funded in Ontario to anyone under the age of 18 with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and is offered by lead agencies across the Province.

What is IBI?

Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) refers to a specific type of therapy for children on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, which is also funded in Ontario by the Ministry of Child and Youth Services (MCYS). According to research studies, the younger a child is upon entering IBI the better the treatment outcomes, though in Ontario there is no age cut-off. Intensive Behavioural Intervention uses the principles of ABA for treatment, but the main difference is the level of intensity.

Intensive Behavioural Intervention programs usually involve 20 to 40 hours per week of treatment, either in-home, in-centre or a combination or both. Eligibility for the IBI program is determined by an assessment completed by the MCYS. There are generally very long waitlists for funded IBI, so many parents access private IBI or ABA services while waiting for funding. There are many agencies offering private IBI and ABA across Ontario, so ensure you do your research and find a high-quality service overseen by a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA.)

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