As we step into the year 2024, we can witness a significant change in the world of ABA, which is widely known as the gold standard of treatment for autism. Due to the increasing rate of autism in children (approximately 1 in 36 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to the CDC), the reduction of social stigma, and greater awareness about this disorder, more and more families are seeking intervention and support. Consequently, the Autism Treatment Programs Market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7% from 2023 to 2032. ABA services are now covered by insurance in all 50 states of the U.S. and can be provided remotely, at home or a clinic, in school, or in hybrid models that serve multiple locations. Considering all these developments, let’s explore the emerging trends in ABA Therapy that will reshape the industry’s landscape in 2024.
1- Leveraging Technology for Success
In 2024, experts predict that there will be an emphasis on tech-enabled clinical outcome data powered by cloud-based data collection and AI-driven data analysis.
Cloud-based data collection not only provides the ability to store and retrieve vast amounts of data in real time and track and assess progress with immediacy but also ensures a data-driven approach that keeps therapy effective. When integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) to cloud-based data, data analysis is taken to the next level. AI-driven algorithms analyze behavioral data with a great level of precision and speed, streamlining the assessment process and giving visibility to ‘near-real-time’ clinical KPIs.
Dynamic platforms like ABA Matrix, with cloud-based data collection and AI-powered report generation features, can be very beneficial for ABA specialists’ work and, ultimately, the outcome of their patients.
In addition, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) open up immersive environments that simulate real-world scenarios, providing individuals with autism opportunities to practice and generalize skills in a safe and controlled setting. From social interactions to daily living activities, VR and AR are game-changers in making therapy more engaging and applicable to the complexities of everyday life.
2- Emphasis on Multi-Disciplinary Approaches
Despite the industry being highly segmented into caregivers, behavior analysts, speech therapists, and occupational therapists, there has been a shift in the last three years, resulting in an increased interest in multidisciplinary services.
A study about treatment patterns in children with autism revealed that many patients currently receive more than one type of therapy at once. The research states that 80% of kids and teens with autism received speech therapy or occupational therapy, while more than half received both.
Moreover, there has been a rise in parental and caregiver training to equip them with the necessary knowledge and abilities to strengthen ABA methods at home, resulting in a successful therapy outcome.
To sum up, collaborative and interdisciplinary care guarantees a comprehensive approach that takes into account the client’s surroundings and cultural context, offering a more efficient result. “No one should dispute the evidence and power of ABA (…) But I think we’re also recognizing that it’s just not sufficient for all that a child and family needs. There’s more that can be delivered alongside it and really be synergistic with behavioral therapy,” said Doctor Neil Hattangadi, CEO of Cortica, in a recent interview.
In 2024, professionals caring for individuals with autism will continue adopting multidisciplinary approaches to improve coordination and collaboration, addressing current inefficiencies.
3- In-person Settings Still Preferred by Some Despite Growth in Telehealth
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in telehealth services. However, in-person therapy is still ideal for some clients, as the individual’s rate of learning may actually be influenced by the setting where the service is performed.
Delivering behavioral therapy to children with disabilities remotely is just as effective as doing it in person, according to recent studies. However, while telehealth in ABA may keep growing in 2024 —offering remote consultations and supervision, breaking geographical barriers for families for accessibility, and helping individuals struggling with social anxiety—, in-person ABA therapy (clinic, home, or school-based) will also remain an effective way of treatment.
As a matter of fact, when Helen Mader, CEO of Behavior Frontiers, was asked Behavioral Health Business what she would have done differently this year, she said: “Looking back, we would have preferred to open more of our autism centers earlier in the year, to help more clients access our services. While we opened 13 centers this year, we believe that we could have opened more [of them] sooner.”
4- Shifting in Leadership’s Mentality to Retain Talent and Grow Responsible
The dissatisfaction and burnout prevalent in the ABA industry have not gone unnoticed by forward-thinking leaders. CEOs like Rob Marsh from 360 Behavioral Health acknowledge the need for a paradigm shift in talent acquisition approaches. “We would have revamped our talent acquisition approach and been more proactive in responding to rate demands and wage pressures. The talent out there — the RBTs and BCBAs — are looking for a lot of things, and we would start differently with some of the incentives we developed,” he said to Behavioral Health Business.
Jason Owen, president and CEO of BlueSprig Pediatrics, added: “Our focus extends beyond professional development to encompass the overall well-being of our team, fostering a collaborative atmosphere that resonates with our goal of creating a thriving workplace.”
Doctor Hattangadi noted a past focus on growth at all costs, but now there is a shift towards responsible growth.
Recognizing that rigidity in work arrangements can contribute to burnout, ABA leaders are adopting more adaptable approaches. Supervisory positions, critical for maintaining the quality of ABA services, are now granted the flexibility needed to balance work demands with personal lives. We hope that these measures continue to expand in 2024.
Looking into the future, the industry is gearing up for a time when technology will merge with collaboration and innovative strategies. The year 2024 marks not only the continued growth of the ABA therapy industry but also a stronger commitment to fostering an environment where both practitioners and patients can flourish.