What is ABA Therapy?

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What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is considered one of the most effective treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. ABA can be used with your child to help increase desired behaviors and decrease undesired behaviors. ABA can help children with:

  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Play skills
  • Joint attention
  • Self-help skills
  • Social skills
  • Disruptive behavior

What does an ABA therapist do?

An ABA therapist is a person who uses applied behavior analysis as a form of treatment. Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of studying behavior in order to put into place appropriate behavioral interventions. The therapy and term is not exclusive to autism, but typically ABA therapy is used with autistic children. ABA is a well-known and effective treatment for children with Autism when done in a high quality and intensive manner. ABA uses a great deal of positive reinforcement in order to increase desirable behaviors and improve the skills of the child. Typically, an ABA therapist works one to one with a child. Background, training, and experience varies widely for ABA therapists. Several ABA therapists may work with one child as the hours involved in early intervention are intensive.

How are Applied Behavior Analysis principals and methods used?

The principles and methods of ABA can be used to support individuals in at least five ways:

  • ABA can be used to increase behaviors, such as attending to a speaker or greeting a peer.
  • The principles and methods can be used to teach a student new skills, including using a spoon and learning addition.
  • ABA can be used to maintain behaviors, for example, reading sight words that were learned previously.
  • ABA principles and methods can be used to help a student generalize or transfer behavior from one situation or response to another. For instance, a student may learn to generalize completing assignments in the resource room to completing them in the general education classroom.
  • ABA can be used to reduce interfering or challenging behaviors.

What does the word, "Behavior" mean?

In order to understand ABA, it is critical to understand what is meant by behavior. Behavior is anything a person does. Behavior is measurable and observable. Often behavior is thought of in negative terms, for example, screaming or hitting. However, behavior applies to all kinds of positive actions and skills too, including greeting a peer, performing a math problem, signing a letter, asking a question, and so on. When behavior is discussed in the context of ABA, it is generally considered in three different contexts:

  • Behaviors that are to be maintained over time, such as a child who has learned to brush his teeth or the adolescent who has learned to manage a check book.
  • Behaviors that should be increased. For the person who is unable to request something to eat or interact with a peer, teaching these skills is a priority.
  • Behaviors that need to be decreased. Obviously, a parent wants to see a child spending less time screaming or having a tantrum, in this case, the parent would also want to see positive behaviors increase, such as communicating or asking for help.

What does the word, "Analysis" mean?

Through the use of clear definitions for behavior and systematic delivery of interventions, reliable relationships between interventions and behavior can be established. There is also a need for a reliable collection of data, as well as analysis of these data to determine if behaviors are changing. Through analysis, teachers can determine if behaviors are increasing or decreasing, as well as the rate of the change. This allows objective decisions to be made about future interventions. The following components are needed to ensure analysis can be completed:

  • Specific intervention goals and objectives.
  • A well-defined plan including the strategies used to meet the goals and objectives.
  • Ongoing data collection to show the intervention was actually responsible for the behavior gains, and a plan to ensure the generalization and maintenance of treatment gains.


Applied behavior analysis is a science in which interventions are taken from existing research and applied to improve behavior in socially significant ways. ABA is a way to approach behavior that will maximize positive outcomes. Simply put, ABA requires constructing intervention strategies that define the antecedents and consequences that will result in the increase of positive skills and the decrease of problem behaviors. Decisions regarding the effectiveness of the intervention are based on data collected. Based on the data analysis, the parent or interventionist may choose to continue with the intervention or change the intervention to produce positive outcomes for the individual.

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