I Love ABA!

Welcome to my blog all about Applied Behavior Analysis!

This blog is about my experiences, thoughts, and opinions on ABA. My career as an ABA provider is definitely a passion and a joy, and I love what I do.

This is a personal blog: The views and opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the people, institutions, or organizations that I may be affiliated with.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is This ABA?

 I mentioned briefly in my FAQ Part III post that not everyone who thinks they are “doing ABA”, actually is. Applied Behavior Analysis can often seem deceptively simple when you don’t know much about it. (I must add, the BACB restricts the practice of ABA to certified professionals only, or individuals under the direct supervision of certified professionals).

I have observed in ABA classrooms or in-home ABA programs and thought to myself that’s not ABA. Hanging up a few sticker charts and handing out Skittles is not enough to call what you’re doing ABA.

So as a consumer or an ABA therapist new to this field, how can you determine and evaluate if a program, agency, or provider is doing ABA correctly? How do you know if the Consultant you just hired is great or horrible? How can you determine if the agency you work for is trained in ABA, or they just think they are?

Thankfully, we have the Seven Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis to help evaluate any program, Consultant, professional, or agency. Apparently “almost” only counts with horseshoes, so you’re either doing ABA or you’re not.
The dimensions of ABA were created in the late 60’s by titans in this field (Baer, Wolf, and Risley), in order to help professionals and consumers have a criteria of excellence when it comes to ABA treatment. In other words, if a professional, or program does not encompass these 7 Dimensions then that is a problem. The 7 Dimensions are the foundation upon which quality ABA programs are built. 

Parents often ask me “How do I know if the school Autism expert is really trained in ABA”, or “How can I tell if this agency is ethical or not”. A great way to weed out the unethical, the poorly trained, or the incompetent, is by evaluating what they are doing against the 7 Dimensions.
Also, you will notice that the first 3 Dimensions is where the term “ABA” comes from: Applied, Behavioral, & Analytic. I have seen some agencies or classrooms that don’t even have those first 3 Dimensions down. If the program isn't applied, behavioral, and analytic.....thats a really bad sign.To say that another way, if your child is in the "ABA" classroom yet no one ever collects data...that is NOT ABA.

For parents I would recommend you print this information out and use it to evaluate professionals and agencies. For professionals I would recommend you become familiar with these 7 Dimensions, and ask yourself if your programs and interventions adhere to them.

The 7 Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis

The work conducted must have social significance
Precise and reliable measurement of behavior should be attainable 
It must be shown that the treatment led to behavior change, and not something else, such as chance
Procedures used should be clearly described and identified
Conceptually systematic 
Procedures should be described in terms of their principles 
Procedures should improve the behaviors being addressed to a practical degree
Positive changes should extend over time, environments, and behaviors

So what does all of this mean in plain English? I’m glad you asked!

Goals and interventions are selected because they express the needs and concerns of the client and/or stakeholders (the teacher, the parents, etc.). What is important to the client should be directly related to the goals of the program. This is also why intervention takes place in the most natural environment, typically the home but sometimes the classroom.
Behaviorism is what we stand on, and behaviors are what we focus on. ABA focuses on what the child needs to DO, not what they need to think or feel. ABA should also focus on getting a child to exhibit a behavior, not just stop a behavior (e.g. teaching a child to wait, instead of teaching a child to stop being impatient).
Data, data, data. Data drives decision making, and data is collected and analyzed on a regular basis. When done correctly, an ABA intervention should be like flipping a light switch: add the intervention and the behavior goes away, remove the intervention and the behavior comes back.
Techniques, procedures, and strategies should be so plainly and clearly explained that anyone could read them and understand what to do. “Reinforce Devon when he says nice words” is not a technological description. “When Devon uses the words please or excuse me, provide him with tickles, high fives, or a sip of juice” is a technological description.
Conceptually systematic 
This is the difference between a Consultant who is implementing strategies rooted in behavior analytic theory, and a Consultant digging around in a bag of tricks. Everything done in an ABA program should relate to a research supported behavior analytic concept, such as Shaping, Positive Reinforcement, and Errorless Teaching.
Who determines if an ABA program has been successful? Whoever initiated therapy. That could be the parents, a school principal, etc. ABA is applied… this isn’t general research. Statistical gains of .001% don’t cut it when working with a child in their home. If I write a behavior plan that reduces screaming by 25%, but the parent wanted screaming reduced by 100%, then my behavior plan was not effective.
Can the child display skills learned across people, across settings, and across stimuli? Can the child label both a red apple flashcard, and a red apple at the grocery store? If the child learned to say "Airplane" 3 months ago, can he say "Airplane" today? If not, then the ABA program is lacking generality.

Source: Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97


  1. As a fellow ABA person- great job!!

  2. Great job Tameika. I'm really inspired when reading your posts!

  3. Hello what is the minimum amount of programs to run for a child who is low functioning with many problem behaviors and noncompliant? I think the The bcba I work for has too many programs being run. Also I am the only one analyzing graphs and making materials. There are many things she is doing wrong but I don't know how to tell her.

    1. Hi Sonia,

      Definitely take your concerns straight to your BCBA and honestly express yourself. They cant answer questions they dont know you have. Don't be nervous about it, a professional BCBA isnt intimidated or upset by the direct staff asking for information.

      There isnt any specific number I can give you regarding an ideal number of programs. Its going to be client specific (based on the individuals needs and functioning level).
      I can tell you that I tend to write alot of programs too, because I like the staff to maximize all session time as therapeutic...such as down time/breaks (NET or play skills programs) and adaptive functioning (using a utensil, learning to wash hands, etc). Also I'm sure the individual BCBA has their clinical reasoning for the amount of active programs you are running, and really they are the only one who can answer that for you.