My ABA Glossary


This glossary is a collection of ABA terms that are helpful to know as a professional or parent. I try to keep my blog as jargon-free as I can, because I want it to be accessible to many. However from time to time you will see me use some of these terms.

ABA Glossary

ABA- Applied Behavior Analysis is an established science that goes MUCH farther than Autism. If all you know of ABA is a treatment for young children with Autism, I highly recommend you further your reading and study of the field. ABA at its core is a way to teach, manage, or reduce behaviors. ABA is an umbrella term that can cover many specific and unique strategies. Some examples include Incidental Teaching, Discrete Trial Training, and Verbal Behavior. There are many ways to “do” ABA.

ABA Therapist- This is the term I use on my blog to describe anyone who provides ABA therapy to a learner, in a direct staff role. I have seen all kinds of terms used to label the direct staff, such as ABA tutor, ABA technician, Clinical assistant, Services provider, etc, however I most often use the term ABA Therapist.

ABLLS Assessment- Pronounced "A-bulls". A comprehensive assessment and curriculum planning tool created by Drs. Sundberg & Partington. This tool allows you to assess across 25 varied domains to get a complete snapshot of a child’s functioning level, strengths, and deficits. Domains include self help skills, gross motor skills, receptive skills, group instruction, etc.

ABC's of Behavior- Also known as the Three Term Contingency, ABC's of behavior is a tool used to determine the function of any behavior. The A is for antecedent, the B is the actual behavior, and C is the consequence.

Acquisition Task – A target that is in the process of being taught. This behavior is not yet a known skill.

Antecedent- In behavior analytic terms, an antecedent is simply what happened right before the behavior.

Aspergers Syndrome- Aspergers is a form of Autism, with the main differences being these individuals are very verbal but present with social difficulties/impairments, often have no cognitive impairments, and may have more neurological issues. These individuals can often go undiagnosed until they are older, since common hallmarks of Autism may not be present or as obvious or profound. Note: Aspergers as a separate diagnosis was removed from the DSM- V.

Autism Spectrum Disorders- According to the DSM V, these are defined as persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, and there is a severity level rating system based on the intensity of supports the individual needs to function. Basically, its important to know that Autism is a spectrum, and no 2 individuals are the same. There is much variability amongst people with Autism.

BCBA or BCBA-D/BCaBA- This is the board certification required for a person to become a Behavior Analyst, and it is recognized worldwide.  In many states or with insurance companies, only BCBAs are recognized as being properly authorized to oversee, manage, or supervise ABA programs. The BCaBA denotes the person is at an associate level, and must work under a BCBA. BCaBA's usually have less training or experience, although this isn’t always the case. Becoming certified is a lengthy process that takes much dedication, focus, and graduate level coursework. 

RBT - Registered Behavior Technician. For direct level staff, this is a credential that denotes the person has met specific education and experience standards, and starting in 12/2015, that the person has passed a rigorous exam. Currently, the RBT is not a requirement to work as direct ABA staff, but things are likely headed in that direction.

Behavior - To be called a behavior, it must be observable and/or measurable. In the field we refer to something called the "Dead Man's Test": If a dead man can do it, it ain't behavior. So "being quiet" is not a behavior because a dead person can "be quiet".

Bio- Medical Approach-  The bio- medical approach to treating Autism is based on treating the biological causes of, or issues associated with Autism, such as heavy metals or an over growth of yeast. Some common bio-medical interventions not only lack empirical evidence, but they can be potentially harmful.

Chaining – Used to teach multi-step skills in which the steps involved are defined through task analysis, and each separate step is taught to link together the total "chain".  Can be either done by backward, forward, or total task analyses.

 "Child"- My blog is primarily directed towards people who teach or are a caregiver for children with Autism, so I tend to use the general term "child" instead of person, adolescent or individual. I also primarily work with children under 5, so my perspective is usually child focused.

 Chronological Age/ Developmental Age- Chronological age is the actual age calculated by birthdate. A developmental age is based on level of functioning/cognitive ability, and adaptive skills. For example a 7 year old child diagnosed with Autism could have the developmental age of a 3 year old. A Pediatrician or Developmental Psychologist can help you determine your child's developmental age, or if you work with a BCBA they can assess your child to help determine developmental age.

Co-Morbidity- This means having multiple diagnoses as the same time, such as being diagnosed with Autism, OCD, and an Anxiety Disorder.

Consequence- In behavior analytic terms, a consequence is simply what happens after the behavior. Consequences can be good or bad (or nothing).

Consultant- Describes anyone who creates the treatment/behavioral plans, trains and supervises staff, and may or may not assist with hiring staff. Typically this is a BCBA level individual with extensive experience and training in running an ABA program.

Contained Classroom- A contained, or self -contained, classroom is a classroom that has only special needs children. These classrooms have a smaller teacher to student ratio than an inclusive classroom. Typically these classes are taught by Special Education teachers and include at least 1 specially trained paraprofessional.


Deprivation – An ABA principle which states that the more deprived of a particular reinforcer, the more powerful that reinforcer will be. Think about how when you are on a diet suddenly cakes, brownies, and cookies seem MUCH more appetizing :-)

Developmentally Delayed-A child or infant may be given a diagnosis of DD when they are not progressing as they should be and aren’t meeting developmental milestones such as crawling, sitting up, using a pincer grasp, talking/babbling, etc. However, adolescents or adults sometimes receive this diagnosis far later in life than they should have received it.

Discrete Trial Training - A specific method of instruction in which a task is isolated and taught to an individual across multiple trials (repetition teaching). A specific opportunity to respond is presented, and a specific response from the learner is expected (Teacher: "Stand up". Learner: (stands up). Teacher: "Nice standing!").

Discriminative stimulus (SD) - This is the demand/question or directive given, to obtain a specific response. This is a technical term that basically means to make it clear that reinforcement is available if the correct response is given. Examples of SD's: "Touch red", and  "Clean your room".

DSM- The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used by a variety of professionals across the world to diagnoses or treat individuals. The DSM is basically a handy manual that catalogs all mental conditions, disorders, and syndromes and explains how to diagnose each one.

Echoic- This is a Verbal Behavior term. An echoic is being able to vocally imitate upon request.

Echolalia- "Echoing" or imitating what is heard, can be immediate or delayed. So if you ask your child "Want to go outside?" and they respond "Go outside?", that is echolalia. Many individuals with Autism (particularly early learners) exhibit echolalia, but engaging in echolalia does not automatically mean someone has Autism. 

Elopement- Elopement is wandering, or running away. This behavior can be very scary, especially for individuals who cannot communicate.

Expressive- Expressive means speaker behavior, and refers to tasks that require a vocal response such as singing or talking.

Extinction – The withholding of reinforcement for a previously reinforced behavior, resulting in reduction of that behavior.

Extinction burst - The increase in frequency and/or intensity of behavior in the early stages of extinction.

FBA- Functional Behavior Assessment. This is the process by which behavioral interventions are created. An FBA is intended to determine the function (or the reason) for a behavior, and then create an intervention based on that function. A Functional Analysis (FA) involves manipulating the environment to understand the behavior, while a Functional Behavior Assessment involves things like observation, interview, and collecting ABC data.

Fine Motor Skills - These are the activities that require the coordination and movement of the smaller muscles of the body, especially those of the hand. 

Floortime- Floortime is a treatment method that focuses on child-led, play focused activities using a naturalistic approach. Floortime is not a type of ABA due to not being an empirically supported method.

Generalization - Term used to describe the ability to learn a skill in one situation and be able to apply it flexibly to other similar but different situations. 

GFCF Diet-  GFCF stands for Gluten free and Casein free. Gluten is wheat, and Casein is dairy. GFCF diets are not empirically supported to be effective.

Gross Motor Skills - These are the activities we do using our larger muscle groups; like sitting, walking & jumping. 

High Functioning/Low Functioning- Individuals on the Spectrum are sometimes categorized according to their functioning level, or cognitive ability. A high functioning child may be fine academically, is verbal, but has social difficulties. A low functioning child may have significant deficits and difficulties across all areas including language, cognition, academics, adaptive, etc. Many people find the term "high or low functioning" to be offensive, due to the over-generalization of these labels. The DSM -V uses the categorizations of severity levels instead (how impacted is the individual by their diagnosis).

HOH Prompting- Hand over hand prompting is a physical prompt where you place your hands over the learner's hand to get them to comply with a motor demand or directive.

Hypersensitivity - Acute reaction to sensory input (i.e. overly sensitive). 

Hyposensitivity - Little or no reaction to sensory input (i.e. under-sensitive).

IEP- An Individual Education Plan is the individualized curriculum plan that children, adolescents, or adults (usually up to 22) have if they are in special education. An IEP is a legal document, and the IEP process should be taken very seriously and with much consideration for the learner's future. If the child is under 3 years old and receiving services they may have an IFSP, which is an Individual Family Services Plan.

Inclusive Classroom- An inclusive classroom is a classroom with both special needs and typical children learning together. Typically these are taught by General Education teachers, and there may or may not be paraprofessionals in the room.

Intervention- This is the plan of action or the strategy you will use to change a behavior. An example of an intervention is teaching a learner to use a card to request help instead of tantrumming.

Intraverbal- This is a Verbal Behavior term. Basically, intraverbals are building blocks to conversation skills as its the ability to discuss, describe, or answer a question about something that isn't physically present. Like if someone asks you "What did you do on your vacation last summer?"

Lead Therapist-This is the term I use on my blog to describe anyone who helps manage the ABA program, and supervises the ABA Therapists (direct staff) while also reporting to the Consultant. Lead Therapists are also sometimes called Supervising Therapists, Senior Therapists, or Case Managers.

Lovaas therapy- ABA is sometimes referred to as Lovaas therapy, after Dr. Ivar Lovaas who conducted groundbreaking studies on Autism & ABA in the 1950's which were critical to the development and explosion of this field.

Main Stream- To mainstream a learner means that they can be successfully placed in a typical classroom, as opposed to a special education classroom. It also means they can perform grade level work, and have play, adaptive, motor, and cognitive abilities comparable to typically developing peers....to put it another way, they can be successful across multiple environments that are not the most restricted environments. Main streaming is sometimes the long term goal for a child who is placed in special education.

Mand- This is a Verbal Behavior term. A mand is basically a "demand". This is being able to request something that one wants or needs.

Mental Retardation (MR) - A mental disorder characterized by significantly under-average general intellectual functioning associated with impairments in adaptive behavior. It is classified on the basis of severity as mild, moderate, severe, and profound. In different states, this may have different names (cognitive impairments, intellectual impairments, etc).

Mouthing- This refers to when inappropriately placing items/toys, etc. in the mouth. Depending on the individual, licking items could also be considered mouthing.

NET- Natural Environment Training is a type of ABA where learning occurs incidentally and often playfully in natural environments, such as at the bust stop, in the tub, or during dinner.

Normal vs Typical- Many people use the word "normal" when distinguishing between individuals with Autism, and individuals who do not have Autism. I don’t like to use the word "normal", and  use "typical/typically developing" instead.

NT- This stands for Neuro-Typical, and is a term used by some individuals with Autism to describe people who do not have Autism. It basically refers to someone who does not have neurological difficulties or differences.

"Parents" vs "Professionals"- I use these terms on my blog to distinguish between the two primary readers of my blog. "Professional" includes anyone who works with individuals with Autism, such as ABA Therapists, OT's, SLP's, or teachers. "Parent" includes anyone who cares for an individual with Autism, such as biological parents, adoptive parents, family members, foster parents, etc. These are all-inclusive terms, and not intended to exclude anyone.

PDD- Pervasive Developmental Disorder was a form of Autism. Despite popular opinion, PDD is not a way for doctors to "avoid giving a diagnosis of Autism”. Basically, a diagnosis of PDD is a doctors way of telling you "Your child is on the spectrum somewhere, but they aren't fitting neatly into any one box". PDD is no longer a separate diagnosis in the most recent DSM.

Perseverative Behavior - Displaying excessively repetitive and stereotypical behaviors, such as asking for a pretzel 18 times in 5 minutes or repeating a line from a commercial over and over again. Many people think this word is synonymous with "stimming" (see below), but its not because perseverative behavior may or may not be automatically maintained.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): PECS is a communication system for functionally non-verbal individuals. The approach is designed to help individuals  with autism learn to initiate requests and communicate their needs.

Prompt - A form of assistance or cue given to help the learner compete a task and to increase accurate responding. There are several types of prompts: physical prompt, gestural prompt, position prompt, model prompt, verbal prompt, symbolic prompt, and visual prompt, and many more.

Prompt Dependent- Prompt dependency is when an individual has become reliant on being assisted with a task, and stops attempting to do the task independently. Or it could be a learner who has been prompted to do a task a certain way so many times, that it is very difficult for them to change the way they complete the task.

Punisher- Punishers can be tangible, social, physical, etc. In behavior analytic terms, to be considered a punisher the target behavior must decrease.

Receptive- Receptive is listener behavior, and refers to tasks that require a nonvocal action or motor response such as touch, give, or point.

Recovered - The word "recovered" is often used instead of words like "cured" or "fixed". An individual who is recovered has overcome the disabling effects of their Autism diagnosis, and is able to be successful across a variety of settings (work, school, relationships, etc).

Reinforcer- A reinforcer is something used to motivate a learner to complete a task, or engage in a behavior. Reinforcement can be tangible (toy), social (praise), physical (hugs, kisses), etc. In behavior analytic terms, to be considered a reinforcer the likelihood of future occurrence of the target behavior must increase. Remember that bribery (which isn't effective) is given before the behavior, reinforcement is after the behavior.

Satiation - When a reinforcer loses it’s effectiveness due to overuse.

Scripting- This is when a learner engages in a verbal stim where they repeat, or "script", phrases or entire sections of a TV show, movie, commercial, etc. Can also be called “self-talk”.

Scrolling- This is when a learner responds to a demand by either receptively or expressively linking several responses together. For example, if shown a photo of a firefighter and asked "Who is this?" the learner responds by saying "Doctor/Teacher/Firefighter".

Self injurious behavior (SIB) - Self-injurious behaviors are actions that an individual performs that result in physical injury to the  body. Typical forms of self-injurious
behavior include: hitting oneself with hands or other body parts, head-banging, biting
oneself, picking at skin or sores, or frantically scratching or rubbing oneself repeatedly to the point of bruising or other harm. 

Stereotypic/Repetitive behaviors – Often referred to as “Stimming” or "Stims". These are self-initiated, repetitive movements (e.g. rocking, vocalizations, flapping, spinning, finger-flicking, and/or unusual manipulation of inanimate objects) that can be vocal or motor. For some individuals with Autism these behaviors can occur at very high frequencies, sometimes 100+ times per day. Individuals with Autism may engage in these behaviors for automatic reinforcement purposes, but that isn't always the case (function can vary).


Sensory Integration- Sensory integration refers to different strategies or techniques used to meet, raise, or lower internal sensory needs such as weighted vests, sensory diets, or brushing procedures. Often an OT will recommend sensory integration via a sensory diet.  Sensory integration is not empirically supported, and should not be considered to be ABA.

Shadow- Also called a School Facilitator; a Shadow is someone who goes into the classroom with a child and helps that child integrate fully into the classroom environment.

SLP/OT/PT- Speech therapist (also referred to as ST), Occupational Therapist, & Physical Therapist. These are professionals who often work with individuals with Autism to provide therapy services related to speech, movement, developmental goals, coordination, and functional communication. It isn't uncommon for these professionals (including ABA professionals) to overlap in the services they provide, such as teaching motor skills or visual performance skills. Ideally, the "alphabet soup" team (BCBA/SLP/OT) will work together collaboratively to benefit the client.

Tact- This is a Verbal Behavior term. A tact is being able to label or describe an item with stimuli being present. For example, a learner can tact if they can label the color of a ball if the ball is present.

Target Behavior- This is the behavior of interest you are trying to increase, or decrease. You may have multiple target behaviors you are working on or just one.

Task reduction – Reducing the demands put upon the individual in an effort to avoid or decrease frustration levels.

Transitions - May refer to changes from one activity or setting to another such as from an early childhood program to school or from a preferred play activity to a work activity. Transitions are typically very difficult for individuals with ASD, particularly unplanned or surprise transitions.

VB- VB stands for Verbal Behavior. Verbal Behavior is a type of ABA based on the works of B.F. Skinner that focuses on understanding and teaching language as a behavior.

VB-MAPP Assessment- An assessment and curriculum tool created by Dr. Sundberg. This tool focuses on verbal assessment to get a complete snapshot of verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits. Domains include manding, intraverbals, echoics, etc.

Verbal vs Non Verbal- When people use these terms they typically mean if a learner can talk or not. Babbling/sounds are not usually considered "verbal", but words are. The behavior analytic term is "non vocal", not non verbal.

VI- Variable interval is a way of describing a schedule of reinforcement. If the child has a VI of 2-3 minutes, that means that between every 2 and 3 minutes the child contacts reinforcement.


VR- Variable ratio is a way of describing a schedule of reinforcement. If the child has a VR of 4-6, that means that between every 4th and 6th response the child contacts reinforcement.