What Is ABA?

Photo source: www.littleleaves.org

If you are not currently working as an ABA Therapist or the parent of a child who receives ABA Therapy you might be wondering :

"What is ABA??"

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science of changing socially significant behavior. 
ABA has its origins in the scientific work of B.F. Skinner. In its early days, ABA research was about studying how individuals and animals respond under certain conditions (Operant Conditioning), and had nothing to do with Autism, therapy, or special needs. It was simply a science of understanding how behaviors are established, and how they can be changed.

 It wasn't until a study by Ivar Lovaas (published in 1987) with a group of Autistic children that what we now think of as "ABA Therapy/treatment" began to take shape. 
Up until that time in history, Autism was considered to be a mysterious and utterly hopeless condition and parents were advised to institutionalize their Autistic child as soon as possible and just move on with their life. 

Replication studies since 1987 have repeated Lovass’ results over and over again. Also, advancements in technology and further scientific discoveries have fine-tuned ABA into a highly sophisticated tool for effective and long- lasting behavior change. 
As times changed and years passed, certain ABA techniques and strategies were improved upon and others were replaced completely/are now considered unethical or "ableist" treatment.

     In the mid -1990’s, a book written by a parent of a child with Autism (“Let Me Hear Your Voice”, by Catherine Maurice) pushed this substantial body of scientific knowledge out into the world, and quickly this “new ABA therapy” began to be sought out by parents of special needs children all over the world. Obviously the book was just one family's account of their personal story, but the book was a catalyst for people to even start asking "whats ABA???" outside of just scientific circles.

     Explosion in public demand led to new funding sources, new populations to serve, and the profession of Behavior Analysis (the BACB) was born in order to properly train and equip individuals to be practitioners of the science of ABA.

    Today, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted as a highly effective treatment for behavior change. 

     You have likely heard ABA & ABA Therapy used interchangeably, but from reading this post you now know that ABA is a scientific study of behavior. 

Now let's talk about ABA Therapy:

 ABA Therapy is an umbrella term that covers many styles of teaching/treatment, such as Verbal Behavior (VB), Natural Environment Teaching (NET),  and Discrete Trial Training (DTT). ABA professionals mainly work in the areas of behavior reduction or skill acquisition.

 ABA Therapy incorporates behavioral techniques such as reinforcement, prompting, consistent consequences, and extinction. Strengths are generalized and expanded upon, and deficits are replaced with skills in order to help the individual be more successful in their environment. Behavior reduction and skill acquisition are closely connected when it comes to ABA Therapy; typically being simultaneously targeted.

 ABA Therapy has decades of rigorous research to support its efficacy, and people all over the world use intensive ABA principles in order to teach new behaviors to children, adolescents, and adults.

Being a behavioral therapeutic method, ABA Therapy focuses on what is observable and measurable. Precise and frequent data collection drives the course of treatment.
 ABA Therapy can take place in the home setting, school setting, community setting(s), or at a center/clinic. ABA Therapy is usually provided by ABA therapists, and the therapists should be supervised by a Consultant (usually a Board Certified Behavior Analyst).

ABA Therapy focuses on understanding behavior by its function, combined with examining the environment in order to develop a comprehensive strategy for behavior reduction.

Examples of ABA Therapy goals include:

Increase attending behaviors
Improve fine motor skills
Extinguish self-injurious behaviors (SIB's) that cause harm
Reduce tantrumming behavior
Increase interaction with siblings
Generalize skills across environments
Successful homework completion
Increasing compliance to adult directives
Provide parent education in the area of behavior management 
Intensive, comprehensive treatment (often appropriate for early intervention learners presenting with broad skill deficits and intensive problem behavior)
Brief, focused treatment (often appropriate for advanced learners presenting with a few areas of skill deficit, or moderate problem behavior)

If you would like more information about ABA or ABA Therapy, please see any of the links below:


 The Cooper book  (often called the "White Book")  is a more technical guide that I recommend for professionals. The terms and language are advanced, and may be hard for a non-professional to understand.
Applied Behavior Analysis by Cooper, Heron, & Heward

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