What is ABA?

What is ABA?


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 44 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For comparison, in 2012, the CDC stated that 1 in 69 children had been diagnosed with an ASD. The increase in this prevalence has led to more families searching for services to help with various needs for their children. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been documented to be one of the most effective ways to treat challenging behaviors or skill deficits of children diagnosed with an ASD. Although ABA has this reputation, most families are unaware of what ABA is. Common questions may be:

“What is ABA?”

“How can ABA help my child?”

“What does ABA even look like?”

In this blog post, the goal will be to provide the reader with information to provide a clearer picture of what ABA is and how it can be effective in helping children with an ASD.

As stated before, ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. It is a science that aims to understand human behavior and determine ways to teach socially significant behaviors. This approach to promoting beneficial changes in behavior is done through the use of positive reinforcement, extinction, prompting, and other behavior analytic techniques. ABA’s foundation for determining its effectiveness in behavior change is through data collection and generalization of taught behaviors. Understandably, this is a lot of technical terminology. To sum it up, ABA targets behaviors for socially significant change. The intention is that with the change in behavior, the quality of life for the individual receiving the services are improved.

For example, a 3 year old boy with an autism spectrum disorder engages in throwingtoys repeatedly in the air. The boy is unable to appropriately play with toys andwhen his 4 year old brother makes attempts to play, the boy is unable to engage insustained play and resorts to throwing toys in the air. The behavior is interferingwith the boy’s ability to engage in social interactions with others and learning toplay with other items. ABA services in this scenario would focus on teaching the boyhow to appropriately play with items. This would be taught through systematicallyteaching functional play using prompting and positive reinforcement. This may looklike modeling functional play and systematically fading prompting. Positivereinforcement in the form of verbal praise or silly play would be provided aftersuccessful play is demonstrated. Visual timers would be used to indicate to the boyhow much longer the play is supposed to last. The time expected for functional playwould increase as the boy became more successful. If the behavior of throwingitems in the air occurs, a behavior intervention plan would be implemented to eitherredirect the behavior back to appropriate play or providing the boy with anopportunity to take a break and engage in the behavior.

After repeated sessions with this treatment plan, the ideal situation is that thefrequency of the boy’s throwing behaviors decreases and the boy’s ability toincrease their time functionally playing with items increases. If these results areobtained, the boy would have an increased chance for playing with itemsappropriately and would now have access to more sustained play with his brotherand other peers. This is just one example of how an ABA program can be designedto decrease a challenging behavior and increase desired behaviors. We hope youreturn for further ABA Blog posts. Future posts will begin to provide furtherinformation about how DV approaches ABA both in philosophy and practice.


Daniel Rivera, M.S., BCBA