What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy) is an approach to understanding and changing behavior. It’s not a specific therapy itself, but a range of therapeutic interventions where different strategies and techniques are used to teach autistic people new skills and reduce their difficult behavior. The programs can be used for autistic children and children with other developmental disabilities. There are mainly 7 principles of ABA that have been designed to give children and their families / caregivers the tools they need to make socially significant changes to behavior and improve overall quality of life. – 1) Generality, 2) Effective, 3) Technological, 4) Applied, 5) Conceptually Systematic, 6) Analytic, 7) Behavioral. 

How does ABA work with Autism?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a discipline concerned with the application of behavioral science in real-world settings such as clinics, schools, and industry with the aim of improving socially important issues such as behavior problems and learning (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968). ABA-based procedures can be broadly categorized as ‘comprehensive’ or ‘focused’ based on the goals of the treatment for an individual.  

Comprehensive Interventions 

Comprehensive ABA interventions are aimed at producing changes in specific skills that impact global measures of functioning including IQ, adaptive skills, and social functioning in children with autism. The treatment is a time consuming process and is usually conducted at the child’s home or school. It targets skills like attention, discrimination, language/communication, socialization, as well as more advanced educational skills (e.g., reading, math) and involve the  use of clear instructions, positive or negative reinforcement, teaching small units of behavior, and repetition to maximize learning opportunities. When utilized with younger children, these interventions are often referred to as ’Early Intensive Behavioral Interventions’ (EIBI). 

Focused Interventions 

Focused ABA interventions are generally more time-limited in nature because they are designed to address problem behaviors including aggression, self-injury, disruptive behavior, pica, and other challenging behaviors. The treatment involves first conducting a functional behavioral assessment to identify the cause of the behavior and then guiding the development of an individualized treatment(s) based on resolving the underlying issues. 

Components of Applied Behavior Analysis 

There are five main components of ABA behavior sessions:

  • Task analysis – Complex activities are broken down into a series of small steps and taught until the child can complete the task without assistance. Positive reinforcement is used to increase the likelihood that your child will continue to use these new skills in the future. Reinforcers should be individualized to the specific child.
  • Chaining – A series of activities are outlined by the therapist. The goal is always to teach the child to complete the entire chain as independently as possible.
  • Prompting – ABA therapists may use errorless teaching with different types of prompts to help teach your child new skills. Mistakes are few and far between because children are given (verbal, visual or physical gestural) cues. 
  • Fading – When the child starts mastering a skill with the help of prompts, the prompts must be removed gradually as he or she moves toward .  
  • Shaping – Shaping reinforces attempts to complete a skill until the child can perform the action or skill independently. 

Techniques of ABA

Based on the specific needs of the child, various techniques from ABA are employed by the therapist. 


The therapist takes what the child has learned in one setting and applies it to other settings to help them complete those tasks successfully.

Behavior Contracts 

Behavior contracts are brief, three-part plans negotiated between the child and the ABA therapist. The contract starts by listing the positive behavior that the therapist wants to see. The contract then outlines what the applied behavior analyst will do once the behavior is done. Behavior contracts finish by setting long-term rewards. Putting behavioral expectations in writing in a contract and with enticing rewards can help motivate children.

Video Modeling 

This ABA technique lets children learn appropriate behaviors by watching others. Video modeling shows the child how to behave and complete an activity. It’s designed to improve social, communication, and play skills. Children with autism are particularly good at imitating people’s behaviors.