What is ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior. (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991)


ABA is an evidence-based treatment method, which has been proven especially effective in teaching individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. ABA is based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. Behavior-environment interactions are analyzed to determine why individuals engage in certain behaviors and how best to teach them new behaviors. This includes decreasing inappropriate behaviors, such as tantrums and aggression, and increasing appropriate behaviors, such as communication, socialization, and instruction following. ABA programs are data-driven and individualized. ABA is used to increase independence and teach socially important behaviors. Data is taken on all goals so that progress can be monitored and changes to the teaching strategies can be made if needed. ABA uses a number of techniques, including:

In discrete trial teaching (DTT), specific instructions or cues are given, a specific response is taught, and that response is then rewarded. One trial consists of the discriminative stimuli (the instruction), the response, and the reinforcement (the reward). For example, an instruction might be given, “Touch your head.” The child would then touch his/her head, either independently or with assistance from the therapist, and the therapist would then deliver the reinforcement. The same skill will be practiced at random times during the session until the child has met pre-determined mastery criteria.  ABA programs, such as the programs implemented by ABC, continue to change based on new research. To avoid rote responding, we place an increased emphasis on generalization of skills and emergence of spontaneous skills.

In natural environment teaching (NET), skills are taught in a natural setting. Often, this involves setting up sessions to revolve around the child’s interests. Using natural cues and situations, the therapist teaches goals as they are relevant. For example, the client may be a young child who enjoys the park. The therapist would plan a trip to the park with the child and would use this opportunity to practice relevant skills, such as requesting a trip to the park, putting on shoes, following instructions, initiating conversations with peers, answering questions, and taking turns playing games.

Verbal Behavior is a theory developed by B.F. Skinner that states that language is essentially a behavior that functions like all other behaviors. Language is thus learned based on the purpose it serves. We focus on teaching language according to these different purposes (aka, the “functions”). We teach different domains of language, including requesting (“mands”), labeling (“tacts”), listening (“receptive”), repeating sounds/words (“echoics”), and conversational skills (“intraverbals”). We use the principles of ABA to teach these different domains (such as through the use of prompting and reinforcement).

While we provide programs with a heavy emphasis on communication skills, we also target skills across other domains (such as social skills, self-help skills, and challenging behaviors). Most of our in-home programs include a combination of DTT and NET, though the exact proportion of each teaching method used depends on the specific needs of the child.