What is ABA Therapy?

Child in a ABA Therapy

Current estimates from the CDC state that 1 in 36 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Males are four times more likely than females to have this illness diagnosed. However, it is equally prevalent in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic categories in the United States.

Communication (both non-verbal and spoken language) is frequently difficult for autistic children. Additionally, they could struggle with socially important tasks, including concentration, resting, interacting with others, and controlling their actions.

The way people with autism interact with others is being improved through various therapy techniques. However, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the only scientifically proven method of therapy for autism. Many academic, medical, governmental, and private institutions recommend ABA therapy, which is the result of decades of research.

But what is ABA therapy, and why is its application receiving such strong support? What advantages does it offer people with autism?

A Brief History of ABA Therapy

The cornerstone of applied behavior analysis is positive reinforcement. It draws inspiration from the research of eminent psychologist B.F. Skinner. ABA is based on his theories of operant conditioning and the success of ABA today is a result of his decades of study and research into human behavior.

A person learns a new behavior that takes the place of an earlier, undesired behavior through positive reinforcement. When you think about it, positive reinforcement is something we have all experienced, and it has had an impact on our behavior. Desirable behavior is increased by receiving positive reinforcement in the form of attention, material reward, or a sensory experience.

In daily life, positive reinforcement is seen in several forms. Are you paid well and regularly? That encourages you to continue performing your work to a satisfactory level. Do you reward your kids for completing chores? You are using positive reinforcement. Much of life operates on this action-reward principle.

ABA aids people with autism in modifying their behavior to achieve healthier outcomes, and positive reinforcement can help them learn new abilities, socialize, and communicate.

Adults, adolescents, and children can all benefit from ABA therapy. It is employed in a variety of fields, including marketing, human resources, and economics.

ABA Building Blocks

In ABA therapy, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) work with autistic individuals and their caretakers. To help the clients function as independently as possible, they identify areas of need. Their main goal is to create a customized plan to impart socially meaningful habits.

How do BCBAs know how to teach those crucial social habits correctly? The ABCs — Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequences — come into play here. ABCs explain WHY an action occurs.

  • A (Antecedent)—an event that causes a behavior to occur. It could be internal or external, like a loud noise or even an uncomfortable thought. Additionally, it could be expressed verbally (an order or a question) or physically (such as expressing pain).
  • B (Behavior )—the response (or lack of response) to the antecedent is the person’s behavior.
  • C (Consequence)—the behavior results in a consequence, such as the cessation of the loud noise or some other form of positive reinforcement.

Every parent and caregiver benefits from knowing these ABCs. It explains the reasons behind the behavior and offers suggestions for alternate solutions to the root issue. Parents and caregivers collaborate with the BCBA to provide positive reinforcement for appropriate conduct rather than rewarding undesirable behavior.

This method is used by ABA to help modify behavior. BCBAs and ABA therapists teach people with autism new ways to express their needs or wants. Ultimately, a collaborative process with the whole family helps an ABA therapy program succeed.

Techniques for Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy

Now that you know how ABA is employed, let’s look at specific tactics for promoting desired behavior. The usage of one or more of the following tactics will depend on your child’s needs.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

During randomized discrete trial training, an ABA therapist works one-on-one with clients in a controlled setting. During an early intervention, discrete trial training is utilized to teach core skills or abilities that a child would ordinarily pick up from exposure to their surroundings. Smaller components of a greater skill are separated. When a child appropriately answers a prompt during the teaching of those components, they are given positive reinforcement. DTT can be used, for instance, to teach numbers or the alphabet. A person will be shown a picture of a letter by an ABA therapist, asked to utter the proper letter, and then given positive reinforcement.

In this manner, the person “generalizes” or learns the goal skill in a real-world setting.

Picture Exchange Communications System (PECS)

PECS is a form of augmentative communication or a means to communicate without using words. Vocal language can be enhanced or supplemented with PECS. While vocal language is developing, it can also be used to support language learning.

When using PECS, the instructor uses a camera to capture images of significant objects in the student’s environment. They are then instructed to hand the object to the instructor so they can access that item. With the help of PECS, a person can learn new words, things, phrases, and even modifiers (like the word “red” in “red car”).

Strengthening Systems

The ABCs are used in reinforcement systems to teach manageable behavior to people with autism. The person learns new behavior by receiving reinforcement after engaging in the desired action. A reward is received when the proper behavior is displayed.

People occasionally get rewards that act as reinforcement. It’s known as a token economy, a basic reward system often used in school with kids and teens of all grade levels to ensure learning goals are met. ABA therapists pair concrete positive reinforcement with an arbitrary object called a token. These tokens perform comparable functions to money. The client works for tokens, which they can then trade in for things like activities, treats, or exclusive items.

Natural Environmental Teaching (NET)

This method encourages the child diagnosed with autism to improve academically in their desired environment. The ABA therapist enhances the child’s environment during NET with objects that encourage communication and imitation abilities. Individuals are given access to the enriched environment as part of this client-led technique, and the ABA therapist offers opportunities for the individual to replicate motor and communication skills when they access an item.

For instance, if a person begins to play with blocks, an ABA therapist might demonstrate how to stack the blocks. They might ask the person to say “block” or ask them to simulate stacking blocks. They could present chances for the person to finish sentences or melodies. As an illustration, the ABA Therapist might repeat “1, 2,” then ask the client to say “3” before crashing the blocks to the ground. To get the therapist to knock the blocks over, the client will shout, “3!”


Shaping emphasizes teaching little actions that build to a bigger objective. The client achieves bigger objectives by being encouraged at every step.

Any type of language learning involves shaping, especially for younger learners. Using shaping, parents can train their children to move on from baby talk to words to sentences that become grammatically correct as time goes on. The client learns how to utter the term by focusing on vocalizations that approximate it and strengthening those approximations.

For instance, the therapist might instruct the client to say “mama” by repeatedly complimenting the client on their initial proper pronunciation of the sound “mmm.” Once the client can speak “ma,” the therapist will encourage them to add the “aaa” sound. This continues until the client can say “mom” clearly.

ABA Centers of New Jersey Is Here to Help
Autism is a complicated disorder that differs from person to person. The therapy strategy for a person may benefit from some or all of these tactics. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy in helping people with autism.

Get in touch with us if you have any questions and schedule a free consultation with our specialists. We are here to help those diagnosed with autism and their families reach a brighter tomorrow.

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