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What is ABA Therapy?


Behavior Analysis is the scientific study of behavior. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science dedicated to the understanding and improvement of human behavior based on the learning theory and research by Watson, Pavlov, Thorndike, and Skinner. The core principle of applied behavior analysis is that desirable consequences increase behavior and undesired consequences decrease behavior. Using well-defined procedures based on the principles of behavior and learning, systematic changes in socially significant behaviors can be successfully increased or decreased.

Thousands of published research studies have shown ABA to be effective across a wide variety of:

  • Behaviors-language and communication, play skills, social skills, academic concepts, restrictive and repetitive behaviors  
  • Populationschildren and adults with and without developmental disabilities, learning disorders, mental illness, academic challenges, attention deficits, and more
  • Settings-home, schools, center-based, community, small group, one-on-one

The seven defining characteristics of ABA include:

  • Applied-behaviors under investigation must be socially significant
  • Behavioral- behavior chosen to change must be in need of improvement, measurable, and observable
  • Analytic-a functional relationship between the manipulated events and behavior changed must occur
  • Technologicalthe procedures used to change behavior are completely defined and can be replicated
  • Conceptually Systematic-describing the procedures used to change behavior in terms of the relevant principles from which they are derived
  • Effectivethe behavior change must occur to a practical and socially significant degree
  • Generality-behavior change must last over time, across people, settings, and stimuli

  ABA methods are used to support persons with autism and other disabilities in at least six ways:

  • to increase behaviors (reinforcement procedures increase on-task behavior, or social interactions);
  • to teach new skills (systematic
    instruction and reinforcement
    procedures teach functional life skills, communication skills, or social skills);
  • to maintain behaviors (teaching self-control and self-monitoring procedures to maintain and generalize job-related social skills);
  • to generalize or to transfer behavior from one situation or response to
    another (from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom);
  • to restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviors occur (modifying the learning environment); and
  • to reduce interfering behaviors (self-injury or stereotypy).


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