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    Applied Behavior Analysis. What’s that?


    Baby ExpressionsApplied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an important part of improving behaviors and abilities in individuals with autism.
    Many governments and insurance companies are finally recognizing the benefits it has for those on the spectrum. The general public though still seems to get confused as to what ABA really does for people who need social and behavioral assistance. And I think for many of us surrounded by it every day, we would all appreciate letting folks know what ABA isn’t and what it doesn’t do. To clear the air I thought I would help everyone one out and highlight a few pointers about ABA that may help both sides.

    ABA: What it is

    • Applied behavior analysis (ABA): Application of scientific principles of behavior (e.g., positive reinforcement) to improve socially significant behavior to a meaningful degree.
    • Much of the original work was done by B.F. Skinner (1938).
    • ABA has many applications in addition to autism.
    • Effective for building skills and reducing problematic behaviors in people with and without disabilities.
    • Focused on increasing maintenance, generalization, & independence.
    • Highly individualized, contextual, flexible.
    • Supportive of teaching both simple and complex skills.
    • A research-based, or evidence-based, philosophy.
    • Representative of a clear and efficient way to describe, observe, & measure behavior.
    • Uses very specific information about behaviors to choose interventions to improve socially significant behaviors.
    • Based on applied & functional goals.
    • Understanding of a personalized approach to addressing strengths & weaknesses of individuals.
    • A philosophy that reinforces 24/7 opportunities for teaching.
    • A set of tools, the specific combination of which is determined based upon individual needs.

    ABA: What it is not

    • A “fad” or quick “fix” treatment.
    • A “cookie cutter” technique.
    • A method that can be learned simply by reading some books, watching some tapes, taking some courses, or attending some workshops.
    • The exclusive discovery or property of any individual or program.
    • Just for “bad” behavior, or people with severe disabilities.
    • An intervention that turns children into “robots”.
    • Just for teaching simple, repetition skills
    • A specific method for treating autism or other developmental disorders
    • Increases dependence on others.
    • Invalidated due to the focus on one child at a time (single case study).
    • Only used for behavior reduction.
    • Just simple stimulus-response training.
    • ABA-based treatments are NOT effective if used for only a few minutes a day.

    Adapted from Green, G. (2002) & the Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center

    You can always learn more ABA from the Cornerstone Autism Centers in Lafayette and Greenwood, and from the Cornerstone Autism Foundation.

    If you’ve heard any bogus facts about ABA or would like to share more about ABA, please leave your comments below.


    Jarrad Shaw is a recent graduate from Purdue University. He is the Cornerstone Autism Center’s & Autism Foundation’s content, social media, & development intern. You may contact him by e-mail at: