Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is a type of therapy that concentrates on learning and behavior; in ABA therapy, clinicians work on understanding and improving specific behaviors. Some of the things that might be worked on in ABA therapy include communication, social skills, cleanliness, punctuality, and functional alternatives to problem behaviors. It can be used to help individuals perform better in real life situations, like work or school. ABA can be a useful tool for individuals with many conditions, including:

In ABA, the goal is to improve behaviors and interactions using a system of analysis, reinforcement, and reward. A descriptive assessment is often used to determine a pattern of behaviors, which includes observing the “ABCs” of a particular behavior:  

  • Antecedent: the cause or the trigger of a particular behavior. For example, being asked to complete a task by a teacher. 
  • Behavior: the specific inappropriate behavior to be worked on. For example, yelling at the teacher after being asked to complete a task.
  • Consequence: the event that occurs may reinforce or reward the inappropriate behavior. For example, being asked by the teacher to take space after yelling.

In the above examples, if the individual is seen repeating this pattern of behavior, it may be determined that the individual has learned to avoid specific tasks given by the teacher when allowed to escape each time that task is given. This helps the therapist develop an individualized plan that targets this specific pattern of behavior.

You will work with a certified therapist, such as a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA), to determine what behaviors need to be changed, what behaviors are helpful, and the right approach for achieving your therapeutic goals. Your therapist will first observe you or your child to figure out what behaviors may need modification and how these behaviors affect your life. The therapist will work with you to determine your goals for yourself/your child; goals are often based off of the client's abilities and age. Treatment goals may revolve around different areas of skills, such as social skills, verbal or communication skills, motor skills, learning skills, and more.

Then, you and your therapist will develop a plan, called a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), to determine how to change the negative behaviors or how to improve the acquisition of a specific skill, and what rewards or consequences might work best in each case. Every BIP is carefully tailored to a person's unique needs.

The rewards for desirable behavior are specifically designed to appeal to each person, and may include tokens, praise, or other highly preferred items or activities. A BIP may include these rewards if they increase the likelihood of a desirable behavior, or positive reinforcement. These artificial reinforcers are usually faded out over time, with the goal of having more natural occurring reinforcers take its place. The removal of desired items or activities when problematic behaviors occur may also be used to help encourage behavior change.

The therapist will collect data at each treatment session to determine the effectiveness of the plan. You and your therapist will regularly review the BIP to note progress and any additional behavior modification that may be necessary throughout the course of treatment.