What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) uses the scientific principles of learning and motivation in order to teach effectively. It focuses on theaba therapy idea that the consequences of what we do affect what we learn and what we will do in the future. ABA seeks to improve specific behaviors while demonstrating a reliable relationship between the procedures used as well as the change in that specific behavior. ABA uses positive reinforcement to increase more positive behaviors and social interactions and decrease inappropriate behaviors. Below are a list of some possible ABA teaching methods that may be used when receiving ABA therapy:


  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
    • DTT teaches a skill by breaking it up into simplified, isolated tasks/steps. By breaking down tasks into short trials and using prompts, DTT uses the overall success rate of learning. DTT utilizes clear beginnings and ends to each trial with specific instructions and prompts. The trials are short, permitting several teaching trials and a number of learning opportunities to occur. In addition, using one-to-one teaching allows for individualized programming.
  • Verbal Behavior (VB)
    • VB training uses a structured and one-on-one type of teaching format. This training works to teach language to children by creating and developing connections between a word and its meaning. The following are a list of VB terms that are typically implemented:
      • Echoics occur when a speaker says something aloud and the listener repeats exactly what was said. For example, the therapist says, “Ball pit” and the child will repeat the same phrase, “Ball pit”.
      • Mands can be thought of as commands or demands, in which a person is commanding or demanding something. A mand typically results in the speaker obtaining the item that was spoken. For example, a child asking for a drink of water when he/she is thirsty and then receiving the drink.
      • Tacts can be thought of as labeling an object. When a child sees a dog and then verbally says the word “Dog”, he/she is emitting a tact.
      • Intraverbals are similar to a conversation:  A question is first asked and then an answer is provided.  For example, a therapist asks, “How are you?” and the child responds, “Good!”. Intraverbals can also involve filling in the blank. For example, the therapist says, “Twinkle twinkle little _____” and the child responds with “Star”.
  • Natural Environment Training (NET)
    • NET focuses on practicing and teaching skills within the situations that they would naturally happen. In these situations, the therapist uses naturally occurring opportunities to help children learn.  The therapist might provide a coloring page but withhold the crayons until the child requests them, giving the child an empty cup and waiting for him/her to request juice, or playing a board game but withholding the dice or spinner until the child requests it are all examples of using NET.
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
    • PRT uses the natural environment for teaching opportunities and consequences. PRT focuses on increasing motivation by adding items like having the child make choices/selections, taking turns and providing reinforcement for attempts made.
  • Self-Management Training
    • Self-management training is used to help individuals increase their independence and generalization of skills without always requiring the help from a teacher or parent. This technique results in an individual being able to monitor their own behavior. The individual is taught to self-evaluate their behaviors, keep track and monitor their behaviors, and provide their own type of reinforcement.
  • Video Modeling
    • Video modeling uses repeated presentations of target behaviors so that there is not a lot of change between modeling the target behavior. Video modeling can assist individuals with working social skills, learning self-help/hygiene tasks, and understanding emotions, etc..

ABA therapy is implemented to ensure that each individual’s programs are tailored to that individual’s unique needs. Therapists will often use different assessments (i.e. functional assessment interviews, direct observations, ABLLS, VB-MAPP, etc.) to develop an ABA program that is the ideal match and addresses the individual’s specific needs.