What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy)?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific discipline employing objective data to drive decision-making about an individual’s program. That is, data are collected on an individual’s responses to determine if progress is being made and what step(s) to employ next to ensure effective treatment. If no progress is made under a particular program/intervention, the programming is reevaluated and modifications are made to ensure the individual continues to progress.

As a discipline, ABA providers modify the most, socially significant behaviors impeding the individual’s daily life first. Socially significant behaviors generally include communication, social skills, academics, reading, writing, adaptive living skills such as gross and fine motor skills, life skills, such as toileting, dressing, eating, personal self-care, domestic skills, and work-related skills.

Research suggests that early intensive behavioral intervention results in the most effective, long-term gains for an individual. For instance, children diagnosed with autism should receive, at a minimum, 25 hours per week of intensive behavioral intervention. The duration of treatment is determined based on data collected by the therapist; as such, the duration varies from individual to individual. The original Lovaas studies showed that approximately half the children were able to achieve typical development with, on average, 40 hours per week over at least 2 years. The exact number of hours and sessions of therapy will be adjusted over the course of the assessment/treatment process.

Parents play a fundamental role in helping their child achieve the highest level of independence. Studies show that children whose parents are actively engaged in the process make measurable behavioral improvements. First, no one knows the child better than the parent; each parent offers unique insight into the causal agents of a child’s behavior, as well as the effective components of the treatment.

Second, parents are able to extend the treatment recommendations, which increases the likelihood of the child generalizing taught skills across people and places, and maintaining those skills over time. Finally, parents are in a position to take data on problem behavior occurring in the home and community setting outside of sessions with the therapist. This information is vital in developing a functional hypothesis related to the purpose/reason for a behavior occurring.