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  • Writer's pictureTashya De Silva

The Basics: Applied Behavioural Analysis

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Applied Behavioural Analysis is a therapy based on the science of learning and behaviour. It is commonly used as an intervention for Autism, though it can be effective in improving behaviours across varying ages and diagnoses. Behaviours worked on in therapy are chosen for intervention based on their social significance. For example, aggression is often seen as a socially significant behaviour, because if a child is aggressive to his peers at school it will impact his peer relationships and affect his quality of life.

When working with an ABA Therapist, you can expect the following:

  1. Identification of which behaviours require change

  2. Setting of goals and expected outcomes

  3. Establish mechanisms to measure change and improvements

  4. Establish baseline (where the client is currently)

  5. Learn new skills and/or minimise/avoid negative behaviours

  6. Regular review of progress

*The duration will vary depending on the severity of problem and individual rate of improvement.

Some of the common outcomes include:

  • Increase language and communication skills

  • Improve social interactions

  • Improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics 

  • Decrease problem behaviours

  • Maintain positive behaviours

Below is a list of common techniques used by professional ABA Therapists:

  • Positive Reinforcement; Providing a reinforcing stimuli (Reward) when they performed a desired action so behaviour is more likely to occur in the future.

  • Negative Reinforcement: Removing of an aversive stimuli when the desired behaviour is performed so the behaviour is more likely to occur in the future.

  • Prompting and Fading: Prompts are used to increase the likelihood that a child will provide a desired response. Fading is gradually reducing the prompt. (e.g. Putting your hand up for a 'High Five' , if it doesn't work you say 'Give a High Five' , if this doesnt work, you take the child's hand and move it towards yours to make a High Five.)

  • Task Analysis: process of breaking a skill down into smaller, more manageable components

  • Generalization: ability for a child to perform a skill under different conditions (stimulus generalization), the ability to apply a skill in a different way (response generalization), and also to continue to exhibit that skill over time (maintenance)

  • Behavior Contracts: simple positive-reinforcement intervention that is widely used to change a child's behavior. The behavior contract spells out in detail the expectations of student and teacher (and sometimes parents) in carrying out the intervention plan, making it a useful planning document.

  • Video Modeling: mode of teaching that uses video recording and display equipment to provide a visual model of the targeted behavior or skill. Types of video modeling include basic video modeling, video self-modeling, point-of-view video modeling, and video prompting.

  • Picture Exchange Communications Teaching: uses pictures and other symbols to develop a functional communication system for individuals

  • Errorless Teaching: the child is prompted to make the correct response immediately, ensuring a correct response each time. The prompt is then slowly faded in order to promote accuracy with the least amount of errors and frustration.

  • Peer-Mediated Social Skills Training: Providing opportunities for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities to acquire new social skills by observing and learning from their neurotypical peers.

There is no one-size fits all intervention plan - a therapist will first need to determine the child's unique needs using a Functional Behavioural Assessment - usually through direct observation and interviews (Client, Parent, Caregiver, Teacher etc.) as welll as reference to medical and behavioural incident reports. Following this, a list of problematic behaviours will be identified and a Behaviour Intervention Plan will be created, laying out strategies to modify behaviour. Often the process involves iterations as it is a cycle of observation, analysis and reinforcement that makes this treatment method effective.

Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at for further support.

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