ABA and Speech Therapy: Comparing Two Therapeutic Concepts

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Therapists use applied behavior analysis, sometimes along with speech therapy, to treat patients.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) and speech therapy are two unique approaches to treating speech, language, and communication issues. While these strategies have their differences, they can also complement each other.

Prospective applied behavior analysts can enhance their training by refining their skills in the area of speech therapy. They can gain this knowledge through an advanced degree program, such as an online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Applied behavior analysts and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can work together in many ways to deliver more effective patient care.

Comparing ABA Therapy vs. Speech Therapy

ABA is a form of therapy that focuses on the study of human behavior. It’s commonly used to treat autism spectrum disorders and developmental disorders in children, but it can also be used to cultivate a range of motor, social, and learning skills for people of all ages.

Assessment of behavior in ABA is broken down into three steps:

  • Antecedent. This is the stimulus that prompts a behavior, such as a command.
  • Behavior. This is the resulting behavior.
  • Consequence. This is the response to the behavior, such as a reward.

ABA therapists use these steps to better understand the causes of certain behaviors and help patients to engage in positive behaviors, for which they receive reinforcement, like a reward. Over time, the goal is to teach patients that engaging in positive behaviors is rewarding, which hopefully leads to a successful adoption of behavioral change that they eventually use independent of therapy.

Speech therapy, on the other hand, is used by SLPs to help people develop better language and communication skills. For example, patients may be people on the autism spectrum or people who’ve suffered injuries that impact their speech. SLPs evaluate an individual’s issues with communication and develop goals that the individual can work toward in one-on-one or group sessions. These goals might include strengthening jaw muscles, responding to social cues, and learning to use an electronic speech aid. Speech therapists commonly use creative tools, such as songs, picture boards, and games, to develop and strengthen communication skills.

ABA and speech therapy are similar in that they can be used to treat people with speech and language difficulties. They also have similar goals of helping people become autonomous and successful with communication outside of therapy. They differ, however, in that ABA uses strict behavioral techniques to enhance a specific behavior, while speech therapy may involve a more eclectic approach. Speech therapy is also used to specifically treat language and communication skills, while ABA therapy can also be used to develop any behavioral, motor, or learning skills.

Integrating the Concepts

ABA therapists and speech therapists can work together to build comprehensive therapeutic strategies that target the improvement of an individual’s verbal communication capabilities. As Dr. Barbara Esch wrote in the “Clinical Corner” column of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment website, in response to readers’ questions about the importance of the roles, “Speech language pathologists are ideal professionals to be included on an ABA team since its members are focused on providing effective and efficient instruction, much of which is geared toward speech and language acquisition.”

SLPs, for example, can help ABA therapists use alternative modes of communication, such as pictures and sign language, to help develop a certain behavior. ABA therapists can also learn to build strategies for treating behavioral challenges that affect speech and language. ABA therapists can help SLPs interpret the data related to certain behaviors and make more quantitative decisions for building receptive and expressive language skills. ABA therapists can also help SLPs understand appropriate, effective stimuli for prompting certain behaviors in people with communication issues.

How Regis College Prepares Students for the Field

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program is designed to further develop students’ knowledge in fundamental aspects of ABA therapy. Students learn about behavioral science, gain clinical experience in a professional setting, and build their networks in the industry. Courses such as Concepts and Principles I: Intro to ABA as well as ABA Training and Supervision train students to assess an individual’s behavior and deploy ABA therapy ethically.

Specific courses can also help deepen the acumen needed to perform speech therapy and work with SLPs to determine treatment strategies. Key courses such as Verbal Behavior and Behavior Interventions help prepare students to integrate ABA and speech therapy in providing advanced patient care.

Build a Career in Applied Behavior Analysis

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program can help students to gain the knowledge needed to pursue a career in the field of ABA. Professionals from various health science backgrounds can complete research and hands-on experiences in behavior assessment, treatment evaluation, and ethical practices. Learn more about what Regis has to offer and start building your career in ABA today.

Recommended Readings

Exploring ABA Techniques and Their Role in Treatment 

How ABA Interventions Promote Positive Behavior

Technology and Therapy: The Use of AAC Devices in Applied Behavior Analysis


Association for Science in Autism Treatment, Integrating ABA and Speech Pathology

Autism Speaks, What Is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Autism Speaks, What Is Speech Therapy?

Regis College, Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis

Steinberg Behavior Solutions, Working Together: Speech Therapy and ABA

WebMD, Benefits of Speech Therapy for Autism