ABA Therapy Examples, Definition, & Techniques

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A behavior therapist shows a picture card to a child.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a form of therapy to treat issues with communication, motor skills, and behavioral disorders. The American Psychological Association classifies ABA as an evidence-based practice, meaning it is recognized by peer-reviewed literature as a form of treatment.

Students who are looking to pursue careers in behavior therapy should understand the range of ABA therapy examples and techniques. This knowledge may be acquired through an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. An education of this type can prepare students for fulfilling careers in health services, providing optimal treatment to those in need.

ABA Therapy Meaning

Behavior therapists frequently use ABA to treat individuals who learn and think differently, such as those who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. AutismSpeaks.org, a nonprofit that advocates for increased understanding and acceptance of people with autism, notes that positive reinforcement is a main strategy used in ABA.

According to AutismSpeaks.org: “When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change. The goal of any ABA program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the short term as well as in the future.”

What Is ABA Therapy Used For?

ABA therapy is used to determine the causes of an individual’s behavioral challenges and employs specific strategies to address these challenges. ABA therapy can be used in various settings, such as schools, hospitals, clinics, and in patients’ homes.

Applied behavior analysts use the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) approach to target and improve specific behaviors. This ABC methodology may be described as follows.

  • This is the stimulus, such as a request, that provokes a certain behavior.
  • This is the behavior that results from the stimulus.
  • This is the response to the behavior, such as positive reinforcement.

For example, parents may ask their children to clear their plates from the table. If the children obey, instead of denying the request or acting out, they receive a reward. By breaking behaviors down into this sequence, therapists can make targeted changes to an individual’s environment, response, and reward system to enhance a key skill.

ABA Therapist Skills

Aspiring applied behavior analysts must develop several key skills and competencies to be successful. Their responsibilities include managing therapeutic processes, using analytical skills to assess a person’s behavior, developing treatment plans, and conducting continuous patient monitoring and evaluation.

Behavior therapists often work with children, and also regularly interact with parents, many of whom need reassurance that therapy will help their children. Therefore, excellent communication skills, a friendly demeanor, patience, and empathy are critical for building trust-based relationships. Essential skills for behavior therapists include those listed below.


Applied behavior analysts must understand both verbal and nonverbal cues, such as body language. They must also be able to clearly and effectively communicate with students, teachers, parents, and colleagues.

Critical Thinking

Critical-thinking skills help behavior therapists make informed decisions about treatment programs. For example, professionals who use ABA therapy must customize each session based on a learner’s skills, interests, and needs. ABA isn’t a one-size-fits-all methodology. Individualized programs are written to meet the needs of each client.


Empathy is a crucial skill that aspiring behavior therapists must develop. For ABA therapy to be successful, the patient needs to feel valued and understood.


Applied behavior analysts see individuals with varying levels of behavioral challenges. Having patience is therefore essential for the well-being of the patient and the overall level of therapeutic progress.

Attention to Detail

An individual going through treatment may not achieve major changes in their emotional control, social skills, and cognitive competency overnight. It is important for behavior therapists to pay attention to the small details of an individual’s personality and monitor progress or negative changes.

ABA Therapy Examples and Techniques

In addition to these important skills, ABA therapists can use a range of techniques to enhance positive behaviors and minimize negative ones. The chosen techniques will vary by individual, treatment setting, and targeted behaviors. Prominent ABA therapy examples include discrete trial training (DTT) modeling, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and reinforcement systems. Here are a few ABA therapy examples of techniques that behavior therapists use to treat people with autism and those impacted by brain injuries.

Positive Reinforcement

The goal of positive reinforcement is to increase the future likelihood that a person will engage in a desired behavior. First, the behavior therapist identifies a behavior worth encouraging. Then, the patient is given the opportunity to earn rewards for completing that behavior.

Token economies and behavior contracts are two examples of reinforcement systems. In the token economy method, the patient earns tokens for completing positive behaviors and trades them in for a preferred item or activity. Behavior contracts also offer opportunities for a child to earn rewards. The difference is the contract is a formal, agreed-upon document that stipulates the terms of the reward system. The child can earn rewards, but only after they complete behaviors that are encouraged by their therapists.

Discrete Trial Instruction

Behavior therapists typically apply the discrete trial instruction technique in one-on-one settings that are free of distractions. The technique is highly structured and encompasses a number of steps.

First, the behavior therapist eases the client into the process by giving brief, easy-to-understand instructions or asking simple questions. The behavior therapist gives the client time to respond, but he or she may need guidance or a prompt. The therapist slowly takes these prompts away throughout the therapy as the person demonstrates progress. Upon responding correctly, the client receives encouraging praise. To avoid incorrect responses, sometimes the behavior therapist initially will use procedures that guide the client toward responding correctly.


Modeling is another ABA therapy example of a technique that promotes the imitation of desired behaviors by people with autism and brain-related injuries. As appropriate behaviors are demonstrated by the therapist through modeling, clients have continuous opportunities to learn the new skills.

A behavior therapist encourages the client to imitate a targeted behavior that has been presented by the model. Modeling may be delivered in person, via video, or in audio format. The client observes the model and imitates the behavior that’s been presented. The behavior of the model can be repeated, practiced, or presented in a wide range of settings to facilitate learning.

Picture Exchange Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) methodology uses little to no verbal communication. During a session, a client is presented with a picture of a desired item. In the case of a child, the desired item could be a bright ball or toy. In the first stage, the client is taught to exchange the picture for the actual desired item. In the next stage, the behavior therapist sets some distance, encouraging the person to make more of an effort (through communication) to acquire the desired item. Over time, the person demonstrates new communication skills and learns to interact with another person, first through pictures and sometimes through words and sentences.

Begin Your Career in ABA Therapy

The Regis College online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program can help students develop the knowledge and skills to provide impactful behavioral therapy services. The program is designed to accommodate students from many health services backgrounds on their journey to career advancement, providing courses on behaviors, treatments, and ethical practices.

Courses in the Regis College ABA program, such as Treatment Evaluation and Behavior Assessment,  provide students with the analytical, active listening, and interpersonal skills that are fundamental to the applied behavior analyst role. The curriculum also includes applied coursework on subjects such as treatment evaluation, behavior assessment, and ethical practice in ABA. Additionally, students gain practical experience through ABA training and practicums.

Graduates from the Regis College program have gone on to build successful careers as behavior analysts, clinical directors, early childhood educators, and university professors.

Earning a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis enables students to gain expertise in the aforementioned ABA therapy examples and techniques. The combination of applied coursework and hands-on experience provides a foundation for prospective therapists who are looking to advance their careers in health services.

Learn more about what Regis College has to offer, and start preparing for your future as a behavior therapist.

Recommended Readings

4 Methods for Increasing Communication Within Applied Behavior Analysis

Strategies in Behavior Therapy: Creating a Behavior Assessment

What Is a Clinical Director?


Association for Science in Autism Treatment, “ABA Techniques”

AutismSpeaks.org, “Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)”

AutismSpeaks.org, “Autism Statistics and Facts”

Brain Injury Association, “Fact Sheet”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “TBI: Get the Facts: Concussion, and Traumatic Brain Injury”

May Institute, “Expert Columns: ABA Strategies for Students with Traumatic Brain Injury”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet”

Pyramid Educational Consultants, “Picture Exchange Communication System”