ABA Therapy Examples, Definition, & Techniques

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Applied behavior analysis therapist works with young patient.

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’s been supported by the peer-reviewed literature as a form of treatment.

Students looking to pursue careers in behavior therapy should understand the range of ABA therapy examples and techniques in the field. They can acquire this knowledge through an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. This can prepare them for fulfilling careers in health services, providing optimal treatment for 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. Autism Speaks, 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 the ABA: “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 homes.

ABA therapists use the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) approach to target and improve specific behaviors:

  • 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 a 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 Therapy Examples

ABA therapists can use a range of techniques to enhance positive behaviors and minimize negative behaviors. 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.

1. Discrete Trial Training

DTT involves using the ABC approach in a one-on-one, controlled environment. The therapist will provide a prompt, ask for the desired behavior, and reward the behavior with positive reinforcement. This process is then repeated until the desired behavior is displayed autonomously. Therapists can use DTT to help individuals with autism to develop social and behavioral skills.

2. Modeling

Modeling involves demonstrating the desired behavior in ABA therapy. The therapist may provide an in-person, a video, or an audio example of what the individual is expected to do. For example, the individual may be instructed to shake hands when meeting a new person or to say thank you when given an object. This technique is particularly effective for developing social and communication skills among children.

3. Picture Exchange Communication System

PECS uses pictures to teach communication and vocabulary skills, most commonly to children. The child gives the therapist a picture of a desired object; in exchange, the therapist provides the object portrayed in the picture. They continue to use this system to communicate new words, phrases, and modifiers.

4. Reinforcement Systems

ABA therapists use reinforcement systems to teach individuals about the consequences of certain behaviors. If individuals don’t engage in the appropriate behavior, they may be prompted to try again, or reinforcement may be withheld until the behavior is seen. If they do correctly perform the behavior, they may receive a reward or positive reinforcement in the form of a reward or praise. Children, for example, may receive tokens that can be exchanged for snacks, toys, and special privileges.

ABA Therapist Skills

Aspiring ABA therapists must develop several key skills and competencies to be successful. Examples include communication skills, critical thinking skills, and empathy.

  • Communication skills. ABA therapists must understand how to receive 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 skills. Critical thinking skills help ABA therapists to 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. Empathy is a critical skill that aspiring ABA therapists must develop. For ABA therapy to be successful, the person being treated needs to feel understood.

How Regis College Prepares Students to Become Applied Behavior Analysts

masters in behavior analysis online program 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 looking to advance their careers in health services.

Courses 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. They can then use these skills to pursue roles such as clinical director, early childhood educator, and university professor.

Begin Your Career in ABA Therapy

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program can help students to develop the knowledge and skills needed to provide impactful behavioral therapy services. The program is designed to accommodate students of many health services backgrounds on their journey to career advancement, providing courses on behaviors, treatments, and ethical practices. Learn more about what Regis has to offer and start preparing for your future as an ABA therapist.


Recommended Readings

4 Methods for Increasing Communication Within Applied Behavior Analysis

Leadership in Applied Behavior Analysis: What Is a Clinical Director?

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


Association for Science in Autism Treatment, ABA Techniques

Autism Speaks, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Cigna, “Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder”

Pyramid Educational Consultants, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)”

Regis College, Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis

Regis College, Strategies in Behavior Therapy: Creating a Behavior Assessment

Regis College, What Can I Do with a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Synapse, “Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis”