What is Applied Behavior Analysis in Simple Terms

applied behavior analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis ABA is a type of therapy based on principles of learning and motivation from Behavior analysis. ABA therapy applies our understanding of how behavior works in real situations.

ABA is an adult led therapy technique that is one of the most widely used technique for behavior modification.

Core principle of ABA: The consequences of behavior decide whether the behavior will increase or decrease.

The threeterm contingency (also known as the ABC contingency) in operant conditioning describes the relationship between behavior, its consequence, and the antecedents.


The aim of the therapy is to:

  • Increase the probability of occurrence of desirable behaviors and to decrease the probability of undesirable ones
  • To teach new skills (adaptive skills, communication skills, social skills etc.)
  • To maintain behaviors
  • To decrease the frequency and intensity of disruptive behaviors (e.g. self-injury or stereotypic behaviors)
Who introduced ABA?

ABA was introduced in 1970 by Psychologist Ivar Lovaas and Robert Koegel at UCLA.

Types of ABA Therapy

Its approach has expanded to include several different types of ABA Therapy or techniques to aid application

Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Behavior Modification, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Functional Analysis, Differential Reinforcement, Behavior Mapping, Sensory Strategies, and Advanced Play Skills.

Read more Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

How does ABA Therapy work?
  • It tries to meet the individual needs of each person (individualized education plan), skill repertoire development for skill deficits and behavior management for excessive disruptive behaviors
  • Can be implemented in one on one therapeutic intervention and in a group setting as well
  • ABA can be implemented at various places – at home, school, and community
  • It goes by the initial assessment of behavior, led by monitoring of behavior (baselines), then devising a management plan and recording the change in behavior as per the management is given. The baselines and recording strategies are the key methods to monitor behavior in ABA.
  • Three-term Contingency: ABC – antecedent, behavior, and consequences
  1. An antecedent: this is what occurs right before the target behavior. it can be verbal (command, request), physical, visual. A command can be from the environment, from another person or sensory stimulations.
  2. A resulting behavior: this is the person’s response to the antecedent. It can be an action, a verbal response, or alcohol something else.
  3. consequence: the outcome that immediately follows the response. The consequence will decide the future probability of occurrence of behavior, whether it will increase or decrease.

Looking at A-B-Cs helps us understand:

  1. Why a behavior may be happening
  2. How different consequences could affect whether the behavior is likely to happen again
Behavior Teaching approaches in EIBI
  • Discrete trail training
  • Natural environment
  • Fluency based instructions
Strategies used in ABA
  • Reinforcement: the procedure of providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain that behavior.
  • Prompting: A procedure in which a stimulus is provided in addition to antecedent to evoke the targeted / correct response
  • Fading: behavior modification procedure in which behavior that is initially prompted are gradually withdrawn
  • Chaining: Breaking of complex behavior into a sequence of easy sequence of behavior. e.g. wearing a shirt
  • Shaping: it is the procedure in which one systematically reinforces successive approximations of a target behavior while extinguishing previous approximations. E.g. language development; babbling.


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