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Applied Behavior Analysis

Understanding ABA Therapy with ITP

What is ABA therapy?

ABA is the design, implementation, and evaluation of environmental modifications to produce socially significant improvement in human behavior. ABA includes the use of direct observation, measurement, and functional analysis of the relations between environment and behavior. ABA uses changes in envi­ronmental events, including antecedent stimuli (thing or event) and consequences, to produce practical and significant changes in behavior.

These relevant environmental events are usually identified through a variety of specialized assessment methods. During this assessment period, a number of intervention techniques may be tested. Through the use of trial and error, a behavior intervention will be implemented based on the most conducive therapy methods for that individual. ABA is based on the fact that an individual’s behavior is determined by past and current environmental events in conjunction with organic variables (such as their genetic endowment and ongoing physiological variables). ABA focuses on treating behavioral difficulties by changing the individual’s environment rather than focusing on variables that are, at least presently, beyond our direct access.

ABA practitioners use the Least Restrictive Treatment Model. The least restrictive treatment is defined as that treatment that affords the most favorable risk-to benefit ratio, with specific consideration of probability of treatment success, anticipated duration of treatment, distress caused by procedures, and distress caused by the behavior itself. Less restrictive procedures must be ruled out before more restrictive interventions (such as physical management, restraint, and seclusion) may be employed.

What might an ABA program look like?

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders require the use of effective interventions. Based on the National Autism Center’s National Standards Report, the following components meet the criteria of research-based, effective interventions for children with ASD:


Antecedent manipulation: modification of situational events that precede the target behavior.  These alterations are designed to increase the likelihood of success of the targeted behavior. Examples include: prompt/fading procedures, behavioral momentum, contrived motivational operations, inter-trial intervals, incorporation special interests, etc.


Behavioral treatment: programs designed to decrease problem behaviors and to increase functional alternative behaviors. Examples include: functional communication training, chaining, discrete trial training, mand training, generalization training, reinforcement, shaping, etc.

Comprehensive intervention: low student to teacher ratio (1:1, or low as appropriate) in a variety of settings, including home school and community. Effective programs are based on a treatment manual, provide intensive treatment (25hrs/wk+), and include data-driven decision-making.

Joint attention intervention: programs designed to teach a child to respond to the social bids of another, or to initiate joint attention interactions. Examples include: pointing to objects, showing items, activities to another, and following eye gaze.

Modeling: adults or peers provide a demonstration of the target behavior; the student is expected to imitate. Thus, imitation skills are a necessary prerequisite to this type intervention. Modeling is often combined with prompting and reinforcement strategies which can assist the student to acquire imitation skills.

Naturalistic teaching strategies: use of child-initiated interactions to teach functional skills in the natural environment. This intervention requires providing a stimulating environment, modeling play, providing choices, encouraging conversation and rewarding reasonable attempts

Peer training: involves training peers without disabilities strategies for interacting (play and social) with children with autism. Some commonly known peer-training programs include: circle of friends, buddy skills, peer networks, etc.

Pivotal response training: program designed to target specific, “pivotal,” behaviors that lead to improvement across a broad range of behaviors.  These pivotal behaviors include: motivation to engage in social communication, self-initiation, self-management, responsiveness to multiple cues, etc.

Schedules: teaching a student to follow a task list (picture- or word-based) through a series of activities or steps in order to complete a specific activity. Schedules are accompanied by other behavioral interventions, including reinforcement.

Self-management: this treatment intervention teaches a student to regulate his or her behavior by recording the occurrence or non-occurrence of the target behavior, and secure reinforcement for doing so.

Story-based interventions: involves a written description of the situations under which specific behaviors are expected to occur. The stories seek to teach the: who, what, when, where and why of social interactions to improve perspective taking. The most well-known of these interventions is Carol Gray’s “Social Stories.”

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