What Is ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy?

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a method of therapy that is used to improve social, learning, communication, and behavioral skills in certain individuals through tailored phases of psychological work.

ABA is generally associated with providing therapy to children with unusual behavioral patterns, which is commonly called “challenging behavior”. This approach is widely used to treat children with autism, in which the child cannot effectively interact with people and surroundings.

ABA provides gradual improvement in a child’s behavior. This therapy involves a series of procedures that must be carried out before treatment can be started on the patient. It’s also used to treat other conditions, including anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, and phobias. ABA is believed to provide relief to a wide range of abnormal psychological conditions.

What is the goal of ABA therapy?

The goal of ABA therapy generally relies on the needs of the individual. In cases of autism, it is targeted to improve the child’s response to events around him/her, accelerate the rate of learning, focus more on school, and enhance the child’s ability to independently perform personal tasks like eating, bathing, getting dressing, etc.. It is also intended to stop or reduce self-harming behaviors and other types of tantrums in children with autism.

Children Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD Icon(Leremy)S

Conditions that indicate the need for ABA therapy (Photo Credit : Leremy/Shutterstock)

How is ABA therapy performed?

ABA is a long-term process and involves several steps before arriving at the desired results. The therapy also depends on the needs of each individual and will be tailored accordingly, but the general procedure is as follows.


Treatment first involves consultation with a therapist. This consultation session is called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). The therapist will assess the individual’s behavior, strengths and weaknesses. It also involves gathering details about the likes and dislikes of the individual. The practitioner will spend time interacting with the patient to observe their behavior, communication level and skills. A complete study of the individual’s mental state will be conducted.

Developing a plan

Once the assessment is done, the therapist will plan procedures and training methods that must be carried out. This is devised in such a way that aligns with the needs of the individual. For example, if the individual is lacking in attention toward events around them, the plan will focus on improving the individual’s attention skills. Plans also include a to-do list for caregivers and parents.

Caregiver training

As far as ABA therapy is concerned, the involvement of parents and caregivers is crucially important, as they must help the individual reinforce the desired behaviors outside the therapy space. Parents and caregivers will be trained by the therapist on what must be done and what should be avoided. This strategy is implemented to reduce the risk of tantrums.


Therapists generally try to uncover the causes of certain unusual behavior so that they can customize a plan for the most effective results. The therapist may also modify the plan according to the response of the patient. They determine what strategies are best for the individual and take the necessary steps for their patient to follow them.

What is the science behind ABA?

ABA is generally a form of psychological therapy that assists children and (very rarely) adults with disabilities. Working with individuals with disabilities requires special training, and these ABA professionals are generally trained. A child with a disability will not know what is right or not, so the they may be engaged in random activities. To channel and direct the child’s activity, a technique called positive reinforcement is adopted.

The child is awarded their favorite food or is given a sign of appreciation when performing a desired activity, such as washing their hands before eating or taking their shoes off before entering the house. In this way, the child learns what kinds of activities earn them rewards. Sub-consciously, they will want to repeat those behaviors to continue earning rewards. On the other hand, the child is also punished when they does something wrong, which is called negative reinforcement.

Boy exercises putting fingers with therapist(Sergey Novikov)S

A child undergoing ABA therapy (Photo Credit : Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

Both positive and negative reinforcement are provided instantly upon the completion of the action, whether good or bad. Only then will the child be able to differentiate the behaviors. Over time, children absorb and adopt what they have learned during therapy. Normal children can develop this knowledge through day-to-day activity, but for children with special needs, it must be taught with more intention.

Challenges with ABA

Some children claim that the procedure is harmful, and while there are no studies proving any negative effects, a well-trained therapist is essential. Understanding the mental state of the individual plays a major role in ABA therapy. When an individual is properly treated by caring and well-trained practitioners, ABA therapy stands out as the gold-standard technique for treating autism and related disabilities, including anger management and substance abuse in adults, or simply developing a positive attitude for a 3-year-old!

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About the Author

Janani Anand is pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering at Rajalakshmi Engineering College, Chennai. She is a voracious reader and a creative writer. She is also involved in social activities, enjoys watching cricket and a great fan of MS Dhoni.

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