Applied Behavior Analysis

Perhaps the clearest way of contextualizing the science of Applied Behavior Analysis is to see it simply as the “science of learning”. That is, ABA continually involves defining and teaching behaviors that are socially significant, identifying interventions that are practical in nature, ensuring that chosen interventions are responsible for positive behavior change through the development of clear behavior measurement systems leading to reliable data collection, and where data is used to make adjustments to instructional approaches when necessary. A more technical definition is that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science dedicated to improving societies’ understanding of human behavior and using this knowledge to exact positive changes regarding socially significant behaviors. What is central to understanding why we behave the way we do is through discovering those specific environmental variables that reliably influence socially significant behaviors. ABA involves a framework for understanding and improving human behavior that are based on core principles of human behavior. It is a process that involves both direct and naturalistic approaches and not simply a set of procedures (i.e. discrete trial). Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may be harmful or that interfere with learning. From the perspective of Positive Outcomes, ABA is just good teaching!

“ABA is not a specific program, procedure, or a technique;

it involves methods and principles that are applied in diverse ways.”

Dunlap, 1999

Why ABA?

  • National Standards Project (October, 2009) recognized ABA as an effective, evidenced- based treatment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Endorsed by a number of state & federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General, American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Treatment of choice for behavior problems for children, youth, and adults with and without disabilities (i.e. mental retardation, brain injury, classroom learning)
  • Forms basis of National Health Initiatives such as the Department of Defense’s Autism Demonstration Project

Brief History of ABA and Autism Research:

Autism was identified as a separate disorder by Leo Kanner more than 70 years ago (1943). The earliest examples of utilizing principles of ABA for the effective treatment of autism date back to the early 1960’s (Ferster, 1961). Around this same time, the works of B.F. Skinner on operant conditioning (consequences of a behavior result in an increased or decreased frequency in future occurrences of the same behavior under similar conditions) facilitated the emergence of behavior therapy as a alternative to psychotherapies and thus, having a significant impact on the treatment and education of children with autism. Throughout the 1960’s pioneers of ABA applied a variety of behavioral techniques directly improving the lives of children with autism and their families. The 1970’s brought about autism as a separate disorder with a distinct diagnostic category and where such a diagnosis entitled children with benefits under the Developmental Disabilities Act (1975). Since then Hundreds of published studies have empirically shown ABA techniques are effective in assisting individuals with autism to improve in many areas including utilizing appropriate and functional communication, improved social interaction, self-care skills, play skills, self-management, and reducing maladaptive behavior.

More detailed information regarding research may be found at: