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What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a scientific discipline that studies the relationship between the environment and behavior. As a field, ABA has a commitment to bringing about changes in behavior that enhance and improve people's lives (applied). Behaviors are defined in observable and measurable terms, and ABA employs objective, data-driven decisions to determine if progress is being made or not on an individual level (behavioral). Data is constantly reviewed to identify systematic, predictable patterns that can be attributed to specific variables in the environment (analytic).

When used for skill acquisition, typically, ABA is an approach that breaks down complex skills into small components, and teaches them through repetition and the principles of reinforcement. It also employs other behavioral principles to shape and maintain socially significant behaviors, and decrease challenging and undesirable behaviors.

What is ABA used for?

ABA can be used for almost anything. If it is behavior, and it can be observed, the principles of ABA can be used to increase or decrease that behavior. Behavior analysts are committed to improving socially significant behaviors, which can include communication and verbal behavior, social skills, academics, gross and fine motor skills, reading, toileting, dressing, eating, personal self-care and other activities of daily living, and work skills. Many of these skills are delayed or non-existent in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ABA is recommended and endorsed as an effective intervention for ASD by the US Surgeon General, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Research Council, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Academy of Neurology, among other national medical organizations and associations.

For more information about our credentialing board, please visit The BACB.

How much ABA is enough?

In 1987, Dr. Ivar Lovaas published a study that reported that 48% of participants, children with ASD, were able to achieve typical development and become indistinguishable from peers, with 40 hours a week of intensive behavioral intervention for at least 2 years. The study also reported that as little as 10 hours a week can still result in socially significant improvements. While there is no single study that can determine the optimal number of hours for each individual child, research does support a minimum of 25 hours per week.