What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis, ABA, has become the gold standard in teaching with children with autism and managing behavior in special education classrooms.  So, what is all the fuss, you ask?  First of all, ABA is a method based in the scientific study of learning and behavior.  It is important to understand that ABA is not the latest bandwagon approach to teaching, but rather, is based upon decades of research.

Let’s break apart the definition:

Applied – The focus is on socially significant behaviors.  In other words, ABA is used to teach skills that are needed in everyday life – the skills most of us see as essential to functioning well in society.

Applied Behavior Analysis

ABA focuses on applied behaviors – skills that are functional in everyday life.

Behavior – Behavior is anything a person says or does.  Examples of behaviors include: talking, walking, holding a doll, crossing your legs, writing with a pen, and scratching your knee.  Behaviors are defined in objective and measurable terms.  ABA practitioners will want to focus on the behavior itself, and not someone’s description of that behavior.  For this reason, practitioners will use interviews as a starting point only.  Direct observation is the primary means of analysis.

Applied Behavior Analysis


In Applied Behavior Analysis, behaviors are defined objectively and measurably. By being very specific, the Behavior Analyst can determine if the exact behavior of interest is increasing or decreasing.

Analysis – Data is always collected during observations.   That data is then analyzed to discover what events keep some behaviors strong and make others weak.  Behavior analysts then look to see what events can be manipulated to increase desirable behaviors and decrease undesirable behaviors. 

Applied Behavior Analysis, data collection

Data tells the behavior analyst which ABA strategies are working and exactly where the strategies should change if behaviors are not changing.

ABA can be used in various contexts, the most popular of which is working with children with autism.  Other areas include organizational behavior management, animal training, and special education.    Are you still left wondering how ABA is used to teach?  Stay tuned for future posts!

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