top of page
  • Writer's pictureChris Wingate

5 Lifehacks for the Parent New to ABA Therapy, Part 5: What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis is the primary modality being used to help people with Autism

ABA is a vast, everchanging world and you must understand it, be onboard with the principles, and be interested in at least the fundamentals if your life is impacted by autism and other varying disabilities.

Applied Behavior Analysis was first referred to as Behaviorism; this was first created in the 1850's to early 1900's by Ivan Pavlov where the focus of behaviorism was on mentalism; meaning that the focus was on "inner" dimensions focusing on emotions rather than behavior. Ivan was known for classical conditioning with dogs. After Ivan's research John Watson went on to further explore behaviorism that focused on Methodological Behaviorism which only looked at publicly observable events.

It wasn't until 1938 that B.F. Skinner opened the doors to Radical Behaviorism. Radical Behaviorism focused on public events as well as private events. Up until B.F. skinner, private events were never observed.

ABA is a science, and it was created to influence socially significant behavior and develop techniques that bring about behavior change that is practical and applicable. It is a science that uses techniques and strategies to bring about behavior change.

While ABA is implemented differently with every child, when your child begins to receive therapy there are a few things you can expect. At Keystone Achievements, we start with an orientation from your BCBA. This is a time that we can gather baseline information, early targets, and answer any questions the family might have. Once the BCBA is ready to begin creating a plan, an assessment will be conducted. Depending on the child, family, and even the insurance covering services, any range of assessments might be utilized. From this assessment a starting point is established and a recommendation for number of hours to be provided is made. Finally, as all of these steps are taken, therapy can begin. The first week or so of therapy low demands are placed and rapport is built. It might look like a lot of play, but ABA Therapists need their students to have a positive relationship with their teachers to increase compliance. In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis we call this “pairing”. Programs are created based on functional skills that a child needs. There are times it is difficult to see the use of a program, but often we might need to build up “splinter skills” that might be missing before we can teach the larger skills. Think of it as the foundation of a building. You might not be able to see the foundation and it might seem counter-intuitive to dig into the earth when a skyscraper is the goal, but the building wouldn’t stand with out those supports.

Interventions for behavior are also developed based on the function of each behavior. For example, if data indicates a child is crying for attention, we will ignore the crying because to do anything else would make that behavior more likely to continue. There’s a reason the starting point in ABA is to “Retrain your brain”. Many of the steps taken feel opposite to instinct.

Finally, all of these steps are brought together over the course of a “session”. A therapist working with your child will present and work through programs while implementing the planned responses to behavior occurrences.

At Keystone Achievements we encourage our student’s parents or guardians to come and observe sessions with us. It can be helpful to see these pieces brought together and have the opportunity to ask questions.


Cooper, John O., Heron, Timothy E. Heward, William L.. (2007) Applied behavior analysis /Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson/Merrill-Prentice Hall.

Meadows, T. (1970, January 01). FREE ABA Resources!! Retrieved January 08, 2018, from

Bailey, J & Burch, M. (2011). Ethics for Behavior Analysts, Second Expanded Edition. New York, New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Cosgrave, G. (n.d.). Positive Reinforcement. Retrieved January 08, 2018, from



bottom of page