Holistic Learning Center | New York

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Longitudinal studies have proven that young learners diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders learn best in 1:1 teaching situations. Pre-school tasks such as matching, learning colors, and “learning to learn” require intensive remediation strategies. The use of trial and error or problem solving strategies is not something that may develop naturally to the child diagnosed with ASD. Professionals such as Special Educators, Behavioral Psychologists, and Educational Psychologists have found the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) the most effective teaching strategy.
What is ABA? It is a system of task analyzing skills that youngsters need to learn, and then delivering the instruction in a 1:1 setting. Within ABA, a method known as discrete trial teaching is used whereby the instructor gives the child a directive repeatedly and takes data on the child’s ability to perform the task. Initially, this is called taking a baseline, or probing the task. If the child can perform the task independently with approximately 80% accuracy, the instructor can assume the child has this skill in their repertoire and moves on to the next task that is slightly more difficult. If the student’s baseline is 70% or below, the instructor teaches it through a series of discrete trials that is delivered in a concise and consistent manner.

During an ABA session, the instructor must use an important principle of ABA known as “errorless learning.” That is, if the child is about to demonstrate a behavior that is considered an error, the instructor quickly prompts the child to “get it right.” Since the young learner grasps concepts that are strongly associated, the use of errorless learning techniques is an effective methodology: it pairs what they have been told or asked to do with performing the correct behavior. When the child meets criteria, or shows independent performance with their task, they are reinforced. Reinforcement increases the probability of the correct responses being demonstrated again. This system begins a positive learning cycle.

For older children, ABA may continue beyond the early learning skills such as toilet training, labeling objects, and taking turns. ABA curriculum contains math and reading skills, as well as self care routines (such as making a bed, setting a table, and fastening clothes/tying shoes). Social skills are also taught through ABA methodology, and the use of peer models who have strong play and social skills has proven to be helpful.
As children proceed through the elementary grades, their instructional needs can vary depending upon skill levels. Their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must reflect the best methodologies for their learning and many times the principles of ABA are still used but discrete trial teaching may be replaced with more natural, less repetitive teaching strategies

Facts about Applied Behavior Analysis?

  • scientifically based behavioral science
  • task analyzed skills
  • recognizes that behavior is that which is measurable and observable such as play skills, relating to others, taking care of oneself, etc.
  • use of a stimulus ? response ? reinforcer rhythm
  • employs the use of reinforcement to increase desired behaviors
  • use of “errorless learning” strategies to have learner associate language with desired behaviors (prompting to insure correct responses)
  • uses chaining procedures to teach sequential skills such as hand washing, tooth brushing, “getting ready for school,” etc.
  • builds upon language and communication skills/ fine, gross, sensory motor skills/ cognitive-play skills/self help skills/ social emotional skills


Why is ABA recommended for learners with ASD?

  • The use of repetitive language stimuli helps to develop associative language skills
  • The use of errorless learning/prompting techniques to help associate language with motoric responses (since learners diagnosed with learning disorders may have difficulty with process of elimination and inferential learning)
  • The use of chaining procedures assist with sequence learned skills (since learners diagnosed with learning disorders may have difficulty with motor planning and the execution of sequenced skills)
  • The short term objectives work specifically on filling in the gaps in the disordered learning profile enabling the student to be able to generalize from naturalistic experiences (designed to support early learning skills that function as prerequisites for higher level learning: problem solving/ hypothesizing)


Components of Successful ABA program implementation:

  •  begin with an educational/language and SI/OT evaluation to develop goals
  • create curricula that targets goals with the use of highly motivating/preferred activities
  • the use of clear, concise stimuli/ predictable responses/ reinforcement schedules
  • accurate data collection with inter-staff reliability
  • weekly graph review to target areas of difficulty and to create program modifications/ analysis of data by educational domain to determine time spent on each program
  • the use of flexible directions (direction discrimination) to promote natural language one inital repetitive discriminitive stimulus is mastered
  • combining programs that are functionally related to enhance age appropriate play (i.e. turn taking and color matching is mastered: teach how to play Candyland)
  • the use of varied exemplars, varied stimuli, varied language
  • the diligent use of the fading of reinforcers, directions, and the increase of generalized application with expansion activities designed to move from ritual to repertoire.