What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of intensive therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. The goal is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning.

Behavior analysis helps us to understand:

  • How behavior works

  • How behavior is affected by the environment

  • How learning takes place

ABA therapy programs can help children, teens and adults:

  • Increase language and communication skills

  • Improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics 

  • Decrease problem behaviors

The methods of behavior analysis have been used and studied for decades. They have helped many kinds of learners gain different skills – from healthier lifestyles to learning a new language. Therapists have used ABA to help children with autism and related developmental disorders since the 1960s.

What types of things can ABA therapy help with?

ABA can have a dramatic impact on many areas in your child’s life! Currently, our clients range in age from 2 to 23. We’re working on things like: reducing aggression, improving communication and language, practicing social skills and playing with kids their own age, coping with outbursts, focusing on schoolwork and even getting dressed, bathing and teeth brushing. Before starting therapy, we meet with you and your child to set specific goals and celebrate every step of the way as your child meets them!

What is an ABA therapy session like?

Each therapy session may involve different activities and skills but every session is guided by two specific principles of ABA.

  1. Positive Reinforcement

    When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward like a small candy or toy time), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.

  2. Antecedent, Response, Consequence

    Understanding antecedents (what happens before a behavior occurs) and consequences (what happens after the behavior) is another important part of any ABA program.

Typically, an ABA therapy session is a high energy interaction between client and therapist. ABA sessions with children include some discrete trial work which might occur at the table, lots of positive reinforcement using whatever is motivating for the child: praise, high-fives, opportunities to play to play with their favorite toy, sometimes edible treats. ABA sessions with teenagers are typically more oriented to improving social skills and will involve a variety of age-appropriate activities. Often there will be a mix of tasks that the therapist is practicing in order to assure that there is focus and mastery vs. rote repetition or boredom.

For reference, here are four videos that show brief examples of ABA therapy with a four year old boy. Remember, each therapy session is different and tailored to your child’s specific needs and goals.

What are AIM's core principles in providing ABA therapy?


ABA is an evidence-based treatment backed up by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies spanning over 50 years that prove the effectiveness of ABA in treating children with autism. This is why ABA has been widely recognized by the CDC, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Surgeon General, Autism Speaks, and many others.


ABA begins with an in-depth assessment of your child performed by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Based on each child’s individual skill levels and needs, a unique and detailed behavior-analytic treatment plan is developed. No two plans are the same – the BCBA designs the plan to focus on specific goals that are relevant and important to each child and their family. From there, your child works in one-on- one sessions with a Behavior Technician to implement the treatment plan, with ongoing supervision and guidance provided by the BCBA.


Through each structured therapy session, direct observational data of behavior is collected and quantified. The data is regularly analyzed by the BCBA to maximize progress toward the goals outlined in the treatment plan, and the plan is adjusted according to the child’s progress and needs.

What evidence indicates that ABA therapy works?

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association. 

“Evidence-based” means that ABA has passed scientific tests of its usefulness, quality, and effectiveness. ABA therapy includes many different techniques. All of these techniques focus on antecedents (what happens before a behavior occurs) and on consequences (what happens after the behavior). 

More than 20 studies have established that intensive and long-term therapy using ABA principles improves outcomes for many but not all children with autism. “Intensive” and “long term” refer to programs that provide 25 to 40 hours a week of therapy for 1 to 3 years. These studies show gains in intellectual functioning, language development, daily living skills and social functioning. Consider these studies, for example:

Cohen, H., Amerine-Dickens, M. and Smith, T. (2006) compared 21 children with ASD who received 35-40 hours of ABA per week to a control group of 21 children with ASD who received only public school special education classes. Their work found that: 

  • The group of children receiving ABA showed significantly higher IQ and adaptive behavior scores than the control group

  • 17 out of the 21 children receiving ABA were included in regular education after 3 years; while only 1 out of the 21 children in the control group was included in regular education after three years

To read the entire study, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16685181

Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2014) studied a group of children ages 4-7 with ASD, of which 13 received behavioral treatment and 12 did not. Their work found that: 

  • At the end of the three year treatment period, the children who received behavioral treatment showed larger increases in IQ and adaptive functioning than the children who did not receive treatment

  • The IQ scores of children receiving behavioral treatment increased by 34 points on average

To read the entire study, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17438342