What is ABA?

What is ABA? Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the science of behavior and learning that improves socially significant behavior. It focuses on the interaction between the learner and environment. Behavior happens in response to the environment, so if we want others and ourselves to learn new behavior, we change aspects of the environment to set us up for success! ABA is not only a therapy for children with autism. It is also not dog training. It is not an intervention that, when used in schools, only reduces a student's problem behavior. ABA is not any one, narrow application. It is a natural science based on behavioral principles that apply to highly diverse populations. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) shares brief fact sheets and videos on ABA and its many subspecialties that help improve lives.



Behavior analysis, therapy, and autism. Behavior therapy for children with autism and other developmental delays is the most well-known, successful application of ABA. A common application of a science is not the science itself. ABA is well-known for the treatment of autism, owing in part to all states now mandating that insurance companies cover the costs of ABA-based treatment for autism. What makes ABA effective? Are the principles of behavior and learning applied to other people and animals? That leads us to the next point about what ABA is not.


Behavior analysis and dogs. ABA is not dog training. Professional dog trainers and canine behavior consultants train dogs and also train their owners to manage their dogs' environment and behavior. Dog training and canine behavior consultation are two additional successful applications of the science of behavior. A common application of a science is not the science itself. A professional dog trainer is called a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). A professional canine consultant who rehabilitates dogs is a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA). The certification exams for these professions consist of approximately 40% content in learning theory, which is another name for behavior analysis. Some Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA's) are also CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA professionals, helping our furry friends and training us to train them.

Behavior analysis in education. We can use ABA in schools to prevent and reduce problem behavior, and we can also use ABA to teach students new skills, strengthen performance and fluency for mastered skills, and maintain current skills. ABA is a positive force for teaching, and we can use it in groups as well as one-on-one tutoring! Teaching and learning are not limited to the four walls of a classroom. We can use ABA to teach and learn almost any skill in many different environments.

Behavior analysis has many applications. ABA is based on behavioral principles or laws that apply to everyone. It consists of seven characteristics that were described by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968), which define the discipline. Three key principles of ABA are that behavior is mostly a product of its environment; behavior is increased or decreased by its consequences; and behavior is strengthened, or increased, by positive reinforcement. Behavior does not happen in isolation; it happens in response to the environment. If we want behavior to change, it is in our power to change aspects of the environment, leading to changes in behavior. Common goals of ABA are to increase new skills that are important to the individual's life and to decrease problem behavior, most often by teaching replacement behavior. ABA can be applied to people of all ages, from infants to adults, and it can be applied to other animals.

Below, you will see the variety of areas in which behavior analysis and ABA improve behaviors of social importance.



Health and Nutrition


Fitness, Exercise, and Sports

Behavioral Health and Medicine


Criminal Rehabilitation and Social Issues

rehabiliation clouds drawing plan.jpg

Gerontology and Geriatrics


Organizational Behavior Management (OBM)


Animal Behavior


Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning 


ABA is the science of learning and behavior that has far-reaching applications to improve people's lives. Read on to discover more about what "behavior" and "learning" mean, in addition to the primary way that we acquire new skills!

What is behavior?

Behavior is what people do. It is any action verb. It is also the activity of any living organism. Some parents and teachers speak of behavior as only good behavior, such as by telling a child, "Remember to behave." In contrast, some therapists and teachers use the word "behavior" only to refer to problem behavior. The therapist may say of your child, "He had no behaviors today," which is impossible, unless your child wasn't alive. Behavior encompasses all actions, whether good or bad. Speaking, walking, making a snack, going to class, and you reading this sentence are all behaviors. 

What is learning?


In ABA, learning is behavior change. Behavior happens in response to the environment, so if we want behavior to change, then we change the environment. If we want to teach new behavior, then we ourselves have to do something new! Something happens before behavior (an antecedent) and after behavior (a consequence). If we change what reliably happens before and/or after the behavior, then the behavior changes. As we create new events to evoke new behavior, we repeatedly observe and measure whether the behavior is changing in the direction we want, such as the behavior increasing over time. 

What is reinforcement?

Reinforcement means that when a behavior occurs, followed by a consequence, the behavior increases in the future. Positive reinforcement is additive: after the behavior occurs, a preferred stimulus is added (presented). The learner gets something. For example, if you have no water and you ask the server for water, this results in you getting water. It also results in you repeating the behavior again in the future when you're water-deprived and when you see the server. Negative reinforcement is subtractive: after the behavior occurs, a non-preferred stimulus is subtracted (removed, stopped, or reduced). The learner gets out of something. For example, if you need quiet time and you turn the music down, this results in the music playing at a lower volume. It also results in you repeating the behavior again in the future when you need quiet time and when you see the volume button. Both types of reinforcement result in an increase in the behavior. Both types of reinforcement can be used to teach new skills. In ABA, we use positive reinforcement the most often. It is the primary way that learners acquire new skills.

What future behavior change do you want to see? What skills do you want yourself to increase? What  behavior do you want your child to engage in independently? The educators and clinicians at Inspire Behavioral Learning, LLC use positive reinforcement to help you achieve the future you want to see.

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