Green Hills with Blue Sky

What Is ABA & Other Helpful Definitions



Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis is a systematic and evidence-based methodology for teaching skills, reducing problem behaviors and enhancing the social and academic life of a an individual. It is a comprehensive way to teach children and adults skills that help them gain independence and self-confidence. These newfound abilities often include academics, self-help skills, language and communication, fine and gross motor development , as well as social skills.

ABA also aims to reduce any problem behaviors that an individual may have by teaching them socially appropriate replacement behaviors. 

ABA has proven to be a successful teaching model for people who have autism. The targeted skills are systematically broken down into their individual components and taught at an individualized pace in succession. Once the learner shows mastery of each skill, he or she moves into a more natural setting so that these newly acquired skills can be generalized and apply to his or her daily life and functioning.  

ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective intervention, and is supported by decades of peer-reviewed research in profession, scientifically respected psychology and medical journals. 

Verbal Behavior (VB)

Verbal Behavior is a branch of Applied Behavior Analysis. It applies the principles and methodology of ABA to teaching language to individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Language is broken down into functional components or "verbal operants":

  • Receptive Language – following instructions e.g. The instructor sets three items before the learner… a pillow, a shoe and a book, and says “Show me the pillow”. The learner points to the pillow, demonstrating his knowledge of the pillow receptively.
  • Echoic – repeating what is heard e.g. The instructor says, “Say pillow” to which the learner echoes, “pillow”, demonstrating his knowledge of ‘pillow’ as an echoic.
  • Imitation – repeating someone's movements e.g. The instructor, in American Sign Language, makes the sign for “pillow”; the learner imitates the sign, thereby demonstrating his ability to imitate this movement.
  • Tact – labeling e.g. The instructor points to the pillow and says, “What is it?” to which the learner replies “pillow” thereby correctly tacting or labeling the item
  • Mand – requesting e.g. The learner says, "I want a pillow"
  • Receptive by Feature, Function and Class (RFFC) – identifying specific items given some description, such as function, feature, or class
    • e.g. Pillow as a receptive by Feature: The instructor asks, “Show me something that is puffy.”
    • e.g. Pillow as receptive by Function: The instructor asks, “Point to something that you rest your head on when you are sleeping.”
    • e.g. Pillow as receptive by Class: The instructor asks, “Show me something that is bedding.”
  • Intraverbal – answering questions, having a conversatione.g. The instructor asks, “What do you rest your head on when you are sleeping?” to which the learner replies, “I sleep on my pillow.” 
  • Textual – reading written words; e.g. the Instructor asks the learner to read the written word, “Pillow” and; 
  • Writing e.g. the learner writes the word, “Pillow”. 

Through teaching a child all of these language components, he/she will gain a complete understanding of the multiple operants or usages of words and how language works in our society.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

Most behavior occurs to attain or escape something. For example, if one is hungry, one engages in behaviors that lead to finding and ingesting food (e.g., standing up, opening the refrigerator, putting food in the microwave, etc.). Many problem behaviors occur as a way to change the environment around the individual, and thus these behaviors are maintained by positive (gaining something), negative (escaping something), and or automatic (e.g., sensory or physiological) reinforcement. Finding that reinforcement is then said to be the function of that behavior.

Identifying these functions accurately (as opposed to only speculating what they might be) leads to implementing effective interventions that provide consequences for the behavior, as well as proactively teaching the individual to attain the reinforcement in a more socially appropriate way. Initial comprehensive and ongoing functional assessment can also reduce and prevent injury and the need for more restrictive procedures such as physical restraints and punishment-based interventions.