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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)? – An Idea for ABA Parent Training Curriculum

Not only is the question, “What is autism spectrum disorder?”, often overlooked in ABA parent training services, but the question, “What is applied behavior analysis (ABA)?” is also sometimes overlooked in ABA parent training. Consider addressing this topic in your ABA parent training curriculum to help parents understand what the service is that their child is receiving.


What is applied behavior analysis?

ABA can be used for all types of people, in all settings, and for many different purposes. ABA has been shown to be an evidence-based practice for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, specifically, but can be used for improving learning and behavior in children and adults with other disorders, as well as for people without a diagnosis. Examples of ways ABA can be used include to teach people to build new habits, to eat healthier, and to help children complete tasks more independently. ABA has been found to be effective in many areas including education, developmental disabilities, autism, clinical psychology, behavioral medicine, organizational behavior management, and much more (Slocum, 2014).

  • Definition:
    • Applied behavior analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991).
  • Examples of skills to work on
    • Skill Acquisition: academics, communication, social skills, requesting, life skills, following directions, receptive skills, etc.
    • Problem behavior reduction: complaining, tantrums, aggression, self-injury, etc.

ABA is a science

science is progressive and flexible – Leaf, et. al (2016) reminds us that ABA is a science and science grows and changes over time. Therefore, ABA services should be both structured and flexible in a way that is contingent upon and responsive to the client’s progress or lack thereof. ABA should be focused on improving socially significant behaviors of the client through a scientific approach which allows for both modifications and new methodology. Clinical expertise and evidence from academic research should be used in an artistic manner to help our clients and the world.

A Bit of ABA History

In 1968, Baer, Wolf, & Risley published “Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis” which describes applied behavior analysis. This is the document that ABA providers use as one of the ways of knowing that their service is truly ABA in nature. At the time of this document being published, ABA was being defined as a separate area of practice and research from that of the experimental analysis of behavior. Specifically, ABA focused on social impact and solving socially significant problems (hence, part of the definition of ABA).

For more history on ABA, read:

7 Dimensions of ABA

ABA (applied behavior analysis) is based on scientific methods and is founded on 7 core dimensions (Baer, Wolf, Risley, 1968). This means that all interventions that are provided through ABA services should fall within these 7 categories. The 7 dimensions of ABA can be remembered with the acronym, “Get A Cab.”


  1. Generalization: skills or behavior occur in environments other than where they were discretely taught
  2. Effective:interventions are monitored to evaluate the impact on the target behavior
  3. Technological: procedures are described clearly and concisely so that others may implement accurately
  4. Applied: socially significant behaviors are selected (Targets are identified that are important to everyday life and to the client/family receiving ABA services)
  5. Conceptually Systematic: interventions are consistent with principles demonstrated in the literature
  6. Analytic: decisions are data based (The BCBA “analyzes” the data to ensure effectiveness of ABA.)
  7. Behavior:observable and measurable behaviors are targeted

Using ABA as an Evidence-Based Practice

It is important to consider the research and evidence that supports clinical decisions as ABA service providers. Evidence-based practice (EBP) as it applies to applied behavior analysis (ABA) integrates the best available evidence (i.e. credible, academic research) with clinical expertise and client values and context. The best available evidence should be considered when making treatment decisions (such as intervention strategies, evaluation of data, etc.). However, evidence (from research) cannot be the only factor that influences decision-making in ABA services. The ABA service provider must also utilize clinical expertise in analyzing problems, selecting the best evidence available applicable to the client, and deciding how interventions should be implemented or modified for the best interest of the client (Slocum, 2014).

BACB Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts

BCBA’s and BCaBAs must comply with the BACB’s professional and ethical compliance code to ensure professional and ethical behavior in the field of ABA.


What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)? – An Idea for ABA Parent Training Curriculum

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)? – An Idea for ABA Parent Training Curriculum. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from