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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Considering Long-Term Goals in ABA Services – Improving the Client’s Future

ABA is Detail-Oriented In Nature

The services of the field known as ABA – or applied behavior analysis – can be provided in a very detailed-oriented manner. This is a positive characteristic of this area of practice as it allows the client to make progress through identification of small units of behavior that can lead to more complex and significant change.

ABA services include initial and ongoing assessment which helps to identify the client’s strengths and areas for growth. Assessment allows the clinician to create an individualized treatment plan to help the client achieve new skills and learn new behaviors. Through assessment, the clinician can select specific units of behavior for the client to work on in treatment.

Consider the Big Picture

Most of the time, treatment planning in ABA does include some level of looking down the road to identify goals for the client to achieve that will ultimately help them improve their quality of life.

However, it is important to look at the client’s life in a slightly different manner, as well.

Many clinicians may do this unintentionally but without the purposeful act of looking at the client’s current and future life from a big picture perspective, the treatment planning within ABA may miss a significant component of helping a client improve their life.

Long-Term Goals

Basically, it is recommended that ABA service providers consider long-term goals when developing treatment planning for their clients. It is not only beneficial to look at potential goals for the next six months or for whatever the next authorization period will be that is approved by a funder, but it is also helpful to look years ahead.

What does the client and/or their caregiver want for the client in the next one year? How about five years? How about ten years?

What does the client or his parent want to see in the client’s life in adolescence or adulthood? What would their ideal (yet realistic) life look like in the future?

This practice of considering long-term goals is not meant to create false hope or give the idea that we can totally control a person’s future. Instead, looking at long-term goals helps to clarify what is important to prioritize today in treatment and in daily life.

Examples of Considering Long-Term Goals in ABA

Let’s look at some examples:

  • If a parent thinks it would be in their 13 year old’s best interest to someday have a job, it would be helpful to start looking at skills that are related to employment in his pre-teen and young teen years.
  • If a 15 year old client with Level 1 autism spectrum disorder would like to own his own business when he is older, it could be helpful to help him to start exploring how he might achieve this and what it means to own a business.
  • If a parent of a 4 year old child with Level 3 (low functioning) ASD would like to see their child participate in general education public school throughout their childhood, consider what skills will be necessary for this to occur.
  • If the parent of a 12 year old boy with a diagnosis of ADHD and ASD (who has been using language including sexual content on occasion and who had looked up sexually explicit content online) would like the child to have the opportunity to experience healthy romantic relationships in the future and engage in appropriate social boundaries and treatment toward others presently and in the future, it may be relevant to start exploring sexuality, education about social boundaries and relationships, and teaching age-appropriate information about friendships and romantic relationships.
  • If a 20 year old client with severe developmental delays and little communication skills is receiving ABA services and her parents are concerned about her future specifically how she will take care of herself or who will take care of her (particularly after the parents have passed away), it would be beneficial to consider housing opportunities, home care services, and addressing self-care and independent living skills to the extent possible.

Look at the Small and Large Goals Simultaneously

In summary, it is not enough to only consider the ‘small skills’ that may arise through an assessment or observation within ABA services.

Instead, considering the big picture and addressing areas which will help the client obtain greater quality of life in the distant future is recommended. Consider the perspectives of the client and/or his or her caregivers combined with your clinical recommendations in regards to the goals that may be relevant to help the client achieve greater life fulfillment in one year, five years, or even ten years from now.

Considering Long-Term Goals in ABA Services – Improving the Client’s Future

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). Considering Long-Term Goals in ABA Services – Improving the Client’s Future. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 6, 2020, from