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At a glance: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
Type of therapy
Behavioural
The claim
Improves social, communication and academic skills and skills for daily living, and decreases difficult behaviour
Suitable for
Children and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Research shows positive effects.
Time
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration
20+ Although interventions based on ABA can be time intensive, research has shown that this intensity can be critical to their success. Because ABA is an approach, rather than a therapy, it can be practised in many settings and integrated into daily routines.
Cost
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week
$0-30 The cost of ABA can vary significantly depending on what’s involved in the specific program.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse service provider information.

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is not a therapy in itself, but a theory on which some therapies are based.

The ABA theory identifies various teaching techniques that generally involve breaking down complex skills (or behaviours) into smaller steps and teaching them through the use of clear instructions, rewards and repetition.

Who is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) teaching techniques can be used for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) used for?

The Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach and its techniques can help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn new ways of interacting with others, improve academically and use the skills they learn in different settings – for example, at home, school and in the community.

ABA can also help children learn to replace difficult behaviour with more appropriate behaviour, like using words to ask for an object rather than screaming. For example, the skills children learn might include using words and language, following instructions, taking turns, playing with others, toileting and dressing.

Where does Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) come from?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an approach based on learning theory and the theory of behavioural psychology, which have been around since the early 1900s. Learning theory suggests that how people behave in a situation depends on their previous experiences of similar situations.

What is the idea behind Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

The key idea behind Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is that most human behaviour is learned through our interaction with our environment. What happens before and after any behaviour influences the likelihood of it being repeated. For example, if behaviour is rewarded, it’s more likely to happen again. If it isn’t rewarded, or is ignored or punished, it’s less likely to happen again.

ABA uses this idea to teach and encourage new and appropriate behaviour in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What does Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) involve?

Programs based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) generally involve:

  • assessing a child’s current skills and difficulties
  • setting goals and objectives – for example, learning how to say ‘hello’
  • measuring how often a behaviour or skill happens
  • designing and implementing a program that teaches the ‘target’ skill
  • measuring the ‘target’ skill to see whether the program is working
  • evaluating the program itself and making changes as needed.

The way programs incorporate and apply these elements varies. The way they’re applied also varies from one child to another. For example, an ABA-based program can be run in a family’s home, at a clinic, school or centre (like an early intervention service), or in a combination of two or more of these settings.

Most ABA-based programs incorporate several teaching techniques, which might include Discrete Trial Training, Functional Communication Training or incidental teaching, or using everyday interactions as opportunities for children to learn.

Other programs based on the principles of ABA include the:

Cost considerations

The cost of a program based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) depends on the program – how it’s structured and the service that delivers it.

You can reduce costs by providing some of the therapy yourself, by finding volunteers to work as aides, or by borrowing materials and resources from local toy libraries or local autism associations. The cost of consulting with and using therapists varies according to their training and experience.

Does Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) work?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an effective approach to working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and quality research shows that this approach has positive effects on the behaviour of children with ASD.

Given the variation in how ABA is applied, however, you might need to check the outcomes of specific programs to judge their success.

Who practises Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

Professionals with experience in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) usually include psychologists, speech pathologists, special education teachers and occupational therapists.

Practitioners don’t need formal qualifications to practise ABA therapy in Australia. But there’s an international accreditation body – the Behaviour Analysis Certification Board – that some providers are accredited by. It’s a good idea to consider the qualifications and experience of any providers you’re interested in.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If you’re using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), you usually play an active role in your child’s program. It can help if you’re aware of the goals and content of the program, so that you can reward appropriate behaviour and help your child transfer skills from the learning environment to other contexts.

You could also think about taking part in ABA training so that you can implement some of the therapy yourselves. This is one way to reduce program costs.

Where can you find an ABA practitioner?

The Behaviour Analyst Certification Board has a list of certified providers.

You can find other professionals by going to:

If you’re interested in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), you could talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 25-11-2016