ABA Basics

You might have heard of the term ABA, often used in references to behavioral treatments and other therapies, but you probably haven’t found the time to look into what it is. So, what exactly is ABA? Well, ABA is the acronym for Applied Behavior Analysis. It is a form of therapy that uses scientific-based principles to modify behaviors in individuals with developmental disabilities. ABA works by increasing desired behaviors and decreasing undesired or harmful behaviors.

It is worth noting no two ABA therapy sessions are ever alike; each session is tailored to the individual needs of the particular client. Generally speaking, some standard components of ABA therapy include discrete trial teaching, programming for generalization to everyday situations, reinforcement, prompting and fading strategies, and outcome-based decision-making. Therapists can support clients in learning essential skills and behaviors through these various approaches and many more not mentioned.

Discrete Trial Training

“Discrete,” as you could probably guess, means “individual parts .”So then, discrete trial teaching (DTT) is a systematic method of breaking down a big task into smaller bits that the child or patient can accomplish comfortably. In ABA, this could be pointing to a flashcard of the color “red”, then identifying “red” in a larger sense such as a picture book. The therapist will break each task into smaller and simpler components so the child can focus on one step at a time until they have mastered it. Let’s take a look at how DTT works in an everyday ABA.

The therapist introduces a prompt (Sd), and the client responds accordingly (R). If the response is correct, the therapist rewards (Sd) it with positive reinforcement such as praise or attention.


Sd means discriminative stimulus, R means response, and Sr means Stimulus reinforcer. Notice how the therapist has broken down the process into three chunks, each step leading to the next. This way, the therapist can guide and shape the client’s behavior to promote healthier functioning.


In ABA, a skill is truly learned once it can be used in multiple environments. For example, if a child is taught to respond with “How are you” when asked how they are, this must be applied in other situations, such as at family gatherings or meeting someone new. This process of using the skill in different contexts is known as generalization – an essential component for successful clients.


You’ve probably heard the word “reinforcement” used often in day-to-day scenarios. For example, a constructionist may say, “We are reinforcing the building,” basically supporting the building. However, in ABA, reinforcement is an approach implemented by the therapist to bolster or increase the chances of a specific behavior being repeated, thus reinforcing the behavior. A therapist can use several reinforcement strategies, among common strategies are positive reinforcement (adding something preferred) or negative reinforcement (removing something unwanted). It depends on the client’s needs. 

Prompting and Fading

To prompt somebody, in layman’s terms, often means to give them a gentle reminder or cue about what to do next. In ABA therapy, prompting means giving the client hints or cues to help them complete a task. For example, a therapist may use a least-to-most prompting hierarchy, beginning with the least intrusive type of prompt such as pointing or gesturing in the direction of the desired behavior, and then moving up to more intrusive prompts, such as verbal prompting, modeling, and physical guidance. By using prompting, the therapist can provide support without taking over or completely doing the task for them. Prompting helps clients acquire new skills more quickly while also helping them become more independent by gradually reducing their reliance on prompts as they learn and practice new behavior.

These are just a few basic strategies we use help our clients learn new skills and behaviors. If you have any questions or your child is in need of help, feel to contact us and we’ll be more than happy to help!

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