top of page
  • lhoppe77

What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy?

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) uses the science of behavior to improve human conditions. Behavior is the primary focus of the science, and the science has been used for the last century to treat a wide variety of issues such as memory loss, pollution, obesity, and many more. However, ABA therapy has recently become widely known as a most effective treatment for autism spectrum disorder. ABA therapy has been deemed an effective treatment for autism with compelling scientific evidence to supports its use (National Standards Project, 2009).

ABA therapy provides one-on-one treatment to individuals diagnosed with autism and focuses on four major developmental areas: communication, daily living skills, social and play skills, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties both understanding and vocally expressing language. They also typically display deficits in independent living skills like toileting, dressing, and self-care. Furthermore, autism is characterized by a lack of appropriate social interactions and other important social skills such as friendship making and perspective taking, which are usually absent. Finally, many individuals with autism display some form of undesirable behavior ranging from mild (e.g., crying) to very severe (elopement, self-injury, aggression). Through an individualized assessment and treatment program, your team of ABA providers will help to increase communication, social/play, and independent living skills while simultaneously decreasing interfering behaviors. The long-term goal of ABA therapy is to enable the individual to live and function independently as well as be able to have their basic wants and needs met regularly.

Several different members may be involved in your child’s care during ABA therapy. The therapy team may include a clinical or program director, usually a doctoral-level behavior analyst (BCBA-D) or master’s level BCBA with several years of clinical experience, who helps oversee all the clients under a specific therapy provider’s care. Each family will also be assigned a case supervisor (also a BCBA) that will regularly meet with each family on their caseload to provide direct oversight on client programming as well as supervision to direct care staff. In order to obtain a BCBA certification, an individual must hold at least a master’s degree in ABA, pass a board certification exam, and regularly take continuing education courses within the field. You can search an individual’s credentials on the Behavior Analyst Certification website at any time. While the BCBA oversees a child’s programming, the child will also have one or more registered behavior technicians or RBTs working with them on a daily basis. An RBT is paraprofessional that implements the programs designed by the BCBA and provides the direct care to the client. You can learn more about the tiered structure of care from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) ABA treatment guide.

Two main models of care within ABA therapy include a focused and a comprehensive program. Focused ABA programs typically range from 10-25 hours of direct therapy per week and involve targeting a limited number of behaviors such as a specific maladaptive behavior or social skills deficits. Comprehensive ABA programs involve treatment of multiple affected developmental domains such as communication, social, and adaptive functioning. The intensity for comprehensive programs typically requires 30-40 hours per week and includes a large number of treatment targets for improvement. The intensity and number of direct treatment hours are determined through extensive initial assessments with an ABA therapy provider.

ABA therapy can be provided in a variety of locations, including homes, therapy centers, schools, community locations, or a combination of locations depending on the needs of your child. Some therapy companies only provide services in a specific location so you will need to connect with a provider that will best meet your family’s needs based on your child’s specific diagnosis and therapy goals.

ABA therapy is also typically provided in conjunction with other common treatments for autism such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. It’s important to find a therapy provider that will take a collaborative approach to your child’s treatment to ensure their most rapid success.

Caregiver training is also a required component of most ABA therapy programs. It involves caregivers in the treatment planning process and teaches them to implement components of the client’s treatment plan to promote carryover of treatment to other places, people, and times outside of the main therapy location.

If your child has a diagnosis of autism and is displaying difficulties communicating with others effectively, making friends, following daily routines, functioning independently, or is struggling academically or displaying challenging behaviors that interfere with school or other activities, ABA therapy could be a great option for your family.

If you are unsure if your child may benefit from ABA therapy or need help connecting with a quality provider in your area, reach out to Dr. Hoppe today to schedule a consultation. NTX Psychological Services, PLLC is located in McKinney, Texas.

Check out our other related blogs on the Autism Diagnostic Evaluation Process and An Autism Diagnosis and Beyond.

74 views1 comment



This was such a reader-friendly explanation of ABA therapy. I especially appreciated the detailed overview of the therapy team and models of APA therapy care.

bottom of page