What is ABA Therapy for Autism? Examples & Alternatives

August 11, 2020By: VocoVision

ABA Therapy is an important function for every school and district, but what exactly is it. This blog will take a deep dive in everything ABA therapy related and especially how it related to students and children with Autism.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a therapy grounded in the science of behavior and learning. The practice incorporates evidence-based principles to determine how and why behaviors occur and how these actions affect learning. The goal of this analysis is to apply what we understand about behavior to real-life settings and to alter adverse actions. Using various techniques and individualized approaches, therapists can help improve communication, attention, and memory for their clients. The ABA therapy definition can vary slightly between different industries, but one commonality persists: it can effectively remove problem behaviors and help people increase positive outcomes in their lives.

ABA Therapy for Autism

What is ABA therapy for autism, then? In this practice, the science behind ABA is tailored specifically for patients on the autism spectrum. Because people with autism often struggle with language, learning, or social interactions, this form of autism therapy is surging in popularity. ABA therapy improves skills in these categories, in a high percentage of patients. The primary area of focus is behavior modification: if patients can replace problematic reactions with positive ones, they should see an increase in social and academic success. Specialists customize their plans for each individual, depending on the client’s strengths, needs, and interests.

Is ABA Therapy only for Autism?

While ABA therapy is primarily an approach for patients with autism, it treats many other learning challenges, as well. For people suffering from brain injury-related cognitive issues, eating disorders, substance abuse, dementia, severe anxiety, and anger issues, ABA therapy can be beneficial. As with autism, the goal is the same: to improve behavior and learning by following a systematic, individualized approach.

Examples and Techniques

The approach that behaviorists use is different for each client. There are as many ABA therapy examples as there are patients, as each plan is custom-designed for individuals. However, ABA plans run on the ABCs: Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. This systematic approach to analyzing behavior is part of any ABA therapy plan and is a close study of what triggers reactions and resultant responses.

Usually, behavior analysts will sit down with the patient or family and assess the needs of the individual. Based on this consultation, specialists can begin crafting a therapy plan. Depending on the desired outcome – social, emotional, self-care, motor skills, or another area – the program will tailor to the client. Some patients do better in a one-to-one setting, while others may thrive in a small group of peers. No matter the therapy, it can always be adapted and modified to meet the needs of the patient best.

There are several proven ABA therapy techniques that practitioners utilize regularly. A standard method is using positive reinforcement, which rewards patients immediately when they perform appropriate behaviors. On the flip side, negative reinforcement is another strategy. If a consequence is clear and prompt, the undesirable behavior should disappear over time. Promptingis another common technique, which involves providing clues to individuals, so they learn appropriate actions. Other sophisticated approaches, such as task analysis, include observing patients and how they behave in specific situations.

A powerful practice for students with autism is a generalization, which teaches patients to transfer their knowledge across subject areas and topics. Some ABA therapists incorporate behavior contracts with students. With these contracts, children earn rewards by performing behaviors in the agreement. Visual learners can benefit from video modeling, which gives patients an example to learn positive behaviors. For patients who struggle with communication and articulation, picture exchange communication systems (PECS) is a solution that some ABA therapists integrate. Instead of using language, children can point to pictures to communicate feelings and wants. A final technique used in ABA therapy is peer-mediated social skills training. Children learn appropriate social behaviors through real, in-person interactions with others in a small group setting

Teletherapy services are increasing in popularity, as well. A novel, exciting approach in ABA delivery, remote ABA therapy is a lower-cost, yet effective, solution. Research proves that this service delivery model is as successful as in-person interactions, eliminating physical obstacles and geographic challenges. Parents can receive training in ABA techniques via teletherapy, and the result is a dynamic program for patients and their families. Teletherapists utilize the same interventions as on-site therapists, including discrete trial training, pivotal response training, Early Start Denver Model aspects, and functional communication training. Teletherapists choose the appropriate intervention based on the student’s age, needs, and other factors.

ABA Therapy Cost

How much does ABA therapy cost? It hangs on several factors. These factors include the patient’s needs, the specific ABA therapy that they receive, and the type of service provider that delivers treatment. Similar to other forms of therapy, providers bill hourly for services. Like related clinical approaches, the services can be expensive, depending on how many hours of therapy the patient receives. Many individuals receive assistance in some form, however, and do not end up paying the full amount. ABA centers and children’s schools often provide some financial aid to families, such as funding the therapy or awarding scholarships.

Insurance coverage of ABA therapy changes based on your location and age. Many states require specific types of private health insurance to cover ABA services, while others do not. The type of insurance coverage you have matters, as far as how much of the cost will be covered. Medicaid will cover the cost of services if a doctor prescribes ABA therapy, but only for patients under 21 years old. The age of a child affects insurance benefits, as well, and varies by state.

ABA Therapy Pros and Cons

ABA therapy has an impressive success rate, but it does have its share of controversy. Here are the pros and cons of this practice.


  • Flexible and customizable
  • Services can be provided in multiple locations
  • Proven, science-based model
  • Provides useful life and social skills
  • Decreases problem behaviors


  • Sometimes seen as too severe and limiting for children
  • Removes behaviors and emotions that may be necessary in life
  • Too narrow of a focus. Other specialists (SLPs, OTs, etc.) could be more effective than a one-size-fits-all provider

Alternatives to ABA Therapy

An ABA therapy program is not the only solution for patients, and other evidence-based treatments exist. Some of these treatments include changes in nutrition, integrative therapies (acupuncture, herbalism, etc.), detoxification therapies, stress modulation, nature connection therapies, music therapies, and many more. Patients and their families can try these approaches and see the results, as what may work well for one person will not for another. A majority of professionals subscribe to ABA therapy, though, due to its deep grounding in science and the amount of research proving its efficacy.

When to Stop Treatment

The question of when to stop ABA therapy hinges on the individual. The first step is to examine the desired outcomes. Have patients reached their goals? If so, families can gradually reduce therapy hours and eventually stop treatment. Another factor is the cost: if services are too expensive, families may need to cease treatment. Is your ABA therapy not working? Have results declined? First, reexamine the treatment plan with the therapist. It can be a mistake to stop treatment after a significant time and cost investment, so make sure that the program still meets the objectives of the patient before discontinuing therapy.

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