September 22, 2017



What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)?

Behavior Analysis is the “scientific study of principles of learning and behavior,” according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Making use of these scientific studies in real-world application is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA “is a systematic approach” to teach learners new skills as well as address any behaviors of concern. There are many techniques to implement ABA and it is best understood as a method of teaching.

Those practicing ABA look at the environmental situation (both past and present) around an individual in order to better understand why they are engaging in the behaviors they do in order to create meaningful and positive change. They do this by identifying what happens before and after a behavior and whether its influence is physical or social. Determination of these influences is commonly done with specialized assessment procedures. Treatment is then created to alter the learner’s environment to create behavior change.

How to Identify ABA According to the BACB

  1. An unbiased assessment and analysis of the client’s condition by observing how the environment affects the client’s behavior, as shown through appropriate data collection.
  2. Importance given to understanding the context of the behavior and the behavior’s value to the individual, the family, and the community.
  3. Application of the principles and procedures of behavior analysis such that the client’s health, independence, and quality of life are improved.
  4. Consistent, ongoing, and objective assessment and data analysis to advise clinical decision-making.

What Are the Essential Practice Elements of ABA According to the BACB?

  1. All-inclusive assessment describing specific levels of behavior at the start of services, used to create treatment goals and programming.
  2. An emphasis on understanding the value and social importance of targeted behaviors identified for treatment.
  3. Identifying small units of behavior, and implementing changes, that build towards larger, more significant changes in functioning related to improved health and levels of independence.
  4. Collection, measurement, and analysis of data by direct observation of behavioral targets during the course of services. And follow-up to maximize progress towards goals and to maintain that progress.
  5. Efforts to design, establish, and manage the social and learning environment(s) to lessen problem behavior(s) and maximize the rate of progress towards goals.
  6. An approach towards behavior change and treatment of problem behavior that links the function of (or the reason for) the behavior to the strategies chosen in the program.
  7. A treatment plan that is carefully constructed, individualized, and detailed, using reinforcement and other behavioral principles. The treatment plan should exclude the use of methods that lack agreement from published, peer-reviewed research about their effectiveness.
  8. Treatment protocols used repeatedly, frequently, and consistently across settings until discharge requirements are met.
  9. Emphasis on ongoing and frequent direct assessment, analysis, and adjustments to the treatment plan based on the progress of the client as determined by observations and unbiased data analysis.
  10. Direct support and training of family members and other involved professionals to encourage optimal functioning and promote generalization and maintenance of behavioral improvements.
  11. A Behavior Analyst with formal training in ABA that manages and supervises the treatment program.

Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. (2014). Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Funders and Managers [PDF]. Littleton, CO.

What Does the Research Say?

There have been decades of research within this area of study and behavioral scientists have been able to identify what principles and techniques work when attempting to change behavior. ABA takes the most updated research findings, applying them to everyday situations in an accessible manner. ABA has been endorsed by the US Surgeon General, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.

Who Can Benefit From ABA?

Developmental areas of all types can benefit from ABA. Areas that ABA techniques can produce improvements are social relationships, observable behaviors, school, daily living, employment, communication, and play skills. All age groups have shown improvement in various areas when receiving ABA. Studies also support that individuals of various diagnoses (e.g., Autism, traumatic brain injury, Downs Syndrome, general developmental delay, pediatric feeding disorders, emotional disorders, etc.) as well as neurotypical individuals can make use of ABA. This science had its infancy in the early 20th century, and behavior analysis began being used to help children with autism and other developmental disorders in the 1960s. ABA has also been used for goals such as learning a new language, smoking cessation, relationship counseling, sports psychology, organizational behavior management, and others.

Who Can Deliver ABA?

How Does Someone Become Qualified to Provide ABA?

The formal training of professionals certified by the BACB is similar to that of other medical and behavioral health professionals. That is, they are initially trained at a university and then begin working in a supervised clinical setting with clients. To become a BCBA, a candidate must have at least a Master’s degree. As a candidate gradually demonstrates the capabilities necessary to manage complex clinical problems across a variety of clients and medical environments in their supervised clinical training, they become independent practitioners. All Behavior Analysts candidates must undergo a difficult course of training and education, including an “internship” period where they work under the direct supervision of an experienced BCBA.

ABA is a specialized behavioral health treatment approach and most graduate training programs in psychology, counseling, social work, or other areas of clinical practice do not provide in-depth training in this discipline. Many programs and individuals claim to provide ABA due to the huge demand for ABA interventions. Regrettably, some of those that make this claim do not have the field’s recognized minimum requirements in education and practical experience. These other licensed professionals may or may not have ABA within their particular scope of training and capability. In addition, a small subset of clinicians may be licensed by another profession and also hold a credential from the BACB, thus providing evidence of the nature and depth of their training in ABA. When choosing an ABA program or consultant, always be sure to check the credentials of those who claim to be qualified. If you are to work with a Behavior Analyst, you should research whether or not they are credentialed with the Behavior Analysis Certification Board.

Even though management of behavioral health treatments supervised by Behavior Analysts alongside healthcare funding is a fairly recent occurrence, Behavior Analysts (like other medical and behavioral health providers) rely on procedures and strategies documented in peer-reviewed literature, reputable treatment protocols, and clinical decision-making structures. Behavior Analysts continually evaluate the current state of the client and customize treatment options based on the results of direct observation of the client and data from a variety of other assessments. They also gather and integrate information from the client and family members and coordinate care with other professionals.

Continuing Education and Maintaining Certification

Those certified by the BACB are required to demonstrate their compliance with the organization’s ethical and disciplinary rules on an annual basis and obtain 36 (BCBA) hours of continuing education units every three years, three hours of which must relate to ethics or professionalism. Agencies that employ Behavior Analysts need to support and provide this training as needed.

What is the BACB?

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation established to meet professional credentialing needs identified by Behavior Analysts, governments, and consumers of behavior analysis services. The mission of the BACB is to protect consumers of behavior analysis services worldwide by systematically establishing, promoting, and distributing professional standards. The BACB has established uniform content, standards, and criteria for the credentialing process that are designed to meet:

  • The legal standards established through state, national, and case law
  • The accepted standards for certification programs
  • The “best practices” and ethical standards of the behavior analysis profession

The BCBA certification programs are currently accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the accreditation arm of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. NCCA reviews and oversees all aspects related to ensuring the development and application of appropriate credentialing processes.

Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. (2014). Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Funders and Managers [PDF]. Littleton, CO.