ABA Terms: 24 Common Terms Parents Should Know

Reviewed by:

March 7, 2022

If your child has recently started ABA therapy, then new ABA terms can be overwhelming. Here are some of the most commonly used ABA terms to know:

ABA terms

A-B-C data: A description of behavior in terms of the Antecedent (A), Behavior (B), and Consequence (C)  of the behavior. What happened shortly before the behavior, including being ignored, needing an object, or trying to avoid a demand, is the antecedent. The behavior is an explanation of how the activity appears; for example, a "tantrum" might include kicking, throwing items, crying, and so on. The  response to the behavior is the consequence. This might entail ignoring the behavior, handing the object on to the learner, and so on. A consequence is not always a negative response to the behavior.

ABLLS-R: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised provides tools for parents to assess, monitor, and instruct children with autism. This assessment covers skills including, but not limited to, communication, social, group, toileting, and motor skills.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): This is a type of therapy based on the application of evidence-based science and understanding of socially important human behavior. ABA therapy can be used to understand a child’s behavior and how to encourage positive behaviors.

Apraxia: This is a speech condition that affects both the brain and the motor system. The brain is unable to efficiently coordinate the muscular movements required to pronounce words, sounds, or syllables.

BCBA: The acronym stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. A BCBA must hold a master’s degree, complete master’s level ABA courses, 2000 hours of clinical practice under the guidance of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and pass a written board examination for this certification. Every two years, continuing education credits are necessary for recertification. Conducting evaluations, drafting behavior plans and treatment programs, and teaching staff and parents are all things that BCBAs do.

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT): This is an ABA teaching approach for learning new abilities by isolating small specific tasks to complete. To maximize the likelihood of right responses, highly desired reinforcers are provided, and clear, succinct consequences are used throughout the training session.

Echoic: This is a verbal behavior term where speech, sound, or word is repeated by another individual.

Echolalia: Consistent repeating of another person's vocalizations. This might happen right away or be delayed. Echolalia may not be useful or instructive in learning spoken behavior, but it is better than generating no noises at all.

Generalization: Using a skill in one situation and applying it to other similar, but different situations.

Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA): This law ensures that children with special needs get Free and Adequate Public Education (FAPE) and related services throughout their lives to prepare them for independent living and employment.

Incidental teaching: Incidental teaching is when a teacher follows the learner's lead naturally in order to encourage a specific response.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): This is a document that provides early intervention assistance to children aged 0-3 years. The IFSP, like an IEP, defines and outlines the services required for the individual learner to meet developmental goals. It is also guaranteed under IDEA. Together, family members and care providers decide how to effectively plan, execute, and evaluate services and progress.

Intermittent reinforcement: This is when behavior is reinforced randomly rather than every time it happens. This can lead to the reinforcement of a habit and the development of extinction resistance. To either boost skill acquisition or minimize challenging behavior, everyone connected with the learner must be on the same reinforcement schedule.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): This is a phrase used in education to describe the most common setting in which a student can achieve academic and social growth.

Mand: This teaches the concept of a "request.” One of the first verbal abilities that are taught is the ability to communicate clearly. When a child can request an object, a person, or a need, the request might take the place of difficult, troublesome behavior.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET): This is the polar opposite of discrete trial teaching. The teachings are determined by the learner's present activities and interests. It is distinct from incidental teaching, which is a sort of discrete trial approach taught in a generalized environment. NET follows the child's lead, allowing learning to take place anywhere and at any time.

Pairing: This is the act of an instructor connecting with a learner to become a reinforcer for that learner in ABA. This might take anywhere from ten minutes to multiple days to complete. Pairing is a continual action.

Probe: A technique for "testing" a skill, or a portion of skill, to see if a certain step is already in the learner's repertoire. Probes are also used to test for skill generalization or to establish functional levels during baseline so that the appropriate program may be implemented. Data obtained just for a student's initial reaction to a certain stimulus/instruction is referred to as a probe.

Prompt: An additional antecedent stimulus that causes a certain response. Prompts can be viewed as "hints." A child, for example, may not welcome a passing friend; but the teacher may wave or mouth the word "hello" to prompt the child to do so. Prompts must fade fast so that the natural "trigger" (a peer in the corridor) may establish the tone for a greeting.

Shaping: Shaping is a technique for teaching a new behavior that involves encouraging incremental approximations to the desired behavior. If a child refuses to use a spoon, for example, shaping could start with accepting the spoon on the table, then next to the plate, on the plate, holding the spoon, and continuing until the child is utilizing the spoon.

Stereotypic behavior: This refers to repetitive motions of an object or motor mannerisms, such as rocking, hand flapping, clapping, or out-of-context laughter.

Task analysis: This is a set of steps that must be followed to perform a certain activity. The activity is broken down into its component elements, and the learner is then requested to do the action, such as "brushing teeth." The task analysis might be 10 steps or 40 steps depending on the competence level. A task analysis can be written or illustrated. The task analysis is abbreviated as the learner grows more comfortable with the task until the learner can do the skill independently.

(VB-MAPP): The Verbal Behavior Milestones Evaluation and Placement Program is a language and social skills assessment for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities established by Mark L. Sundberg. This assessment includes but is not limited to the skills of communication, echoics, linguistics, math, etc.  This assessment is rated for children 0-4.

Vineland adaptive behavior scale: This is a tool for determining ability levels in language, everyday living, social skills, and gross and fine motor abilities. Parents/caregivers are often questioned about the skills levels using a standardized questionnaire.


If you need ABA therapy, you may feel as if you're learning a new language. While the language is technical, our staff will thoroughly explain each term as it is used. Our best-in-class therapists at Songbird are here to help answer any questions you may have.

Songbird therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.