What Is ABA?

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen

August 9, 2022

ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis. ABA therapy is based on the science of learning and behavior. This method applies knowledge of how behavior works in real situations to increase helpful behaviors and decrease harmful ones. 

ABA therapy is one of the most common interventions for autism, but there is a lot of outdated and contradictory information.

ABA Definition

ABA is a broad term that includes many different therapy approaches. These approaches generally focus on positive reinforcement and the “A-B-Cs” of behavior, which stands for “antecedent, behavior, and consequence.” 

Positive reinforcement rewards desired behaviors with something the child values, like toys or praise. By continuing to reward desired behaviors, the child is more likely to continue the positive behavior change. 

The  “A-B-Cs” refer to antecedent, behavior, and consequence. 

The antecedent is what happens right before the behavior. It may come from the environment (like a toy, light, or sound), from a person (like an instruction or request), or internally (a thought or feeling).

Behavior is the response to the antecedent. A behavior can be an action, verbal response, or a lack of response.

A consequence is what comes after the behavior. This could be how others respond to the learner, or an event in the environment like a sound or sensation.

To put this into perspective, an example of A-B-C is as follows: an antecedent is an individual walking into a dark room; the behavior is flipping the light switch; and the consequence is the light bulb turning on.

What are the pros of ABA?

The benefits of ABA therapy for autism are proven by science and real-world observation. 

Improved social skills

ABA therapies systematically teach social skills that individuals with autism may have a harder time learning, like:

  • Identifying social cues
  • Appropriate play
  • Following directions
  • Turn taking
  • Responding to a speaker
  • Identifying emotions

When children learn these social skills, they have more opportunities to make friends and play.

More effective approaches for parents

Parents and caregivers are empowered to actively engage in their child’s ABA therapy. Parents that are involved in ABA therapy can have improved relationships with their children by building rapport involved in therapy and by the child’s improved social skills. 

Surveys show that most parents feel positive about the effect of ABA therapy on their child and on their lives. 

Improved ability to gain and generalize skills

Generalization is the ability to use a new skill in a different situation and with different people. A skill is considered generalized when it can be completed even when the conditions change. 

The flexibility of ABA therapy can help individuals with autism to generalize skills more effectively. 

Enhanced independent living skills

The systematic approach to teaching works well for learning self-care skills like:

  • Brushing hair
  • Brushing teeth
  • Showering 
  • Getting dressed
  • Using the toilet
  • Sleeping through the night 

Flexible location of therapy

ABA therapy can take place in a home-based or community setting or a center-based setting. Using multiple locations can help with generalization and be more convenient for the family.  

ABA is covered by insurance 

Although the average annual cost of ABA therapy for autism can be more than $60,000, there are many ways to get assistance paying for therapy. Most states in the US require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism.

ABA is proven to work 

The only interventions showing comprehensive, lasting results are based on ABA. Over 40 years of studies show decreased problem behaviors and increased skills in individuals with autism.

What are the limitations of ABA therapy?

ABA therapy is time intensive

ABA treatment plans usually consist of 10 to 30 hours of therapy per week but can be as much as 40 hours per week. This is a big commitment that can decrease a child’s free time and be a burden on the home environment.

Long waitlists for qualified ABA therapists

Families can wait up to 18+ months for ABA therapy for autism during a critical time for early intervention. Songbird Therapy is decreasing the wait time by streamlining the process so children with autism can benefit from early interventions. 

Research is limited on the efficacy of ABA therapy for adults

Although it has been suggested that ABA therapy can be adapted to teach adults independent living skills, there is not much research to show how effective it can be in adults.

Support for ABA

Parents may have heard criticism that ABA therapy for autism focuses on changing behavior. However, several organizations have made statements supporting the use of ABA for autism. 

The Autism Science Foundation’s “Statement on Use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for Autism” shares strong support for the use of ABA. 

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the American Psychological Association. Evidence-based means using research-based treatments tailored by an experienced therapist to meet individual needs.


There are many interventions available for autism. The best treatment should be individualized for each child and their family. High-quality ABA therapy prioritizes the goals and values of the individual with autism and their family. 

‍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.