What is ABA? | KGH Autism Services: ASD Treatment Clinic, Chicago & Madison

What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a discipline devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior.  More specifically, it is defined as the science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied to improve socially significant behaviors, and analysis is used to identify the variables that are responsible for the improvement in behavior (Cooper, John O., Heron, Timothy E., & Heward, William L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis: Second Edition. Upper Saddle River: NJ.). 

What do you mean by human behavior?

Behavior is defined as anything a person does that we can see and measure.  Many people mistakenly think of only ‘bad behavior’ like hitting, biting, tantrums, or any other behavior that is not socially acceptable.  However, while those are behaviors, maladaptive behaviors make up only some of the variations of human behavior in general.  Some other examples of behavior are:

pointing eating talking
playing a game watching TV playing
doing chores doing homework walking
exercising socializing driving
learning to read teaching language breathing

From this list, we expand on behavior to also include areas that we would like to improve (i.e., see more of or be better at). So now that you understand what behavior in Applied Behavior Analysis means, you can better understand that ABA is a discipline that uses a variety of scientifically proven procedures to increase and/or decrease any identified behavior.

The ABC’s of ABA






When identifying a behavior to change or teach, the environment is analyzed to best determine where to start. This analysis is conducted across the three-term contingency, or the A – B – C model.
     A:  Antecedent (an event which happens just prior to the behavior occurring)
     B:  Behavior (the behavior itself- what has happened after the antecedent has occurred)
     C: Consequence (response or consequence for the behavior)

In all, human behavior is affected by events that precede it (antecedents) and events that follow it (consequences). By manipulating stimuli/events that precede behavior and/or those that follow, we can work towards creating behavior change in an individual. If you would like to learn more about ABA, consider attending one of our in house workshop series. More information can be found here.

Teaching Methods Utilized at KGH

While ABA principles and procedures are implemented to decrease maladaptive behaviors, they can also be applied to increase behaviors. These ABA teaching methods include, but are not limited to, the following:  Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT), Verbal Behavior (VB), Natural Environment Teaching (NET), and Precision Teaching (PT).  At KGH Consultation & Treatment, Inc., we only apply empirically supported (i.e., those procedures that are based on science to be effective) teaching techniques that are based on the principles of ABA.  KGH’s approach places emphasis on skill generalization and maintenance.  This ensures that learned skills are retained, sustained, and are demonstrated across people, places, and materials. 


DTT is also known as discrete trial teaching.  Here, skills are broken down into smaller parts and taught systematically.  Instruction is guided by a teacher.  Incorrect responses are corrected and taught to mastery.  Correct responses are reinforced.  Smaller skills build upon larger skills to facilitate the foundation for learning. 


The VB or the verbal behavior approach builds on the ABA research and enhances a child’s ability to learn functional language.  Language is treated as a behavior that can be shaped and reinforced while careful attention is paid not only to what a child says, but also to why s/he is using language.  With this learning approach, expressive language skills are addressed and children learn to request, label, and fill in the blanks (e.g., songs).  In addition, overall communication is addressed.   The goal of a VB program is to create a full and rich language repertoire by increasing non-verbal responses to what someone says (receptive), verbal responses to motivation (mands), verbal responses that match exactly what someone else says (echoic), verbal responses to non-verbal stimuli in the environment (tact), and verbal responses to what someone else says that do not match what was just said (intraverbal). 


NET, also known as natural environment teaching, is an empirically supported teaching procedure where skills are taught in the “natural environment” during typical day-to-day activities (e.g., meal time) and across diverse play settings.  The goal is to help target skill generalization where learning is taught to occur across different materials and environments and is not dependent upon just one table/setting and one set of specific materials.


Lastly, PT or precision teaching, is a precise and systematic method of evaluating instructional tactics and curricula. It is based on the following principles: focuses on directly observable behavior, frequency as a measure of performance, and the philosophy that “the learner knows best.” In other words, if the learner isn’t learning, we are not teaching and KGH makes effort to consistently evaluate the behavior of the therapists to ensure it is resulting in effective learning of the individual.


Cooper, John O., Heron, Timothy E., & Heward, William L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis: Second Edition. Upper Saddle River: NJ.

Baer, D., Wolf, M., & Risley, R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91 - 97.