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What is ABA in SIMPLE terms?

aba student

Are you a parent of an autistic child or a special education teacher in an autism room? Do you want to know what is ABA in simple terms or Applied Behavior Analysis in easy speak? Have you seen that behavior analysis and ABA in schools is becoming more common? Here is a little about what ABA is. I'll be adding to this series as we go on! 


Because I was a consumer of ABA (for my kiddo), when I started working in the clinical setting and the school setting, I believe I had a unique perspective. One thing is Making. It. Simple! Make it accessible and down-to-earth for us poor parents who are sometimes just holding on by a thin wire.

So I thought I'd go back through some of the trainings I've done over the years to parents and educators and share them here. 

autism student

What is ABA?

Stands for Applied Behavior Analysis and is the gold standard for autism treatment these days. When my son was diagnosed (over 20 years ago), it was still gaining traction, but with another 20 years of research behind it, AND all the positive movement that the field has gone through in those years, I can tell you that is is SO MUCH BETTER than it even was when my son was young. So much more love and fun infused in it! But I digress.

Applied = We are interested in actually applying the scientific principles we know are true and not just studying them in a lab. Applied also means we work on socially significant behaviors. 

Behavior = We are interested in behavior as opposed to internal events such as thoughts and feelings. While we know those are important and have an impact on what we do, we can’t measure them, so we focus on what we can see to tell us if our strategies are working.

Analysis = We are interested only in change we can observe and document. While it’s great if we can feel like something is improving, we want to see it on paper, make meaningful changes when something is not working, work and rework our systems to give the students we work with the BEST chance of reaching their highest potential. We. Like. Data. BECAUSE it helps us achieve that goal.

⭐ This DIGITAL & Print Preschool/Pre-K Assessment data sheet is perfect for assessing and collecting data on students pre-academic skills (readiness skills) for colors, shapes, numbers, counting, and letters. Includes bonus NO-Prep BOOM Cards. 

⭐ These DIGITAL & Print special education data sheets and forms are perfect for assessing and collecting data on students and tracking communication. Content includes Google Forms, Google Slides, full-color printable PDF visuals, and Boom Cards. 

Do you struggle with the time-consuming task of writing IEP goals for your Preschool Special Education students? Or finding the correct wording to create specific, meaningful goals to meet the needs of your early intervention and Pre-K students? This resource is perfect for busy teachers.

The 7 Dimensions of ABA

ABA is based on evidenced-based scientific methods using the 7 dimensions (Baer, Wolf, Risley, 1968) that we all should follow. 1) Generality, 2) Effective, 3) Technological, 4) Applied, 5) Conceptually Systematic, 6) Analytic, 7) Behavioral.

7 Dimensions of ABA

What it means:

    • We use data to make meaningful decisions in our instruction to help a person gain the most independence and dignity as anyone deserves. 
    • We use scientific principles, tried and tested over time to work to help students reduce maladaptive behaviors and increase socially significant behaviors. 
    • We focus on the idea that the consequence of what we do affects what we learn and how we will act in a similar situation in the future.
    • We focus on positive reinforcement
    • We individualize for each student; we figure out what works for that ONE student and do that. There is no “program,” just as there is no one child or learning style.
    • We use assessments and pre-tests to see where a student is at to start, and we develop programs that intend to improve the most socially important skills, and we assess and reassess on a regular basis to see if we’re going in the right direction. 
    • We have fun! It is important that every adult working with every student learn how to make THEMSELVES the most reinforcing item available to the student from the very beginning. Embrace your inner child and let loose!

Why I Care

ABA has ebbed and flowed with testimonials and critics. As with anything, there are great practitioners and there are crappy ones. 

It's important to know WHAT ABA is so that you know that it is a SCIENCE, but finding the right person to DELIVER that science to your child (or student) is what's important.

Find someone who balances the science behind ABA with the culture and desires of the family.

ABA in School on TpT

Check out my TeachersPayTeachers store for early education, special education, speech therapy, and ABA materials

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