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ABA Therapy Part Two: How does ABA Therapy Work?

In our previous blog post, we asked the question: “What is ABA Therapy.” The short answer goes like this: “Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy) is a widely recognized method for reducing harmful behavior and teaching new skills.” ABA Therapy is research-based, individualized, and goal-oriented. These three factors set ABA Therapy apart as an effective therapy. But how does ABA Therapy work? What makes ABA Therapy effective?


ABA Therapy is practiced in the client’s environment. This could mean that a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) visits a client at home or at school or on the jobsite. This enables the BCBA to analyze the environmental causes for the behavior(s) that will be focused on (these are called target behaviors).

ABC Data

Every behavior is made up of three components.

  1. Antecedent The antecedent is the thing that occurs just before the target behavior.

  2. Behavior This is the target behavior we are focusing on.

  3. Consequence The consequence is what occurs immediately after the target behavior.

ABA Therapy is carried out in the same environment that the target behavior occurs in. Because of this, BCBAs are able to identify the environmental factors (A & C) that trigger or reinforce a given behavior. Often, the best way to change a behavior is to address either the antecedent or the consequence. Another option is to teach a new behavior and provide a consequence that reinforces the new behavior

By using these techniques, BCBAs are able to reduce harmful behaviors. When they do this, they pave the road for learning new skills.


ABA Therapy is an effective tool for teaching new skills. Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is the practice of breaking down a skill into individual steps. Let’s imagine that the goal is to teach someone to dress themselves. Some steps would be using a zipper, buttoning buttons, and picking out clothes. All of these individual goals make the larger goal more attainable.

You might be thinking, “Isn’t this how everyone learns?” In one sense, you would be right. The difference with Discrete Trial Training is that it requires specific language (short and precise), consistent reinforcement, and establishing a hierarchy. This is where the trained professional comes in. BCBAs are uniquely equipped to accommodate curriculum to a child’s particular needs and learning style.


One of the questions that any therapy has to answer is, “How do you generalize this behavior?” How does ABA Therapy make sure that behaviors and skills learned are applied outside of interventions?

Comprehensive Care

We have talked about some of the ways ABA Therapy works with individuals. The best kept secret of ABA Therapy is that it trains not only the individual, but also the families, teachers, caregivers, etc. This means that even when the BCBA leaves, therapeutic interventions are still happening. This makes the behaviors and skills stick, because there is consistency in prompting and reinforcement the desired behaviors.


I know what you’re thinking. “Please stop talking about environment.” But this is a big reason that ABA Therapy leads to generalization. Behaviors and skills are learned in the same place that they will be applied. You don’t have to learn in a clinical environment and hope it applies to real life. Learning happens where real life is lived. This is a huge advantage of ABA Therapy: Generalization is built into every step of the program.

ABA Therapy is a widely recognized discipline for changing behaviors and teaching new skills.  It works because highly-trained professionals analyze each situation in detail and make a plan to move forward.


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