Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

ABA is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree.  It is a methodology that can be used in all curriculum and skill areas:

  • Academic
  • Social
  • Cognitive
  • Communicative
  • Self-help
  • Behavioral
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills


Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place and why people behave as they do. Reinforcement is one of these principles. ABA indicates that when a behavior is immediately followed by some sort of reward, then that behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future. Through decades of research, the field of ABA has introduced many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing challenging behaviors that could cause harm or interfere with learning.  ABA is an important strategy for promoting meaningful and positive change in behavior for individuals with autism.

How Does ABA Benefit Those with Autism?

ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for individuals with autism and may also benefit children with other disabilities. Based on many years of effective implementation and positive results, ABA has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health. Consequently, there has continued growth in the use of ABA to help persons with autism acquire adaptive skills, develop job skills, communicate more effectively, and reduce the presence of maladaptive, challenging behaviors. In other words, ABA principles and techniques can foster basic skills such as eye contact, receptive listening skills, and imitation, as well as complex skills such as conversational skills, reading and writing, and understanding others’ emotions, feelings, and motivations.

Why Use ABA with Learners with ASD?

Research supporting the use of ABA with individuals with autism, particularly young children, has been well-established.  Peer-reviewed studies have investigated the impact of intensive ABA services in high-quality programs and the results have usually suggested that learners make significant gains in socially-relevant behaviors. In some cases, early, intensive ABA training provides students with the requisite skills to successfully transition back into neighborhood skills while other students continue to require more restrictive classroom settings even as they acquire positive adaptive skills. Generally, the research on ABA has suggested that children who receive intensive behavioral therapy make more significant gains than students who are educated in other educational programs.

There is also growing research support that ABA techniques are an important training tool for adolescents and adults with autism.  ABA strategies can be utilized in programming and planning for older individuals with autism as they transition from traditional academic environments into work settings and independent living.

Who is Qualified to Provide ABA Services?

ABA programming for learners with autism, as in any other specialized, clinical field, should be designed and supervised by qualified professionals.  This group of professionals can include licensed clinical psychologists with training in applied behavior analysis or behavior analysts, who are board-certified with supervised experience providing ABA treatment (BCBA).  While much of the day-to-day ABA work can be performed by certified teachers and well-trained teaching assistants, schools’ ABA programs should be overseen by highly-trained professionals who have the ability to provide staff training and create effective ABA systems.

What is the Role of ABA in AHRC New York City Schools?

ABA is a significant component of all AHRC NYC schools. In our preschools, there are dedicated ABA classrooms for students with autism. Educational programming, behavioral support, and classroom arrangement all reflect best practice ABA. The Program Coordinators’ comprehensive data collection plans and forms help provide consistent monitoring of students’ progress. To ensure high-quality programming, staff receives pre-service and in-service training in ABA practices.

Our elementary schools, Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary and Staten Island Prep, are primarily founded on ABA methodology although some classrooms also incorporate other research-supported strategies when necessary. Programming and practice are supervised by a BCBA, and teacher and teaching assistants who have received continuous training in ABA principles, practices, and theories. ABA practice consists of scheduled 1:1, Discrete Trial Training (DTT) periods as well as small group and full class instruction based on ABA methods. When student behavior becomes problematic and does not consistently respond to proactive strategies, our highly-trained ABA specialists conduct Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) and Functional Analyses (FA) in order to identify the reasons for behavior and to design comprehensive plans for behavioral modification.

AHRC Middle/High School utilizes ABA strategies in most classrooms as well.  While there is less 1:1, DTT instruction within the students’ schedules in order to better prepare the students for the ratios of the adult world, teachers utilize the same research-supported Reinforcement, extinction, task analysis, prompting, and behavioral modification strategies that work so effectively for students with autism. Staff receives consistent training in ABA principles through the STAR Autism Support Program.  In instances when student behavior becomes significantly challenging, experienced staff conduct FBAs in order to identify the behavioral function and create successful, individualized behavior plans.