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ABC’s of Behavior

Also known as the 3-term contingency it is a simple tool used to determine the function of a behavior. The A is for antecedent (what happens right before the behavior of concern), the B is the actual behavior of concern, and C is the consequence (what typically happens right after or during the occurrence of […]

ABLLS Assessment

ABLLS stands for Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills. This comprehensive assessment process is a test designed to determine language and critical learner skills in individuals specifically affected by autism and other developmental disabilities. The assessment captures a picture of the whole child and also looks in-depth into many domains. Much of this assessment […]

Acquisition Task

A behavior or a skill that is still not part of a child’s repertoire. A Skill Acquisition Plan is put together after your child has been evaluated by the BCBA. The plan can focus on certain types of skill sets: Motor Skills – holding a utensil or pencil to help with writing. Communication Skills – […]


In behavior analytic terms, an antecedent is simply what happened right before the behavior.  It is very important to be very specific and accurate as to what the actual antecedent is.

Applied Behavior Analysis

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the US Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association. A qualified and trained behavior analyst (BCBA) designs and directly oversees the program. They customize the ABA program to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. The BCBA will start by doing a detailed […]

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist

Typically, an ABA therapist’s job includes implementation of the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), skill-building lessons (these are commonly called “programs” in the field of ABA), and engaging in play with the learner. Their approach depends on the need of the individual. Synonymous labels for ABA Therapist “ABA Therapist” is just one of the many ways […]

Aspergers Syndrome

Aspergers Syndrome used to be considered separate from ASD. The main differences was that these individuals are very verbal and have normal to high IQs, but have social difficulties/impairments, and may have more neurological issues. These individuals sometimes could go undiagnosed until they were older, since common symptoms of Autism may not be present or […]

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to an assortment of conditions characterized by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences which means individuals living with autism are most likely showing very different symptoms, with symptoms themselves expressed very differently, from each other.

Aversive Stimulus

An aversive stimulus is anything that someone simply does not like. Those things vary per person at any given time. How is Aversive Stimulus used in ABA? In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), an aversive stimulus refers to something that an individual finds unpleasant but is presented in order to reduce the occurrence of the target […]

Avoidance Contingency

The definition of avoidance contingency is a response you engage in that postpones or prevents a stimulus from occurring. What is Avoidance Contingency in ABA? Avoidance contingencies are often used to address unwanted behaviors. For instance, if a child exhibits aggressive behavior, such as hitting, yelling, or screaming when they do not get what they […]

Backward Chaining

Backward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair. The ABA therapist or parent goes through each step of a process with the child with autism together until the last […]


How a behavior is before an intervention to either strengthen or weaken that behavior. Knowing the baseline is very important in any ABA program/behavior plan in order to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.  


These certifications are awarded to individuals that have received extra training and/or graduate-level coursework, supervised fieldwork, have passed an examination, and have completed requirements to maintain their credentials.


A behavior must be observable and/or measurable for it to be considered a behavior.

Behavior Chain

A behavioral chain consists of a series of steps that occur in a specific order, resulting in a complex behavior. Essentially, it is a set of steps used to carry out intricate actions like washing your hands. Before implementing a chaining procedure, a task analysis must be conducted in which a complex behavioral unit is […]

Behavior Contrast

This term is used to describe a situation in which a behavior may occur differently given two different situations.  For example, Cindy bites her nails so badly that her cuticles start to bleed. Her parents are divorced so she spends one month at a time with either parent. Cindy’s mom scolds her every time she […]

Bio-Medical Approach

A bio-medical approach to treating autism focuses on the potential biological roots of autism, such as heavy metal toxicity or yeast overgrowth, or certain difficulties related to food processing. Many physicians believe that problems with the immune, digestive, or endocrine systems are linked to autism symptoms. This method seeks to target these biological processes in […]


Used to teach complex skills that comprise of numerous steps. To teach, each step is identified first then taught until mastery. Chaining can be either done by backward, forward, or total task analyses with each type having its pros and cons.

Chronological Age/ Developmental Age

Chronological age is the actual age calculated by a person’s birthdate. A developmental age is based on level of functioning/cognitive ability, and adaptive skills. For example, a child can have a chronological age of 12; however, an assessment can suggest that her developmental age is of a 4 year-old.  


Simply put: a person assessed to have at least two diagnoses at the same time.  For example, a person is living with autism and an anxiety disorder.

Conditioned reinforcers

These types of reinforcers acquired their reinforcing properties only after they are paired with other stronger [unconditioned]reinforcers. For example, a plastic chip by itself may not be reinforcing but it may be so only after the plastic chip is associated with, let’s say, a bag of peanuts (assuming the learner “loves” peanuts).  


In “ABC” of behavior, it is the consequence of a behavior OR whatever follows after the occurrence or during the occurrence of a behavior.


Is a person who develops a treatment/behavioral plans, trains and supervises staff. It is important that a consultant possess a BCBA or a BCBA-D certification along with the pertinent experience required to oversee an ABA program or services.

Contained Classroom

A contained classroom typically has a smaller teacher-to-student ratio than an inclusive classroom and is taught by a Special Education teacher with the inclusion of at least one trained paraprofessional.


Deprivation works along the lines of motivation in which the more deprived a person is of something that he likes, the more motivated the person may be to do what is asked of him to do.

Developmentally Delayed (DD)

A young child may be given a diagnosis of DD when he is not meeting developmental milestones such as crawling, sitting up, using a pincer grasp, talking/babbling, et cetera. Early identification is the key.

Differential Reinforcement

Strengthening a specific behavior while placing all other behaviors in extinction.  For example, calling upon a student with a raised hand is reinforced by the teacher by calling the student’s name and giving that student a chance to say her answer while completely ignoring all other students that blurt out the answer.

Discrete Trial Training

DTT is an ABA-based method of instruction in which a task is isolated and taught to an individual across multiple contrived opportunities until mastery.  Not all skills can be taught via this teaching method.

Discriminative stimulus (SD)

Think of this as a signal for a learner to perform a specific behavior that will then result in a specific event.  For example, you showed your child a picture of a dog, she says “Dog,” then she gets a big hug and a hi-five from you.


The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used by mental health professionals to diagnose a person. It is a very comprehensive manual that catalogs known mental conditions, disorders, and syndromes and explains how to diagnose each one. 


An echoic is the repeated word/phrase/sentence that a person performs after hearing the word/phrase/sentence.  For example, Courtney hears her father saying “Be quiet, Courtney!” Courtney says, “Be quiet Courtney!”


Echolalia then is a label used to describe a condition in which a person performs echoics. Displaying echolalia does not mean a person is living with autism nor does all individuals living with autism displays echolalia.


As the label suggests, elopement is wandering off, or running away, or any behavior to that effect. As there can be various motivations for a person to elope, a functional assessment or analysis is needed to develop a sound behavior plan to address this challenging behavior.

Escape Contingency

Escape Contingency is one of the three negative reinforcement contingencies. An escape contingency can be defined as when performing a specific behavior stops an ongoing event. Some examples are: for a child dropping onto the floor followed by the child crying stops the event of the child having to enter the classroom. for a student […]

Escape Extinction

The behavior that usually “stops” an unwanted event no longer effectively stops that same unwanted event.  For example, a child usually cries when presented with a table-task. In the past, the crying behavior has been negatively reinforced by the removal of the table-task.  In escape extinction, the teacher will not remove the table-task regardless of […]


Expressive means speaker behavior and is not just limited to vocal mode of communication.  That is, a person can also use sign language, writing on paper, using pictures, or typing on a keyboard/pc to communicate his needs to others.


Extinction is when the consequence that have maintained the behavior will no longer be presented after or during the challenging behavior.  For example, Leo’s mother is in the kitchen near the cookie jar. Leo wants some cookies so he walks to his mother and hits her shoulder a couple of times.  His mother keeps offering […]

Extinction burst

Extinction burst is used to describe the increase in intensity or rate of a behavior when the behavior no longer results in the usual reinforcer that maintains it over time. For example, an extinction burst is when the child’s hitting no longer results in a cookie so they retort to stronger hits, and/or screaming, and/or […]


A procedure in which assistance or supports used for a behavior to occur are systematically made less as the learner’s behavior become more independent.  Failure to systematically fade prompts produce prompt-dependent behaviors.


Free Appropriate Public Education.  FAPE is an education right of children in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975.


Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, fixed interval is a way to describe how much time must pass before a learner’s first correct response will be reinforced.  For example, a FI-15 is a way to label a schedule in which the learner’s first correct response after 15 minutes will be reinforced. Behaviors on […]

Fine Motor Skills

These are the motor activities that require the coordination and movement of the smaller muscles of the body such as those of the hand and fingers.


Floortime is a child-led treatment method that is typically administered in a naturalistic play environment. Floortime is not an ABA-based treatment nor is it an empirically supported method in terms of its effectiveness in treating children living with autism.

Forward chaining

Forward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair. A teaching technique in which the learner is prompted/taught the first step in a series of steps with the therapist/parent performing […]


Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, fixed ratio is a way to describe how many responses a learner must do before a reinforcer is given.  For example, a FR-10 suggests that the learner must do 10 responses first after which the 10th correct response will be reinforced. Behaviors on a FI scheduled show […]

Functional Analysis (FA)

This direct process arranges the antecedents and consequences of a problem behavior in an experimental design to determine their separate effects on the behavior of concern.  Although an FA can be used to look into any challenging behavior, in practice, it may be more practical to use a FBA instead.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

This is an indirect process by which behavioral interventions are created. An FBA is intended to determine the function for a behavior by using observation data, interviews, and questionnaires.

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

This is a teaching method based on differential reinforcement in which the learner is taught a way to communicate one’s wants or needs instead of the learner performing a behavior that is not socially-appropriate.  For example, a learner is taught to tap another person’s shoulder instead of screaming to initiate a social interaction/a request.


Can the learner perform the behavior with another person? A different place?  A different time? Does the person perform the behavior if you change the instruction a little?   Can he now ask for water in more than just one way? These questions tap into the generalizability of a learned behavior.  In an ABA-based intervention, being […]


Gluten-free and Casein-free. GFCF diets are not ABA-based nor are they empirically supported to be effective.  

Gross Motor Skills

These are the motor activities that involve large muscle groups like swimming, hopping, clapping et cetera.  

High Functioning/Low Functioning

These two labels are often and very loosely used by individuals and even among professionals; however, the terms are ambiguous and often offensive. The use of these terms when describing a person should be avoided.

HOH Prompting

Is a type of an intrusive prompt wherein an instructor physically/manually guides the learner to perform the target task or behavior.


A stimulus produces an atypical severe response—overly sensitive.


This is the opposite of hypersensitivity in which a person has no or little response from a stimulus.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. First passed in 1975, the primary purposes of IDEA are to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities and to give parents a voice in their child’s education.  


An Individual Education Plan is the individualized education plan that children, adolescents, or adults have if they are enrolled in a special education program. An IEP is an important legally-binding document—parents/guardians should pay close attention in its development and implementation.

Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching is a strategy that uses the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to provide structured learning opportunities in the natural environment by using the child’s interests and natural motivation. Incidental teaching is used when trying to enhance language and behavior skills. Incidental teaching is typically used with children aged 2-9 years, but it’s […]

Inclusive Classroom

An inclusive classroom is a type of classroom that comprises both student living with special needs and students that are neuro-typical. These classrooms are taught by General Education teachers and may have paraprofessionals in the room to provide support to students with an IEP.  


This is what the team will be doing to address the behavioral excesses or deficits that a learner may have.


Intraverbals are like building-blocks to conversation skills. These can be in the form of question-and-answer format and fill-ins and is basically about “talking” about things that are not physically present.


Least Restrictive Environment.  (cited from This is the requirement in US federal law that students with disabilities receive their education to the maximum extent appropriate, with non-disabled peers and that special education students are not removed from regular classes unless, even with supplemental aids and services, education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily. […]


Main-streaming a student suggests that the student will be placed in the least-restrictive neuro-typical classroom (general education classroom) as opposed to a type of more-restrictive special education classroom or program.  It also suggests that the student’s IEP team members have all agreed that the student has ample skills in his or her repertoire to thrive […]


The extent to which the learned behavior is able thrive in the absence of the intervention that developed it.


A mand is a behavior that a person performs to indicate to another person what he or she wants. For example, a child “feels” hungry so she tells her father “Can I have a snack, please?”


Stands for Motivation Assessment Scale. The Motivation Assessment Scale (MAS) is designed to help with a language-impaired person’s problem behaviors. An understanding of a person’s motivations becomes a guide for interventions, such as restructuring the environment or teaching that person skills for fulfilling personal needs in a more effective and productive way. The emphasis is […]

Mental Retardation (MR)

A diagnosis characterized by significantly under-average general intellectual functioning associated with impairments in adaptive behavior. It can be classified as mild, moderate, severe, and profound. Other states/countries may have a different label for MR (e.g., cognitive impairment or intellectual impairment or intellectual disability).


Placement of inappropriate items in one’s mouth. Not to be confused with Pica.  

Negative Punishment

A procedure in which a behavior is followed by a removal of an item/event/activity that results in the weakening of the behavior over time.  An example can be the use of time-out from the playground when a child does not follow the rule of “no-pushing peers” which results in the child stopping from pushing her/his […]

Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement


Natural Environment Training is an ABA-based training method where teaching occurs within the natural context of the behavior-environment. This type of teaching promotes generalization and maintenance of the learned behavior.

Normal (versus NT)

To make this brief, avoid using the adjective“normal” when describing individuals not living with autism (or any other diagnoses).


Neuro-Typical. This adjective is more politically-correct to use in describing individuals not living with autism. Use this instead of “normal.”


Pervasive Developmental Disorder was previously classified as a form of autism. PDD is no longer a separate diagnosis in the most recent DSM V.

Perseverative Behavior (Stereotypical Behavior)

Excessively and stereotypically performing a behavior over time.  Not to be confused with self-stimulatory behavior (“stimming”) as not all perseverative behaviors are auto-reinforced.  

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

For individuals with difficulties vocally communicating their needs to another, PECS is an alternative communication system that uses pictures.  

Planned Ignoring

Planned ignoring is when parents intentionally ignore certain behaviors from their children. It’s done to prevent attention-seeking behaviors. For instance, if a child throws tantrums when their mother is on the phone, planned ignoring may be employed. This technique tests whether the child’s tantrums are attention-seeking. By ignoring them, the child learns that their tantrums […]

Positive Practice Overcorrection

A form of positive punishment in which a learner, after a misbehavior, performs the “correct form” of the behavior, OR a behavior incompatible with the misbehavior for a few times.  For example, a student will simply stand up and walk out of the classroom when he needs to use the restroom. For this procedure, the […]

Positive Punishment

A procedure in which a behavior is followed by an event/item/activity that results in the weakening of the behavior over time. By definition, the procedure MUST have the anticipated weakening effect on the behavior for the intervention be considered as positive punishment.  A “punisher” or punitive stimulus can be anything as long as the behavior […]

Positive Reinforcement

A procedure in which a behavior is followed by an event/item/activity that results in the strengthening of the behavior over time. By definition, the procedure MUST have the anticipated strengthening effect on the behavior for the intervention to be considered positive reinforcement. Much like positive punishment in which the “punisher” or punitive stimulus can be […]

Premack Principle

Put simply, a desired behavior can be used as a reinforcer for a non-/low-desired behavior. For example, spending extra time playing on a gaming console (the highly-desired behavior) can be used as a reinforcer for cleaning up one’s room (the non-/low-desired behavior).  


It is an assistance given to help the learner compete a task and there are several types. Physical prompt, gestural prompt, positional prompt, model prompt, vocal prompt, and visual prompt are just a few examples of prompts.

Prompt Dependent

To begin, a person is never “prompt-dependent.” Prompt dependency is when an individual’s response or behavior has become so reliant on someone else’s assistance over time. The learner then “stops” attempting to do the task independently. This dependency is often produced by the environment’s/instructor’s failure to systematically fade the prompts used during the teaching process. […]


Punishers (or punitive stimuli) can be anything. In ABA, a punisher must decrease/weaken a behavior by definition. If you hear someone saying something like “Yes, I keep scolding my son but he still continues drawing on the walls with his beloved crayons a lot more now—punishment does not work!”  Given that example, “scolding” is not […]


Stands for Questions About Behavioral Function. This is a 25-item, indirect rating assessment tool co-developed by John Matson and Vollmer and is used to assess the function of a target behavior. Individuals with ASD have a higher tendency to have challenging behaviors. Some of the behaviors can hinder the development of the individual. The QABF […]

Ratio Strain

Ratio strain is a term used to describe a situation in which the required amount of work, or response, no longer produces the desired behaviors that were previously produced by lower requirements. Let’s look at a ratio strain example. You give your daughter $5 for cleaning her room. She does a great job of organizing […]


Registered Behavior Technician. For direct level staff, this is a credential that denotes the person has met specific educational and experience standards in addition to passing an examination. A RBT works only under the supervision of a BCaBA or a BCBA. Currently, it is not a required credential for direct level staff to possess; however, […]


Receptive language refers to the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language, such as following directions or listening to instructions. For example, if a parent asks their child to put on their coat and the child knows what that means and the steps to complete the request. Early intervention focuses on developing receptive skills, starting […]


A reinforcer is something—anything—that is used during or after a behavior that leads to the strengthening of the behavior it followed over time  

Reinforcer Assessment

This refers to different ways to find out which items or activities can be used as reinforcers for a specific learner.

Response Cost

A form of negative punishment in which a person loses some reinforcers after performing an undesired behavior. For example, a student losing points that she can accumulate during the school day after breaking an established classroom rule.

Restitutional Overcorrection

A form of positive punishment in which a child is required to repair the damage caused by their behavior or return the environment to its original state and then have the child perform extra actions to make the environment “better” than it was prior to the misbehavior. Examples of Restituational Overcorrection: After throwing a few […]


A rule is a verbal description of a behavior contingency in which a learner does not need to experience the consequence of breaking the rule.  For example, the rule “Do not run while you are on the playground structure” is a pretty good rule to follow for a young child so he can avoid the […]


Term used to describe the weakening effect of a reinfocer on a behavior due to its “over-use.”  It is best to have a selection of reinforcers to use in ABA programs to avoid satiation.


A loose term which refers to imitative vocal behaviors.  For example, a young child reciting an entire radio commercial or a few lines from a movie can be a form of scripting.

Self-injurious behavior (SIB)

Self-injurious behavior (SIB) involves the occurrence of behavior that could result in physical injury to one’s own body. Self-injurious behaviors are normally nonsuicidal self-injury that is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration such as: Self-cutting (cuts or severe scratches with a sharp object) Self-scratching Burning (with lit matches, cigarettes, […]

Sensory Integration

Sensory integration refers to different strategies or techniques used to meet, raise, or lower internal sensory needs. Sensory integration therapy is used to help children learn to use all their senses together. From a very young age, babies will keep engaging their senses to learn about the world around them. This is all part of […]


Shaping is an ABA-based teaching technique in which “successive approximations” toward the target behavior being taught are reinforced until the learner can perform the behavior successfully. Let’s first define what successive approximation is. It is an attempt to perform a task that is slightly better than the previous performance. For example, an instructor reinforces the […]


Speech and Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapist. These are professionals who often work with individuals with autism to provide therapy services related to speech, movement, developmental goals, coordination, and functional communication. Although it may beneficial to include these professionals in your child’s ABA team, using these professionals solely without a BCBA/BCBA-D in the team is […]

Specific Praise

Also called “labeled praise.” Instead of just saying “Good job!” when a learner just wrote his name much better than the last time he wrote it, say “I like the way you wrote your name today.”  This technique is a good way to clearly inform the learner the exact behavior that you are teaching him.

Stereotypic/Repetitive behaviors

Loosely referred to as “stims.” These “stereotypies” are self-initiated, highly repetitive movements that can be vocal or motor in nature.  Determining the function(s) is important if the goal is to place the behavior under management.


A tact is the name or description of an item that is present in the speaker’s environment. For example, a commercial airplane is flying overhead while you and your son are out in the park.  Your son looks up and says, “airplane.”

Target Behavior

This is the behavior of interest designated to be increased or decreased.  

Task Analysis

This is the process of breaking up a skill or a behavior into smaller, teachable steps.  For example, brushing teeth as a behavior may be broken down into, say, 7 clear steps that can be taught: get toothbrush, squeeze toothpaste on the brush, brush left side teeth, brush center teeth, brush right teeth, rinse mouth, […]

Task reduction

Decreasing the demands put upon the learner in an effort to avoid or decrease frustration levels which then facilitates overall task completion.


In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), time-out is classified as a negative punishment procedure. Negative reinforcement involves removing a stimulus in order to decrease a behavior. Using a time-out after problem behavior is displayed can reduce the likelihood of the problem behavior re-emerging in the future. The use of time-out can reduce or stop problem behaviors; […]

Token Economy

This is a system of reinforcement in which a learner “earns” conditioned reinforcers such as coins, tickets, or plastic chips to name a few examples immediately after performing a desired behavior. These tokens can be then used to “buy” something that the learner truly wants.


May refer to changes from one activity or setting to another such as from an early childhood program to school or from a preferred play activity to a work activity. Transitions are typically very difficult for individuals with ASD, particularly unplanned or surprise transitions.

Triennial IEP

The Triennial Individualized Education Program (IEP), also referred to as a triennial assessment or review, occurs every three years. Students who receive special education services must be reassessed during this time to determine their continued eligibility for services. The IEP team will work together to decide which assessments will be conducted during this triennial review. […]

Variable Ratio

Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, the variable ratio is a way of describing a group of different response-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the learner’s correct 2nd, then 3rd, then 6th, then 1st responses will be reinforced.  These different response rates (2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 1st) will be labeled as VR-3—the average […]

VB-MAPP Assessment

Stands for Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program. An assessment and curriculum tool created by Dr. Sundberg. This tool focuses on verbal assessment to get a complete snapshot of verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits. Domains include manding, intraverbals, echoics, etc.

Verbal vs Non-Verbal

These are very loose terms used by individuals to describe a person that can vocally communicate (“verbal”) and a person that cannot (“non-verbal”).    


Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, variable interval is a way of describing a group of different time-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the child’s first correct response will be reinforced after 5 minutes, then after 3 minutes, then after 4 minutes. These different intervals (5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 4 minutes) will […]

What is Autism?

Heartbreak and Help. No parent is fully prepared for the diagnosis of Autism. Some react with denial, others with fear. Most are confused. “What is Autism?” “Is there a cure?” “ What will our lives be like?” “Why my child?” Let’s start at the beginning. What is Autism? Autism Spectrum Behavior (ASD) is a disorder […]