ABA therapy learner

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist

Applied Behavior Analyst 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 to label professionals working directly with clients or students.  The label we use at the LeafWing Center is Behavior Technician (BT). Other labels used are 1:1s, paraprofessionals, tutors, behavior therapists, shadows, and behavior interventionists to name a few. The label used depends on the agency/company/school/institution providing direct ABA services.  Regardless of the label, these individuals work under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).

The foundation of ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based scientific technique used in treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. In general, ABA therapy relies on the respondent and operant conditioning to change or alter behaviors of social significance. ABA therapy differs from behavior modification in that ABA therapy changes behavior by first assessing the functional relationship between a particular or targeted behavior and the environment. The ultimate goal of ABA therapy is for the learner to gain independence by learning and developing new skills resulting in an increase in positive behavior while reducing the frequency of negative behaviors.

Additional Articles

Acquisition Task

Acquisition Task

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 – vocal speech, devices, sign language, etc.
  • Functional Skills – potty training, bathing, cooking, dressing, etc.
  • Academic Skills – teaching letter identification to help with reading later on.
  • Social Skills – small talk, sharing, group play, expressing emotions, etc.

An acquisition task is actively taught to a learner until it is learned. Acquiring skills is very important. They help us improve our way of thinking, problem-solving, and the quality of our lives.

What is included in a skill acquisition plan?

A skill acquisition plan includes a description of the target skill being taught, materials needed for teaching, strategies to be used, the consequences for correct or incorrect responding, mastery criteria, reinforcement strategies, and a plan for generalization and maintenance.

Example of stages that occur when learning a new skill.

Skill acquisition uses three stages:

  1. The Cognitive stage – is the understanding of what to do
  2. The Associative stage – is learning how to perform the skill
  3. The Autonomous stage – is when the skill becomes automatic

Everyone goes through these stages when learning. A child with autism might need a little extra repetition to learn a particular skill set.

Questions About Behavioral Functions


Questions About Behavioral Functions

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 can be used to target some of the challenging behaviors.

The QABF can be easily administered and assessed for the following five-factor functions:

  • attention
  • escape
  • physical
  • tangible
  • non-social

Items are scored on two dimensions: occur/does not occur/does not apply, and on severity (rarely, some, and often). In the original Administrator’s Manual (Matson & Vollmer, 1995), the authors stated that a clear function is indicated when there is a score of at least 4 on a factor and when no other factor has a score higher than 3.

This questionnaire has a long-standing validity and reliability as an assessment tool for individuals dealing with intellectual disability and/or autism. As the number of individuals with ASD grows so does the need for solutions to guide them with the necessary support to be able to function at their full potential within our society.

The QABF can be completed and scored in 20 minutes. See a sample of the QABF.

Additional Assessment Tools:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)
Restitutional Overcorrection

Restitutional Overcorrection

Restitutional OvercorrectionA 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 chairs in the classroom during a tantrum, the student is later required to not just place the chairs he had thrown back to where they were before the tantrum but also make sure that all the chairs in the classroom are lined up properly.
  • If the student throws a book on the floor in the library, they might be required to reshelve all the books that have been left out in order to punish the book-throwing behavior.

There are three different types of overcorrection procedures

  1. Positive practice: This is the most often used method of overcorrection for ABA therapy. Positive Practice Overcorrection is used after misbehavior occurred, then performs the “correct form” of the behavior repeatedly to practice the correct behavior for the situation to reinforce the appropriate response to a situation or stress.
  2. Negative practice: In this original form of overcorrection therapy, the child with autism would be told to repeatedly display the wrong behavior while verbally stating that this behavior is inappropriate. In theory, performing the maladaptive behavior repeatedly would increase the child’s aversion, and they would begin to see the behavior more as a punishment.
  3. Restitutional: The child would be required to return to the original space where the disorderly behavior took place and then perform the appropriate behavior instead of the disorderly behavior.

In the context of ABA therapy for children with autism, positive practice overcorrection has become the main focus. Positive reinforcement works best for people with developmental disorders who need support learning to adjust behaviors.

Extinction Burst

Extinction burst

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 crying, et cetera. It is important for contingency managers (e.g., parents, teachers, professionals) do not “give in” during these bursts.

Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behavior such as:

  • screaming
  • tartrums/crying
  • excessive scratching/picking

Extinction may not eliminate the behavior in every situation, so it’s not always the best choice of behavioral intervention especially if it involves harming oneself or someone else.

Steps to constructing ABA Extinction Procedure Plan

  1. Identify the interfering behavior
  2. Identify the data collection measures and baseline data
  3. Determine the function of the behavior
  4. Create an intervention plan

How to manage Extinction Burst

  • Be Strong. The adult working with the child should not give in or reinforce the problematic behaviors that occur during an Extinction Burst.
  • Stay Consistent. Don’t deviate. The adult needs to teach the child a new replacement behavior.
  • Be Patient. The change will not happen overnight. The adult needs to reinforce the new replacement behavior as the appropriate behavior for the child to get wants and needs met.
  • Be Prepared. Know how you plan to address the problematic behavior so it does not repeat itself.

Children who are on the spectrum tend to participate more in outbursts because they tend not to know how to use their words to get what they want and the outbursts, even though it is an inappropriate method of communication, it got them what they wanted or needed in the past.

It is important to get everyone on board that is in your child’s circle to follow and execute the same way for the change to be successful. The good news is that Extinction Burst will decrease more rapidly if the adult handles it calmly and effectively. The child will start to learn what is the appropriate behavior through the ABA therapy program. It is known that what is learned can be unlearned. A child can learn to use their words instead of throwing a tantrum to get what they want.

Autism learner

Escape Contingency

Autism learner
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 “ending” a math fluency exercise on the computer after finishing three exercises.
  • to spit out food to get rid of a bad taste.
  • to turn down the volume on the radio to lessen the loud music.
  • to put up an umbrella when it is raining to stay dry.

Other Negative Reinforcement Contingencies

Children who are on the spectrum tend to participate more in escape behaviors because they tend to get overwhelmed during transitions and interactions in non-preferred activity situations which brings on the feeling of astounding demands in their eyes.

Forward chaining

Basic task analysis

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 the steps after the step targeted for learning. In forward chaining, the individual learns the logical sequence of a task from beginning to end. Forward chaining is recommended if the child can successfully complete more steps at the start of the behavior chain. Forward chaining has the advantage of using behavior momentum, as the 1st step is often the simplest, easiest step. Once the learner is able to perform the first step, the learner is then taught the first and second steps. This process continues until the learner is able to perform all the required steps to complete the task. This is the opposite of backward chaining.

It would be best to create a task analysis to make sure you have covered all the necessary steps. It is basically the step-by-step directions to completing the skill. By breaking it down into smaller steps and systematically introducing each step, the student is able to feel successful and gets a lot of practice opportunities before being asked to complete the whole task.

Steps for some basic task analysis using forward chaining

Putting a Coat On:

  • Pick up the coat by the collar (the inside of the coat should be facing you).
  • Place your right arm in the right sleeve hole.
  • Push your arm through until you can see your hand at the other end.
  • Reach behind with your left hand.
  • Place your arm in the left sleeve hole.
  • Move your arm through until you see your hand at the other end.
  • Pull the coat together in the front.
  • Zip the coat.

Washing Hands:

  • Turn on the right faucet handle to turn on the water.
  • Wet hands.
  • Dispense soap by pressing the button on the dispenser.
  • Rub hands in a circle to a count of 5.
  • Rub between the fingers to a count of 5.
  • Turn off water.
  • Take a paper towel.
  • Dry hands with the paper towel to a count of 5.
  • Throw the paper towel away in the trash can.

The farther along your child get in a chain, the more likely they are to accidentally rearrange the steps. This will take patience. Your child may be able to complete the steps in the correct order one day but will mix them up the next. If this is happening consistently, it’s a sign that you need to take a step back and decrease the number of steps the child is doing independently until they are more consistently achieving mastery again.

See the counterpart to forward chaining: Backward Chaining

Backward Chaining

Getting Dressed

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 step, which the therapist prompts the child to complete. The child with autism will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once the child can do the last step you complete all the steps except for the last two. Then, the two move backward through the steps until the whole process has been learned in full. For example, it takes five steps for a child to perform a skill. The therapist will provide the child with maximum support from Step 1 through Step 4 with prompts fading in Step 5 until an acceptable level of performance is observed. After learning Step 5, Step 4 is targeted to be taught, and so on and so forth. Remember to make sure the steps are precise and exact. If steps are implied, left out, or vague, the child with autism may struggle to interpret the full task.

Steps for some basic task analysis using backward chaining

Putting on Pants:

  • Sit on the floor, bed, or chair.
  • Hold pants by the waistband, look for the label at the back.
  • Lower pants and lift one leg into the leg hole.
  • Put the other leg into the second hole.
  • Pull pants up to knees.
  • Stand up and pull pants up to your waist.

Putting on Socks:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Hook both thumbs into the opening of a sock and hold onto the edge.
  • Push toes into the sock.
  • Lift the foot and pull the sock over the heel.
  • Pull sock up the leg.

Putting on Shoes:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Slip shoe over the foot. Place the index finger inside the heel of the shoe and pull the shoe the rest of the way over your foot.
  • Place foot on the floor and stand up to push the foot down into the shoe.

Research shows that backward chaining is very effective for many children with autism, particularly useful when learning self-care skills like getting dressed. But it is important for the therapist, teacher, or parent to be involved and attentive at every step. Many ABA therapists prefer backward chaining since it allows a child with autism to see the entire process from start to finish. The child with autism gets this overview of the process before they attempt to learn the task.

See the counterpart to backward chaining: Forward Chaining

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 her belongings and is highly motivated by the $5 reward. Using positive reinforcement is a success. A month later, you pay her the same amount for cleaning her room and your bedroom as well. She agrees to this change and does the work. In the third month, you require her to clean her room, your room, plus the kitchen. She decides she doesn’t care anymore and would rather not have the $5 you would like to give her.

You and your child may experience ratio strain when:

  • a behavior requirement increases too quickly
  • the reward does not increase enough to make additional behavioral requests or work seem worth the effort
  • there is an increase in emotional behavior, as increased behavioral expectations outweigh positive reinforcement

To avoid ratio strain, it is important to plan for gradual changes in behavior. If you note a decrease in the effectiveness of a reward, it may be time to adjust behavioral expectations or increase positive reinforcements to keep your child motivated. When setting behavioral goals, an awareness of ratio strain is the simplest way to prevent it from becoming a problem.

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 that usually appears by age 2 to 3. It cannot be defined in one tidy box but rather in a range of non-norm behaviors that involve social skills, repetitive actions, speech and nonverbal communication, and often difficulty coping with sights, sounds and other sensations. The intensity can be from mild to severe.

It’s overwhelming to realize that life with a child impacted with Austin will be very different than had been expected. Around the clock, a special-needs individual presents many challenges, the biggest of which is making sure your child lives up to his or her potential. What to do? Let’s start with…

A basic toolkit for parents:

  • Learn to be the best advocate you can be for your child. Be informed. Take advantage of services in your community.
  • Feel. Yes, it’s okay to express your feelings – be it anger, grief, or guilt. The key is focusing the pain towards the disorder and not those you love.
  • Do NOT allow autism to take over your life. Create quality time with your loved ones and…
  • Appreciate the small victories your child achieves. Love your special needs child for who he or she is rather than what others think they should be.
  • Get involved with the Autism community. Don’t underestimate the power of “community”, the comfort and support of others who face similar obstacles.

LeafWing Center: For over a decade, LeafWing Center has provided services for individuals with disabilities. We combine the expertise of Behavior Analysts, Marriage and Family Counselors, and Family Therapists, and Behavior Therapists, to help those in need, and their families, to live a fuller life.

The LeafWing Center blog will provide regular features on Autism – ranging from research developments, to treatment methods, to family survival strategies. Our purpose? To let you know you are not alone. Hope is within reach.