November 8, 2023

Updated Nov 2023

It’s no secret that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience the world differently. Sometimes, this can make life more exciting, while other times, it can make even the smallest tasks more challenging. Walking the line between embracing who your child is and helping them thrive in a world that often doesn’t support them isn’t easy, but is possible with an evidence-based treatment plan. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a scientific-based approach that can be used to help encourage positive behaviors in your child with autism, decrease negative ones, and support them in living a more independent life in the long run. Here’s what you should know about how ABA could benefit your child.

What Is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that aims to improve particular behaviors, such as communication, social skills, and learning by using reinforcement strategies. ABA is considered the most effective approach to understanding how learning occurs and how behavior is impacted by one’s environment. ABA is used to treat a variety of cognitive and developmental conditions including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and even dementia. The primary goal of implementing ABA techniques is to improve the individual’s independence and/or overall quality of life.

What Benefits Can ABA Therapy Programs Provide?

ABA therapy programs can be tailored to assist people in achieving their individual behavioral goals. Some of the many benefits ABA therapy programs can provide include:

  • Improving learning capabilities, memory, and social skills
  • Increasing one’s ability to focus and pay attention
  • Enhancing verbal communication skills
  • Decreasing problematic behaviors

How Does ABA Therapy Work?

ABA is not a one-size-fits-all approach to therapy. It encompasses a wide range of information and strategies for understanding why an individual is behaving in a particular way and what may be an effective way to change it. Because of this, ABA therapy may look very different from one person to another. Characteristics of ABA therapy include:

  • Flexible enough to cater to an individual’s specific needs
  • Teaching practical skills that are beneficial in everyday life
  • Can be implemented in a group setting or individually
  • Can take place virtually anywhere, including at home or school

Positive Reinforcement

One of the primary strategies that is commonly used in ABA, in particular in supporting children with autism, is positive reinforcement. The goal of positive reinforcement is to encourage the desired behavior. It works like this:

  • A preferred behavior is determined by the individual’s therapist.
  • Each time the individual performs the behavior appropriately, they receive a “reward.” This reward could be anything that the person finds valuable, such as a toy, words of praise, getting to go somewhere they enjoy, or having access to something they want.
  • Over time, receiving positive rewards consistently encourages desirable behavioral changes that the individual will continue to use.

Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence

Another strategy that is often used in ABA therapy is a technique known as the ABCs: Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. This allows the therapist to identify what happens prior to a particular behavior as well as what occurs after the behavior is performed.

  • Antecedent: This is what occurs immediately before a person exhibits a specific behavior. It can manifest in a variety of ways, such as from another individual, from their surroundings, or even from themselves (an internal feeling or thought). Likewise, an antecedent can be something that is communicated verbally or with a physical object.
  • Behavior: This is how the person responds to the antecedent, such as communicating verbally or engaging in physical activity.
  • Consequence: This is what occurs immediately after a person exhibits a specific behavior, such as a “reward” to reinforce positive actions or no response for inappropriate behaviors. 

Using the ABC strategy is essential in any ABA therapeutic approach because it can shed light on why a child with autism may be behaving a certain way in specific settings. Most importantly, however, it highlights how introducing different consequences may impact whether or not the child will continue to repeat that behavior.

Is There Evidence That ABA Therapy Works?

When it comes to supporting a child with autism, evidence-based treatments matter. While many behavioral techniques and strategies may claim to be effective in decreasing negative behaviors and reinforcing positive ones, few have evidence behind them to support these claims. The American Psychological Association recognizes ABA as an evidence-based practice treatment, meaning that it has passed specific tests that analyze its effectiveness. ABA therapy has a substantial amount of evidence from independent, impartial sources proving it to be a useful tool to treat individuals with autism.

Where Do I Find ABA Services?

If you’re interested in obtaining ABA treatment for your child with autism, the best place to start is to speak with their pediatrician. They can help point you in the right direction of qualified therapists and write a referral for insurance purposes if necessary. When searching for a therapist on your own, be sure to look for a board-certified behavioral analyst (BCBA) who has training and experience in ABA therapy. Once you find an ABA provider, it’s important to make sure that they’re a good fit for your child and their unique needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find the right provider for your family. Helpful questions to ask your ABA provider include:

  • Are you licensed with BCBA?
  • How many therapists will be working with my child?
  • What does a routine ABA session look like?
  • Where will the therapy sessions take place?
  • How do you identify goals? How often do you re-evaluate goals?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • What insurance do you accept?

The New England Center for Children Provides Evidence-Based Practices for Autism

At the New England Center for Children©, we know how important it is to find meaningful support for your child with ASD. That’s why we’re proud to offer evidence-based treatment options, including ABA therapy, that are tailored to your child’s individual needs. Our ABA-based curriculum is based on 48 years of research and implementation and is continuously updated as our researchers produce new findings. NECC also offers our evidence-based teaching technology through the ACE© ABA Software System, which provides teachers with the tools they need to effectively run an ABA classroom or program.

In addition to helping children with autism thrive, we are a leader in training and educating future ABA therapists. NECC staff have access to hands-on peer mentoring and the opportunity to earn a free master’s or doctorate degree in ABA. To learn more about NECC employment opportunities, visit

Image Credit: Sergey Novikov/ Shutterstock