ABA Method: Characteristics, Functioning And Objectives In Therapy

ABA method

One of the most applied methods in children with development and learning problems is the one proposed by Dr. Lovaas: the ABA method.

This methodology is based on behavioral analysis and since it was conceptualized back in the 1980s, it has been demonstrating that it is useful to improve the quality of life of children with ASD and PDD, allowing them to acquire fundamental skills for their autonomy and worth.

Today We are going to explore in depth what the ABA method consists ofwhat skills are worked on with it, how it is applied and which people can benefit from this methodology.

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What is the ABA method?

The ABA method It is a specific teaching method for children who have learning difficulties. Its name stands for Applied Behavior Analysis and its objective is to ensure that boys and girls with learning problems are able to learn those skills necessary to achieve optimal development and autonomy, thus providing them with greater quality. of life.

To achieve this, a specific and personalized program is first established for each student, which includes all the skills that are considered useful for their proper development, highlighting those that help them autonomously achieve other skills on their own.

So that, The ABA method especially works on skills that have to do with attention, imitation and cooperation. Those that may be useful to improve communication and language are also included.

The three basic principles of the ABA method are:

  • Analysis: The patient’s progress is evaluated from interventions recorded and measured in their progress.
  • Behavior: based on scientific principles of behavior.
  • Applied: principles applied to observed behaviors.

The ABA method It has its origins in the United States, specifically in the research carried out by the Norwegian doctor in clinical psychology Ole Ivar Lovaas (1927-2010), working in the Department of Psychology at the University of Los Angeles (California) in 1987.

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The doctor. Lovaas, who is considered one of the founders of effective autism therapy, demonstrated that behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could be modified through his ABA method. In his study he showed that the majority of children who are treated with this method could benefit significantly.

This methodology is usually applied individually, and requires a certain intense time commitment, of at least 9 hours a week, although the ideal is to do therapy between 20 and 40 hours a week. It takes a lot of time to optimize the learning carried out in the therapy context. and be able to cover the greatest number of possible skills to work on.

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How does the ABA method work?

The Applied Behavior Analysis method involves many techniques aimed at understanding the problem behavior and changing the patient’s behavior. ABA is a very flexible treatment if we take into account the following:

  • Can be adapted to meet the needs of each person
  • It can be applied in various places: home, school, community…
  • Teaches skills that are useful for daily life
  • Although it is preferred to apply individually, it can also be applied in groups.

Positive reinforcement

One of the main strategies of the ABA method is positive reinforcement. When a behavior is followed by something that is perceived as pleasant (a treat or reward), the individual is more likely to repeat that behavior. As the behavior is repeated and it is always rewarded, it will be a matter of time before a behavioral change in the right direction occurs.

To achieve behavioral change, it is first necessary for the therapist to establish an objective behavior, a behavior that the patient wants to carry out. Each time the individual successfully performs that behavior or demonstrates a desired skill, he or she will receive a reward. The reward or prize must be meaningful to the individual such as, for example, it could be a toy, a book, watching a video, being able to play with their toys, receiving praise…

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These rewards, which are nothing more than positive reinforcements, encourage the individual to continue doing the desired behavior. Over time, this will lead to the individual changing their behavior significantly.

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Antecedent, behavior and consequence

An important part of the ABA method is understanding what in English has been called the behavioral ABC. Let’s see what it consists of.


The antecedent It is what happens just before the behavior is performed. This can be verbal, such as an order or request, or it can also be physical, such as a toy or an object. It can also be something immaterial, such as a light, sound, a song… An antecedent can come from the environment, from another person, or come from within the individual (e.g., a thought or feeling).


A behavior is simply a person’s response or lack of response to an antecedent. This can be an action, a verbal response, or any other way of responding to the antecedent.


The consequence is that which comes directly after performing the behavior. This may include positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, or non-reaction to such behavior because it is considered an incorrect or inappropriate response.

Focusing on these ABCs we can be used to understand why a behavior occurs and how different consequences affect how the behavior occurs over time.

ABA method
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We can understand this by looking at the following two examples.

Example 1

  • Background: The mother says “It’s time to pick up the toys” at the end of the day.
  • Behavior: Child shouts “No!”
  • Consequence: the mother picks up the toys and says “Bye-bye, toys!”

The ABA method can help this child and his mother change the behavior of the former, and as an example we can see the following.

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Example 2

  • Background: The mother says “It’s time to pick up the toys” at the end of the day.
  • Behavior: The child is reminded that he or she can ask, “Can I play 5 more minutes?”
  • Consequence: the mother says “Of course you can play 5 more minutes, but only 5.”

As these guidelines are practiced, the child will be able to replace your past inappropriate behavior with one that is much more beneficial to you and it is less disruptive. By asking politely and calmly if she can play for 5 more minutes, the child sees that with good words she can achieve more than by refusing to pick up the toys.

Areas where the ABA method helps

The ABA method contemplates the teaching of several important areas for the child’s development and It focuses on teaching and enhancing basic skills so that the child can function with a greater degree of autonomy in their daily life.. Among these fundamental skills to work on we find:

  • Academic skills
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive habilyties
  • Language and communication
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Drawing and writing
  • Feeding Habits
  • Personal hygiene
  • Get dressed
  • Adaptive play
  • Housework
  • impulse control

Who is it addressed to?

The ABA method is especially used in boys and girls with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders, since these two groups present notable learning difficulties.

It has been seen that this methodology enhances the learning of people with this type of difficulties, since Children with PDD and ASD do not learn in the same way as other children.presenting serious problems with both verbal and non-verbal communication, attention difficulties and, in addition, they are sometimes immersed in non-functional games and stereotypies.

It should be noted that the ABA methodology not only benefits the learning of children with these two pathologies, but also It has been found to be useful in children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, behavioral problems and more.. ABA principles are applicable to all people and its methodology also works for adults. This method allows us to help anyone with special educational needs.