What is ABA?

By Emily Habelrih, Psychologist

If your child is on the Autism Spectrum, you may have heard the term ‘ABA therapy’ being used. However, there are very limited resources available that actually explain what ABA therapy is, and what its uses are.

ABA stands for Applied Behavioural Analysis. It is an evidenced-based, intensive education therapy that is most commonly used for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is scientifically proven to be effective, and is currently the only method of intervention that is strongly recommended for children with ASD. ABA program’s focus on all areas of development including communication (verbal and non-verbal), play, self-help, fine and gross motor as well as academic skills. This helps children develop their social, academic, self-help and behavioural skills, which are vital for interacting with others and coping with the challenges of everyday life. ABA also addresses problematic behaviours’ including self-injury, tantrums, as well as socially inappropriate behaviours’.


The principles underlying ABA therapy are as follows:

  • To decrease undesirable behaviour:
    • Extinction
    • Negative punishment
  • To increase desirable behaviour:
    • Positive Reinforcement
    • Negative Reinforcement


When Should an ABA Program Start?

The earlier the better! Typically, an ABA program is aimed at children between 2 and 6 years of age. However, this does not mean that ABA is not effective for older children, adolescents and even adults; but ideally, the ABA program is carried out before children start school.


How Do I start an ABA Program?

ABA therapy takes the form of a highly structured program designed to meet the individual requirements of each child, while building the foundations for life-long learning. An ABA program is generally a home based program where therapists work one-on-one with the child for many hours per week. The therapists are supervised by program supervisors who design the program that is being delivered. The program is individually tailored to each child to target their specific needs. 15-20 hours per week is typically recommended. For example, a 20-hour/week program would typically involve 2-3 hour sessions each morning and afternoon, 5 days a week.


A session of 2-3 hours may seem a long time for a young child to concentrate, but the session includes many play breaks. Typically, a very young child is only working with the therapist for 1-5 minutes at a time. The child is then free to have a short 1-5 minute play break whilst the therapist records his/her data and prepares for the next task. About once an hour, the child is given a much longer break of about 10-20 minutes.


What Role Do Parents Play in ABA?


The role of parent/s in their child’s ABA program is crucial in terms of the child’s overall progress. Parents need to be aware and fully informed about all areas of their child’s program so that they can help their child generalize and apply the skills learnt during therapy to every-day life situations.


Some parents become an ABA therapist so that they can implement some of the therapy hours themselves. This helps with providing an understanding of the ABA framework and reduces program costs. However, some parents feel uncomfortable doing therapy work, whether you want to be a therapist or not is completely your choice and will not affect ABA outcomes.


The most important aspect of the parent’s involvement is keeping track of what their child is learning and encouraging them to use the skills they have learned outside of therapy time. Parents are also responsible for employing therapists, timetabling therapists, maintaining their child’s folder, and buying, making or borrowing materials for their child’s program.


If you have any questions on ABA therapy please feel free to contact Youthrive Robina on 07 5595 7122 or email Youthrive at enquiries@youthrive.com.au.