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10 Common Misconceptions About Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Applied Behavior Analysis is one type of therapy that has been shown to improve communication, social skills, and behavior in children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA therapy employs research-based teaching methods such as modeling, prompting, positive reinforcement, and other techniques to help children better develop these skills. When used as an early intervention technique, ABA programs can help children with autism better engage in the world.

In the following list, we will cover ten common misconceptions about Applied Behavioral Analysis and how it can help children on the autism spectrum.


Misconception 1: ABA Therapy is Trying to Cure Autism. 

There is not a ‘cure’ for autism. Individuals with autism are unique and experience the world differently than their neurotypical peers might, and that is something to be celebrated and accepted.

ABA therapy strives to support these individuals by establishing skills in all developmental areas (i.e., communication, social, daily living, etc.) that foster independence and aid them in thriving in their daily environments, in whichever way that individual and their family decide to do so.

Think of it in terms of learning another language – it helps you to engage more effectively with those who speak it, while at the same time, does not devalue your own language.


Misconception 2: ABA Therapy turns children into10 Common Misconceptions about ABA infographic ‘robots.’ 

One concern often voiced by parents is that ABA is trying to create ‘programmed’ individuals who simply recite what they have been taught. While there are some components of rote memorization used during ABA strategies and teaching, an effective ABA program will ensure that all programs have functional and socially valid components implemented during teaching. ABA involves helping an individual to understand the context of their learning.

For example, it is not helpful to teach a child to recite their street number, city, zip code, state, etc. without first ensuring that they understand what these components are and why they are important. To address this, a map might be provided by the clinical team prior to teaching in order to show a child what all of these names and numbers represent.

Additionally, children should be taught to develop skills of self-advocacy, negotiation, and other similar skills that allow them to have an individual personality with their own likes and dislikes, requests for what they need, as well as the freedom to feel and express their emotions.

Oftentimes children with ASD can express their needs in ways that might be seen as inappropriate behavior to others or difficult to understand. Applied Behavior Analysis techniques can help teach your child how to easily and effectively communicate these needs across environments. 

ABA is able to incorporate these skills into any program.You can talk to your BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) about what these goals may look like for your child.


Misconception 3: ABA is only for individuals with an autism diagnosis. 

Applied Behavior Analysis was introduced as a scientific intervention for individuals with autism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but has been around as a science since 1938. It was founded by Behaviorist B.F. Skinner, using the principles of operant conditioning or, using more direct language, learning through consequence (i.e. rewards.)

The use of positive reinforcement is fundamental to all human behavior, regardless of whether someone has developmental disabilities, social and behavioral deficits, autism diagnoses, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. It can help individuals move away from behavioral rigidity and engage in more complex learning processes.

A good ABA program can help to teach learners skills in all areas of life, such as:

  • Social skills
  • Communication skills
  • Play skills
  • Independent living skills
  • Communication skills
  • Community safety skills
  • Behavior
  • Academic readiness skills

It can also be used as an effective therapy for a range of mental health disorders:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

ABA is actively used as a therapy to treat a myriad of social concepts such as:

  • Smoking
  • Weight loss
  • Reducing accidents in factories, etc.

Since all humans exhibit a range of behaviors, the concepts of ABA therapy can be applied in almost any situation using the same behavioral principles.


Misconception 4: ABA only uses ‘drilling exercises’ done at a table to teach my child.

Discrete Trial Training is a teaching method that used to be more commonly implemented at the onset of ABA services. Discrete Trial Training involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, discrete tasks and then combining those tasks to accomplish a complex goal. It can involve ‘mass trialing’ and a repetitive nature of teaching.

While it can still be a component of an ABA program, many practitioners now focus on and incorporate Natural Environment Training (NET) into sessions and teaching. NET involves following a child’s lead and incorporating teaching strategies into play-based and natural opportunities that arise in a child’s environment, not just at the table.

DTT and NET are just two of many teaching strategies used in ABA sessions. This variation allows for a multitude of ways to teach and conduct sessions without requiring a child to sit at a table and engage for prolonged periods of time.


Misconception 5: I can’t get anything done for my family or personal life when ABA sessions are taking place. 

ABA sessions can be crafted around your family’s natural routine including:

  • Morning routines
  • Nighttime routines
  • Mealtime behaviors
  • Bathing
  • Shopping or running errands
  • Family gatherings
  • And many more

It’s important to note that ABA can address challenging behaviors or skill deficits that you might encounter when out and about with your child. ABA therapy is not exclusively conducted in familiar environments or home-based activities.


Misconception 6: ABA practitioners work out of their scope of practice. 

While ABA addresses all developmental domains, Behavior Analysts are not necessarily experts in every domain. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Specific speech skills
  • Sensory needs
  • Feeding deficits
  • Academics

This is why a Behavior Analyst is seen as the lead of the coordination of care team. Their role consists of enlisting and conducting a multi-disciplinary approach with other service providers (i.e., SLP’s, OT’s, feeding specialists, teachers, etc.). This collaboration ensures that they are providing comprehensive support to a child in these areas with the recommendation and guidance from the experts in each domain.


Misconception 7: ABA creates goals for my child without considering what they want or what I want for them. 

Parents should be involved from the onset of services, beginning at the Functional Behavior Assessment. To ensure a program has social validity, the individual receiving the services (whenever possible) and parents or caregivers should be incorporated into the development goals to help better understand why their child is receiving therapy and in turn, reinforce the plan outside of ABA sessions. This should include cultural and/or religious considerations, family values, etc. This should also consider what an individual and their parents or caregivers see as important skill deficits to address that will provide the most access to the quality of life they desire.

Misconception 8: All ABA programs are the same. 

ABA programs should always be specifically individualized for your child and their needs, learning style, preferred items, etc.

ABA is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Assessments are constantly re-evaluated to ensure that your child’s needs are met. We strive for constant progress and improvement in order to provide the most effective services possible.


Misconception 9: ABA doesn’t consider an individual’s emotions. 

An individual’s emotions are valid and should always be considered, not only in the development of the program, but specifically in teaching functional communication to a child.

Modeling and teaching language in any form around emotions and how to respond to them is an essential part of creating independence and autonomy for an individual.

The clinical team should also acknowledge a child’s emotions during difficult tasks, difficulty with learning, completing a non-preferred activity, etc.


Misconception 10: ABA uses bribes to teach kids what to do and how to behave. 

ABA uses the concept of positive reinforcement to increase desired behavior, which is not the same as a bribe. Bribing involves negotiation with an individual prior to a behavior occurring; ‘If you do this, I will give you this.’ Often with a bribe, the reward might even be delivered before the desired behavior is completed.

Reinforcement is the concept that desired behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future if something preferred and/or motivating occurs. Reinforcement procedures can begin in the form of tokens, stickers, and even edibles. As a learner develops and masters a skill, it should fade to more naturally occurring social reinforcement and praise.


Applied Behavior Analysis is the most researched and effective therapy for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Negative opinions surrounding ABA mainly stem from a lack of understanding. Research shows that ABA can improve social skills, communication abilities, adaptive behavior, and overall well-being and quality of life.

If you have any questions or would like to find out how we can work together in your area of need, please contact us here. Our team will be happy to answer all of your questions.

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