Applied Behavior Analysis

In other words, ABA is the science of studying behavior, and applying data-supported techniques to increase and/or decrease behaviors that are meaningful to the client and the client’s social environment. It is a systematic way to look at human behavior, including verbal behavior.​

Important Terms

Antecedent:  An environmental condition or stimulus, existing or occurring prior to a behavior of interest. (Cooper,Heron, Heward, 2007)

Example: The teacher gets out a book; the student runs away from circle; – the student is given a break from class. The antecedent is the teacher getting out a book.

Behavior: The activity of living organisms; human behavior includes everything that people do. (Cooper,Heron, Heward, 2007)

Example: The teacher gets out a book; the student runs away from circle; the student is given a break from class. The behavior is the student running away.

Consequence: A stimulus that follows a behavior of interest. (Cooper,Heron, Heward, 2007)

Example: The teacher gets out a book; the student runs away from circle; the student is given a break from class. The consequence is the student being given a break from class.

Data. The results of measurement, usually in quantifiable form; in applied behavior analysis, data refers to the measure of some quantifiable dimension of a behavior. (Cooper,Heron, Heward, 2007)

Generalization. The occurrence of a target behavior in a non-training situation after training. (Barbera & Rasmussen, 2007).

Examples: A student learns to label “cookie” in the classroom and subsequently labels it while out to eat with his parents at a restaurant.

A student learns to request listening music on the iPad at school with a speech therapist and later requests listening to music at home with her mom and dad.

Motivation. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Examples: Johnny is not allowed to watch TV at home, so he is motivated to attend to the video shown in class.

Sally is very thirsty after her walk, so she is motivated to find a nearby water fountain.

Multi Modal Communication. Allows for many ways to communicate, including speech or vocalizations, gestures, manual sign, and augmentative communication.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET). The child’s current interest or motivation controls the teaching activity. Teaching targets are weaved into play and other enjoyable activities. (Barbera & Rasmussen, 2007).


Pairing. The process of using valuable reinforcers to condition people, materials, environments to become reinforcing (Barbera & Rasmussen, 2007).

Prompting. A prompt is used to increase the likelihood that a person will engage in the correct behavior at the correct time. (Barbera & Rasmussen, 2007)

Examples: Asking Trevon to pick a book and pointing to a book: pointing to the book is a prompt.

Asking Hank to clap his hands and modeling the action for him; modeling the action is a prompt.

Asking Peggy “What is your favorite food?” and showing her a picture of a pizza; the picture of the pizza is a prompt.

Reinforcement. Occurs when a stimulus change immediately follows a response and increases the future frequency of that type of behavior in similar conditions. (Cooper,Heron, Heward, 2007)

Example: Don wants a break and says, “Can I have a break?” The teacher says “Sure, Don, you can have a break”. Don asking and being reinforced with a break will increase the future frequency of this requesting behavior in similar conditions.

Three-term Contingency. The antecedent that is present when the behavior occurs, the behavior, and the reinforcing consequence.

Example: Antecedent = seeing a Finding Dory book; Behavior = asking to buy the book; Consequence = buying the book

These Definitions were taken from the following sources:
Barbera, M. L., & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach: how to teach children with autism and related disorders. London: Jessica Kingsley .
Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007.