ABA Terms to Know

The following evidence-based interventions are commonly recommended and implemented in Applied Behavior Analysis treatment. You may hear your treatment team use some of these terms when providing feedback prior to or after a session. Never hesitate to request one-on-one parent training on any one component of your child’s ABA therapy. Consistency and confidence in your own ABA implementation promotes optimal outcomes for your child.

Teaching an individual to complete a multiple task, one step at a time and giving reinforcement for each step completed correctly.

Example: Teaching the steps of brushing teeth, starting with get the toothbrush, getting toothpaste, applying toothpaste, brushing top left, top right, etc.

Giving a child praise, rewards, or reinforcement only when the child has completed the correct or desired behavior. All other responses or behaviors are not being giving praise or reinforcement

Example 1: Teaching a child to say or sign cookie, supplying cookies only when child says or signs for a cookie.

 Example 2: Giving a child a ball when they say ball.

A general term for teaching specific skills, while using clear and concise directions, and demonstrations.

A method of teaching in simplified and structured steps. Instead of teaching an entire skill at once, the skill is broken down and built up using discrete trials that teach each step at one time. DTT can be used to develop an array of skillsets such as coping and tolerance skills, academics, social skills, language and communication, safety, self-advocacy, and many others.

Example 1: Teaching one letter of the alphabet at a time as opposed to teaching the entire alphabet.

Example 2: Teaching a child to identify family members by their pictures (known as receptive labeling of familiar people).

Example 3: Teaching a child to take a deep breath as a coping skill before needing to use this skill under pressure or distress in the natural environment.

No longer reinforcing a previously reinforced behavior.

Example: Requiring a child to request gummies using PECS or an SGD and no longer providing gummies for crying, pointing alone, or whining.

Teaching appropriate ways to communicate wants and needs, as opposed to problem behaviors. Communication can be sign, PECS, SGD, or vocal words, depending on the child. The goal is for the communication to be understood by people/caregivers outside of the child’s immediate caregivers.

Example 1: Using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to replace whining when requesting a desired item.

Example 2: Using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) ask for drink when thirsty to replace going to the fridge and dumping the juice on the floor.

The extent to which a learner is able to use one mastered skill into multiple places and or with multiple people.

Example 1: Learning to complete addition equations at school with teacher and also at home with mom.

Example 2: Child can say hello or goodbye to dad daily and can also say hello/goodbye to aunts or grandma when they come over to visit.

Example 3: Child can request for gummies with PECS from RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) and can also request gummies from Aunt using PECS when visiting her at her home.

Creating an environment for learning and teaching during every day activities and simple opportunities

Example 1: Working on vocal volume regulation while casually talking with your son about his special interest on a weekend night.

Example 2: Teaching your child to count her favorite blocks during playtime.

Fading out instruction on mastered target skills to measure the retention of these skills.


Example: Teaching a child to brush their hair independently without assistance, or no prompts. Collecting prompt data on how much assistance was provided until child doesn’t need assistance for 3 days. Then only collecting data twice a week and child maintains not needing assistance or prompts. Then fading back or reducing to once a week, with no prompts, as child brushing hair independently for consecutive sessions. Fading back again to once a month, data collections and then finally in the natural environment such as in the living room, car, other bathroom, bedroom, school and the child continues to not need prompts or assistance.

A self-management tool designed to gather regular checks on the emotional level of the child. Other emotional regulation meters used are Worry-O-Meters, Anger-O-Meters, Fear-O-Meters, etc.


One of Jeremy’s ABA goals is to improve the regulation of his voice volume. He has a tendency of speaking with a level 4 voice, an outside voice, while having a conversation with another person and in environments where whispering is appropriate. Jeremy’s BCaBA and RBT implement this Voice Volume Meter as a visual prompt for Jeremy to understand which voice volume level he’s using. “You and I are sitting at the table learning,” his RBT says. “You’re using a level 4 volume. What volume should you use for learning at the table with me?” Jeremy’s voice volume meter shows that when he is talking one-on-one in a conversation, he should use a level 2 volume. He reduces the volume of his voice. “You’re using a level 2 volume with me now,” his RBT says, giving him a smile and thumbs up.

Later in the session, Jeremy’s RBT points to the voice volume meter. “Jeremy, we’re here at the table, and you’re using a level 2 voice volume with me. You’re doing a really good job regulating your volume right now!” The RBT uses the voice volume meter not only to reduce the volume of Jeremy’s voice, but also to reinforce him when he is using the appropriate volume for the context of the environment.

Teaching that occurs in any environment that a child encounters on an everyday basis.

Example: Teaching a child to count and using their favorite snack while they eating it. Such as eating goldish and counting them together as they sort the colors in rainbow goldfish.

Prompts are used to increase the likelihood that a learner will provide the desired or correct response; assistance to complete the task. Fading is gradually reducing the prompt.

Example: At first, Titus needed a full physical prompt to use his fork at lunch. Then, he needed the fork only to be placed in his hand to use it. Now, Titus picks up and uses the fork when his mom gestures to it. The ultimate goal is that he will independently use his fork without prompting.

An evidence-based practice used to decrease interfering behaviors by interrupting the interfering behavior. Teachers or parents will then redirect the learner and focus on prompting him or her to engage in a more appropriate, alternative behavior.

Example 1: Prohibiting a child to eat with his or her hands and prompting fork use instead.

Example 2: Blocking your child’s self-injurious behavior and then prompting him or her to express their want or need on their SGD (Speech Generating Device).

A procedure in which each small step of a “terminal behavior” or a behavior that has never been completed, is the end goal. The behavior we want to “shape up” is the “terminal behavior.” Reinforcement is provided for each small step achieved when working toward the end goal or “terminal behavior.” As skills increase, reinforcement is no longer provided previous step, each step expecting more, or shaping, the terminal behavior.

Example: A child learning to request ball first says ba and is given the ball. After consistently providing the ba approximation, the communication partner will only give ball when the child says ball instead of ba.

Example: A child learning to wave hello first put his hand up with fingers pointed down. This is reinforced with praise multiple times. Next, when a child is to wave goal is for child to put hand up open fingers, and this is reinforced. Third, child is put hand up, open fingers, and rotate wrist back and forth slightly. Finally, child is to put hand up, open fingers, rotate wrist back and forth in a full waving motion. This final step is the terminal behavior. Once the terminal behavior is reached or acquired, only that terminal behavior is accepted and reinforced from that moment on.

A written or visual guide describing various social interactions, situations, behaviors, skills, or concepts.

Example: Mom reads Jacob a social story about what to expect when flying in an airplane every day before their upcoming vacation. The social story includes everything Jacob can expect about his first trip on an airplane: driving to the airport, moving through security, boarding the airplane, and sitting next to mom on the flight. The story includes ways that Jacob can cope with any bad feelings he might encounter throughout this new experience. “I can hold mom’s hand during take off,” the social story reads. “Grandma and Grandpa will meet us at the next airport after we land!”

Also known as “Graduated Exposure Therapy,” a type of behavior therapy used to help effectively overcome phobias and other anxiety disorders through graduated and systematic exposure. In other words, little by little the individual is exposed to fear or phobia and reinforced to tolerate it. Gradually increasing the exposure to the place, item or experience in an orderly (systematic) approach.

Example: Tyler had a meltdown each time he attempted to visit the dentist, so his parents asked the BCBA for help. The BCBA implemented a systematic desensitization program for the dentist. Tyler’s RBT first held a dentist’s tool, a concave mirror rod, in Tyler’s vision. Following the systematic desensitization task analyses, the breakdown of this intervention, the RBT gradually moved the mirror rod closer to Tyler until he would tolerate the tool near his mouth, then in his mouth, then in his mouth for durations of time until Tyler would allow the RBT to keep the mirror rod inside Tyler’s mouth for a naturalistic amount of time that a dentist would need in an appointment. The systematic desensitization procedure is one intervention of a few that eliminated Tyler’s meltdowns associated with going to the dentist; paired with social stories and developing coping skills in discrete trial teaching, Tyler achieved going to the dentist without problem behaviors.

A form of observational learning in which learner watches a video model of the desired behavior and then imitates it.

Example 1: Grace watched a video of a child saying hello to a person entering the room; she practiced saying hello to a person entering the room immediately thereafter.

Example 2: A social skills group watched a short clip of two individuals resolving a communication breakdown; after watching the clip, they role-played a situation in which they had to resolve a communication breakdown using the skills they observed in the video.

A schedule with images of events or places to tell the learner what to expect and when.

Example 1: Every morning, Emma uses her visual schedule to remind herself that she needs to use the bathroom, eat breakfast, brush her teeth, comb her hair, and then get dressed for school

Example 2: Every morning, Joan refers to the visual schedule on her desk to remind her the order of her school subjects for the day: Bell Work, Math, Reading, Bathroom, Gym and Lunch.