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ABA Glossary of Terms


    Antecedent Stimulus

    An event that precedes a behavior. For example, the doorbell ringing was an antecedent to the individual opening the door.

    Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

    The science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied to improve socially significant behaviors. It aims to understand behavior and how it is affected by the environment.

    Automatic Reinforcement

    Reinforcement that occurs independent of the behaviors of others (i.e. scratching a bug bite to relieve the itch)



    Data collected that happens before you start an intervention. It is collected to determine if an improvement has been made (i.e., if the intervention is working).

    Behavior Consultant

    An individual who creates treatments, behavioral plans, and trains and supervises staff. Behavioral consultants have a certification in ABA and extensive experience and training in conducting ABA programs.

    Behavior Intervention Plan

    The plan of action used to change the behavior of interest. It provides a written program of instructions for addressing problem behavior and teaching new skills that help a child get their needs met in an appropriate way.

    Behavioral Health Technician

    A paraprofessional that assists in delivering direct behavior-analytic services, aiding in implementing behavior plans which are developed by the BCBA or Behavior Consultant (LBS), and collecting data.

    Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

    A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is an individual with a graduate-level certification in applied behavior analysis. BCBAs receive this certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. BCBAs provide parent training and support, develop treatment plans and programs, provide staff training, analyze data to support client progress, and collaborate with other professionals to improve services.



    A change in the environment immediately after a behavior occurs. Consequences influence whether the behavior will occur again in the future.


    Describes reinforcement or punishment that is delivered only after the target behavior occurs.



    A collection of observations and measurements on behaviors of interest and used as the foundation for making decisions regarding a child's behavior program. Data is used to implement interventions and is continuously monitored and analyzed by the Behavior Consultant.


    Used to describe when an item or activity becomes more valuable because it has been withheld for a while. For example, think about how desserts become much more appetizing and appealing when you are on a diet and have not had them for a while.

    Differential Reinforcement

    Only reinforcing responses that meet a certain criterion and placing all other responses on extinction.

    Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

    A teaching strategy used in ABA to acquire new skills. It involves direct and structured instruction that breaks down skills into smaller components. DTT is typically conducted with a therapist and child seated adjacent to one another at a table.

    Discriminative stimulus (SD)

    This can be either a demand, question or directive given, to obtain a specific response. For example, saying “clean your room.”


    The total time a behavior occurs.



    A verbal behavior term where the child repeats what is heard. For example, the therapist says, “say popcorn!” and the child repeats, “popcorn!”


    This is behavior that involves repeating sounds, phrases or words at any given time from memory.


    This is a behavior where an individual wanders, or runs away, or leaves an area they are not supposed to leave.


    Discontinuing reinforcement of behaviors that have been previously reinforced.


    Fine Motor Skills

    Skills that involve using small muscles. For example, using scissors or writing.


    This term is used to describe the reason why a problem behavior is occurring (i.e., the function of behavior). There are four functions of behavior: attention, escape, access, and sensory needs. These four functions help us understand and categorize actions and determine why the target behavior occurs.

    Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

    The process by which behavioral interventions are designed. The assessment determines the reason for a target behavior and includes techniques like observation, interviews, and collecting ABC data.

    Functional Communication Training (FCT)

    A method of teaching expressive communication to get needs met.



    A general term used for when target behaviors occur across people and locations. In other words, it is the ability to use new skills across different environments. ABA services aim to support children to use the same skill well, no matter where they are.

    Gross Motor Skills

    Skills which involved large muscle groups. For example, standing or walking.



    A verbal behavior term where someone imitates models of another person’s behavior. For example, when a therapist knocks on a table and the child responds by also knocking on the table.


    A verbal behavior term where someone responds to another person conversationally. For example, a therapist asks a child, “How old are you?” and the child replies, “6”.

    Informed Consent

    Formal permission given by a potential recipient of behavioral services; requires that full disclosure of all pertinent information be provided to the individual prior to a granting of permission.


    Listener Responding

    A verbal behavior term that describes a child responding to another person’s verbal behavior. For example, giving instructions (“Clean up your toys” or “Clap your hands”). Also referred to as receptive language.

    Licensed Behavioral Specialist (LBS)

    An LBS is a person who carries a master's degree and has completed a 90-hour course sequence. An LBS who designs, implements, or evaluates a behavior modification intervention component of a treatment plan based on behavior analytic principles.



    A verbal behavior term that describes when a child asks to get what they want or refuse what they don’t want (i.e. requesting).


    A strategy used to allow learners to acquire new skills by imitating the behavior of others.


    Natural Environment Teaching (NET)

    A teaching strategy in ABA that uses the child's natural environment to teach skills. NET incorporates the child's interests into teaching, and learning occurs anywhere and everywhere, such as at home, on the playground, or even at the store!


    Regarding reinforcement and punishment, negative means you remove something from the environment to change behavior.



    A behavior change principle where the learner must restore the environment that they damaged. For example, if a child throws their dinner on the floor, they would be required to pick the food off of the floor.



    This acronym stands for Picture Exchange Communication System and involves using pictures to communicate. It is helpful for those who need a form of communication beyond using words.

    Planned Ignoring

    A procedure in which social reinforcers (i.e. attention) are withheld for a brief period of time contingent on the occurrence of the target behavior.


    Regarding reinforcement and punishment, positive means you add something to the environment to change behavior.


    Cues to get the learner to respond correctly. Think of it as a “hint.” It can take on different forms: visual (pictures), verbal(voice), gestural (pointing), modeling (showing them), and physical (physically guiding the child to perform the behavior).

    Prompt Dependent

    When a child becomes reliant on being assisted with a task and does not attempt to complete a task independently.


    A term used for “testing” a skill.


    An item, activity, or event that decreases the future occurrence of the behavior that happens immediately before the it. Punishers are individual. They can be tangible, social, physical, etc.


    In everyday conversation, when the word punishment is used, punitive actions are being described. Although we often think of “punishment” as meaning bad or negative, it is used in ABA to describe a consequence that aims to reduce specific behavior from occurring again in the future. For example, adding an extra chore every time a child slams the door, which decreases the likelihood that door-slamming will occur in the future. Punishment is not inherently bad or good, it is just a term used to describe a procedure!


    Registered Behavior Technician

    A paraprofessional with a certification in behavior analysis and assists in delivering direct behavior-analytic services, aiding in implementing behavior plans which are developed by the BCBA or Behavior Consultant, and collecting data. RBT's practice under the direct supervision of an RBT Supervisor or RBT Requirements Coordinator.


    A reinforcer is anything that your child enjoys (e.g., iPad, hugs, tickles, candy) and is used to motivate a child to engage in a specific behavior. When a reinforcer is provided following the occurrence of a behavior, it increases the probability that the same behavior will happen again. For example, after your child picked up their toys, you gave them their iPad. Now, they are more likely to clean up their toys.



    When an item or activity loses its effectiveness due to overuse. For example, after a meal a child would be less likely to want an M&M because they are full.


    Multiple responses are given based on effectiveness in the past. Individuals will list or, “scroll” answers they previously gave in hopes that one is correct.

    Self-Injurious Behavior

    Actions an individual performs that result in physical bodily injury (e.g., hitting oneself, biting, head-banging).


    A technique for teaching a new behavior that involves encouraging gradual approximations to the wanted behavior. For example, if a child rejects using a fork, shaping could start with having the child accept the fork on the table, then next to the plate, on the plate, holding the fork, and continuing until the child is using the fork.

    Spontaneous Recovery

    When a particular behavior that was thought to be reduced or eliminated re-emerges.

    Stereotypic Behavior

    Repetitive movements or motor mannerisms such as rocking, hand flapping, or clapping. This is often referred to as “stimming.”


    Refers to an energy change that affects a person through their receptor cells. Stimuli can come in many forms and affect various senses, such as hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.



    A verbal behavior term that describes when a child labels things in the environment. For example, a child sees a car pull into the driveway and says, “car!”

    Target Behavior

    The behavior identified to be changed. For example, if a parent wants their child to learn how to brush their teeth, then “brushing teeth” is the target behavior.

    Task Analysis

    A process where a multi-step behavior or skill (e.g., brushing teeth, washing hands, putting on pants) is broken down into smaller steps that can be taught. It is a step-by-step description of all the behaviors that must happen to produce a final performance.


    Describes a change from either (a) one activity to another, (b) between two locations, or (c) both. Often, transitions can cause challenging behavior.



    Known as The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment. It is an assessment created by Dr. Sundberg that focuses on a child's verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits.

    Verbal Behavior

    Based on the works of B.F. Skinner and focuses on understanding and teaching language as a behavior.

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