The Components of a Successful ABA Program – What to Look For in an ABA Practice

The components of a successful program in ABA are based on the intervention used for each individual (treatment developed based on the child’s individual strengths and deficits in each area). It is also based on the design in which a certified BCBA has assessed and created the treatment plan.

A successful program will address all aspects of the child’s disability. The deficits in communication, attention, social, play, gross motor, fine motor, self-help, cognitive and academic skills, and behavioral challenges are targeted in the child’s individualized treatment plan. A successful program’s goal is to increase the skill levels of the child to the extent that the program is no longer required in order to maintain success in a typical setting.

Successful programs can include the following:

Antecedent manipulation – modification of situational events that precede the target behavior.  These alterations are designed to increase the likelihood of success of the targeted behavior. Examples include: prompt/fading procedures, behavioral momentum, contrived motivational operations, inter-trial intervals, incorporation special interests, etc.

Behavioral treatment – a program designed to decrease problem behaviors and to increase functional alternative behaviors. Examples include: functional communication training, chaining, discrete trial training, mand training, generalization training, reinforcement, shaping, etc.

Comprehensive intervention – low student to teacher ratio (1:1, or low as appropriate) in a variety of settings, including home school and community. Effective programs are based on a treatment manual, provide intensive treatment (25hrs/wk+), and include data-driven decision-making.

Joint attention intervention – a program designed to teach a child to respond to the social bids of another, or to initiate joint attention interactions. Examples include: pointing to objects, showing items, activities to another, and following eye gaze.

Modeling – adults or peers provide a demonstration of the target behavior that the student is expected to imitate. Thus, imitation skills are a necessary prerequisite to this type intervention. Modeling is often combined with prompting and reinforcement strategies which can assist the student to acquire imitation skills.

Naturalistic teaching strategies – this uses child-initiated interactions to teach functional skills in the natural environment. This intervention requires providing a stimulating environment, modeling play, providing choices, encouraging conversation and rewarding reasonable attempts

Natural Environment Teaching – these sessions usually consist of incidental teaching and therapist contrived learning opportunities to work on many skills areas including social skills, language/communication skills, play skills, and independent living skills. Incidental teaching is a child‐initiated teaching interaction. Many of the skills that are initially taught during a table session will also be targeted during NET sessions once they have been mastered, in order to ensure that mastered skills can be performed in a variety of environments and with a variety of people.  

Peer training – this involves training peers without disabilities strategies for interacting (play and social) with children with autism. Some commonly known peer-training programs include: circle of friends, buddy skills, peer networks, etc.

Pivotal response training – a program designed to target specific, “pivotal,” behaviors that lead to improvement across a broad range of behaviors.  These pivotal behaviors include: motivation to engage in social communication, self-initiation, self-management, responsiveness to multiple cues, etc.

Schedules – teaching a student to follow a task list (picture- or word-based) through a series of activities or steps in order to complete a specific activity. Schedules are accompanied by other behavioral interventions, including reinforcement.

Self-management – this treatment intervention teaches a student to regulate his or her behavior by recording the occurrence or non-occurrence of the target behavior, and secure reinforcement for doing so.

Story-based interventions – this involves a written description of the situations under which specific behaviors are expected to occur. The stories seek to teach the: who, what, when, where and why of social interactions to improve perspective taking. The most well-known of these interventions is Carol Gray’s “Social Stories.”