Pediatric ABA Therapy Terms; A-D

The abbreviation for Applied Behavior Analysis. See Applied Behavior Analysis.

The abbreviation for Americans with Disabilities Act. See Americans with Disabilities Act.

Adaptive Behavior
The ability to adjust to new situations and to apply familiar or new skills to those situations. For example, a two-year-old is displaying his ability to adapt when he says, “Mine!” to the child who is attempting to take his toy. A five-year-old shows adaptive behavior when he is able to use the same table manners he uses at home at a friend’s house.

ADI-R Autism Diagnostic Interview
Revised (ADI-R) is a questionnaire used as a diagnostic tool for autism.

ADOS-G Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale Generic (ADOS-G)

A research-based observation study used in the diagnosis of autism.

An individual who represents or speaks out on behalf of another person’s interests (as in a parent on behalf of his or her child).

Age-appropriate intervention

Materials and activities designed to teach the child with special needs are appropriate for the child’s typically developing same-age peers. For instance, a toy designed for use with typically developing one-year-old children should not be used with a child who is eight years old, but who has the developmental abilities of a one-year-old.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
Federal civil rights law protecting individuals with disabilities. Enacted in 1990.

Annual Goal

A statement of the desired outcome of early intervention services or education for a specific child. Annual goals for early intervention are selected by the child’s parents and the child’s early intervention multidisciplinary team and are stated on the Individualized Family Service Plan. Annual goals for education also are developed by a team that includes the child’s parents, and are stated in the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Objectives may also be stated to provide developmentally appropriate activities and measurement of progress toward attainment of the goal.

A loss of the ability to produce or understand language.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
This is not a particular treatment or therapy. ABA is the name of a professional field that uses principles of learning to increase the performance of socially desirable behaviors. It always relies upon the collection of objective data to measure performance and the effectiveness of an intervention. ABA is used in industry, business and education as well as in the field of disabilities. The term “ABA” is sometimes used to refer to a one-on-one therapy that is named discrete trial training, however, it can also be applied using an incidental teaching approach.

The philosophy or paradigm that governs treatment selection and implementation.

A motor planning deficit marked by a loss of the ability to execute or carry out voluntary movements, despite having the desire and physical ability to perform these movements.

A national organization, formerly known as the Association for Retarded Citizens, which provides advocacy services to individuals with mental retardation and their families and publishes information about mental retardation. The Arc has local and state branches throughout the United States.

The abbreviation for Autism Society of America. See Autism Society of America.

Asperger’s Disorder
A condition found in the DSM-IV-TR manual under Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The essential features are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Additional criteria are listed in the DSM-IV-TR.

Assistive Technology
Special items or equipment used to increase, maintain or improve one’s functioning abilities. The term covers items such as computers, pencil holders, specialized switches, and calculators.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
A neurological disorder characterized by severe difficulty listening to and following directions, impulsivity, distractibility, and sometimes hyperactivity (ADHD)


A specialist who determines the presence and type of hearing impairment. An audiologist conducts hearing tests and makes recommendations for hearing aids.

The study of hearing and hearing disorders.

Audiometric Testing
Tests to measure the ability to hear sounds of varying frequency (pitch) and intensity (loudness), thereby revealing any hearing impairment. Results are then recorded on an audiogram. Also known as audiometry.

Augmentative Communication
Any method of communicating without speech, such as by signs, gestures, picture boards, or electronic or non-electronic devices. These methods can help individuals who are unable to use speech or who need to supplement their speech to communicate effectively.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors occur in approximately 25 of every 10,000 individuals. This means that at least one out of every 500 children born will have ASD. It is important to note that some children with mental retardation, fragile X syndrome, psychiatric disorders, sensory deficits such as vision or hearing impairments, and certain rare neurological diseases have autistic-like characteristics, but do not have ASD. In older literature, ASD may be called infantile autism or Kanner’s syndrome. See Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Autism Society of America (ASA)

National nonprofit organization that promotes lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum. The ASA has state and local chapters in the U.S.

This refers to the pre-treatment phases prior to implementation of an intervention. In baseline, instructors should not prompt or consequate a behavior (i.e. do not reinforce or provide correction). The purpose of a baseline is to establish present rates of responding. Once a steady state has been obtained, it is appropriate to implement an intervention. Changes (or lack thereof) in the rate of behavior suggest to practitioners whether to remove or continue with a treatment method.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst, independent practitioner that may work independently or through an agency. The BCBA conducts descriptive assessment, functional analysis and provides behavior analytic services. Often serve as consultants. BCBA’s the only individuals’ qualified to oversee BCaBA staff according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst, conducts assessments and can interpret results and design ethical treatment for situations and scenarios that are similar to what they encountered in supervised field work. All BCaBA’s must receive supervision at least 1 hour per month by a BCBA in order to maintain their credential (as of August 2010).

An observable and measurable act an organism does, including covert (unseen) actions (like thinking, dreaming, etc). Behavior is not limited to challenging behaviors, rather behavior applies to all observable and measurable acts emited by a living organism (e.g. breathing, eating, singing, yelling, laughing, reading, running, etc.).

Behavior Analyst
An individual who has demonstrated mastery of the professional competencies involved in assessing behavior and designing, implementing, evaluating, and communicating the results of an applied behavior analysis program.

Behavioral Contract

A behavioral plan of action that is negotiated between a client, child, spouse, etc. and concerned others. This plan usually includes a statement of target responses, consequences that follow different actions, and long-term goals. The contract objectively specified what is expected of the person and the consequences that follow behavior.

Behavior Intervention Plan

A written document that becomes part of the IEP and which identifies problem behaviors; sets goals for decreasing unwanted behaviors and increasing desired behaviors; and outlines interventions to use when specific behaviors occur. Sometimes called a behavior management plan.

Behavioral Assessment
Gathering (through direct observation and by parent report) and analyzing information about a child’s behaviors. The information may be used to help the child change unwanted behaviors. Variables that are noted include when a behavior occurs as well as its frequency and duration. See Functional Assessment of Behavior.

Behavior Modification

The systematic application of learning principles and techniques to assess and improve individuals’ covert and overt behaviors in order to enhance their daily functioning.

Best Practice

A technique or method that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result. A commitment to using best practices means using all available knowledge and technology to ensure success. ABA is considered a “best practice” intervention for autism.


A system of approximately 100 basic symbols used singly or in combination to represent virtually any message.

CARS Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
A research-based tool used to help educators and clinicians recognize and classify children age 2 and up with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Central Nervous System (CNS)
The structure that consists of the brain, the spinal cord and related systems that controls all aspects of learning, thinking, and movement.

Characteristics & Functioning

At one end of the spectrum of autism individuals tend to have many challenging behaviors. At the other end, individuals generally have greater cognitive abilities and can communicate relatively well with spoken language.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
A rare type of pervasive developmental disorder in which typically developing children between the ages of three and four suddenly lose previously acquired social and communication skills.

Clinical Psychologist
A licensed mental health professional trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders such as ASD. They may also work with patients using behavioral or other therapies.


Referring to the developmental area that involves thinking skills, including the ability to receive, process, analyze and understand information. Matching red circles and pushing the button on a mechanical toy to activate it are examples of cognitive skills.

The developmental area that involves skills which enable people to understand (receptive language) and share (expressive language) thoughts and feelings. Waving goodbye, using spontaneous single-word utterances and repeating five-word sentences are examples of communication skills.

Communication Aid

A nonverbal form of communication such as gesture, sign language, communication boards and electronic devices (for example, computers and voice synthesizers).

Communication Board/Book
A board or book with pictures or symbols that a child or adult can point to for expression of his or her needs.

Communication Disorder
Difficulty with understanding and/or expressing messages. Communication disorders include problems with articulation, voice disorders, stuttering, language disorders and some learning disabilities.

Deliberate, repetitive behaviors or actions with a set of rules for completion.

A series of planned instruction used to teach specific knowledge and skills.

Daily Living Skills

The ability to perform routine self-care tasks such as dressing, toileting, eating and grooming.

Descriptive Assessment
A type of functional assessment which is based on direct observation of the behavior in the natural environment.

Developmental Delay
The term used to describe the condition of an infant or young child who is not achieving new skills in the typical time frame and/or is exhibiting behaviors that are not appropriate for his or her age. Some children who are developmentally delayed eventually have a specific diagnosis of a particular developmental disability. Other children with delays catch up with their typically developing peers.

Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA)

This Maryland agency funds services to people with mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy and related disabilities. (This description is based on the State definition of developmental disability, which is used to determine who receives particular services through DDA funds.)

Developmental Disability (DD)
A severe chronic disability that: is attributed to a physical or mental impairment, other than the sole diagnosis of mental illness, or to a combination of mental and physical impairments; is manifested before the individual attains the age of 22; is likely to continue indefinitely; results in the inability to live independently without external support or continuing and regular assistance; reflects the need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services that are planned and coordinated for that individual.

Developmental Disorders
The essential features are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities. Additional criteria are listed in the DSM-IV-TR.

Developmental Milestone
A standardized set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can perform by a certain age. Pediatricians use milestones to check how infants and children are developing, and to screen for developmental disorders.

Developmentally Appropriate Intervention

Teaching of skills acquisition is targeted at the child’s current developmental level, looking at the child’s current abilities across developmental domains (communication, social, cognitive, adaptive behavior, fine motor, gross motor). This practice relies on principles of child development, with the expectation that skills acquisition typically occurs in a predictable sequence, even though the rate at which individual children learn may vary. For instance, it is generally expected that children will learn to use one or two-word sentences before they will progress to three or four-word sentences.

Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V
(DSM-V) – The fifth edition of the reference manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-V appears to be the most widely used manual of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders in the United States. Under the heading of Pervasive Developmental Disorders, the manual describes Autistic Spectrum Disorder and lists the criteria for a diagnosis.

Discrete Trial
A method for teaching desired behaviors, skills or tasks. The skill being taught is “ broken” down or sequenced into small, “discrete steps” that are taught in a highly structured and hierarchical manner. Discrete trials consist of four parts: (a) the instructor’s presentation (the instruction) (prompt if needed), (b) the child’s response, (c) the consequence, (e.g., reinforcement or correction) and (d) a short pause between the consequence and the next instruction (between-trials interval). The instruction should be clear, concise, phrased as a statement, and given only once.

Due Process Hearing
An independent hearing held to resolve a dispute between a parent and a school district over the education of a child with a disability. Parents have the right to request a due process hearing if they feel the needs of their child are not being met by the district, as mandated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

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