Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science dedicated to the understanding and improvement of human behavior based on the learning theory and research by Watson, Pavlov, Thorndike, and Skinner. The application of the principles of learning and motivation has been used to develop procedures to apply toward observable and measurable behaviors in order to make a practical level of change. Based on decades of research, Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968) defined the field of applied behavior analysis by outlining 7 characteristics.

The defining characteristics of ABA include:

  • Applied-behaviors under investigation must be socially significant
  • Behavioral- behavior chosen to change must be in need of improvement, measureable, and observable
  • Analytic-a functional relationship between the manipulated events and behavior changed must occur
  • Technologicalthe procedures used to change behavior are completely defined and can be replicated
  • Conceptually Systematic-describing the procedures used to change behavior in terms of the relevant principles from which they are derived
  • Effectivethe behavior change must occur to a practical and socially significant degree
  • Generality-behavior change must last over time, across people, settings, and stimuli

Thousands of published research studies have shown ABA to be effective across a wide variety of:

  • Behaviors-language and communication, play skills, social skills, academic concepts, restrictive and repetitive behaviors  
  • Populationschildren and adults with and without developmental disabilities, learning disorders, mental illness, academic challenges, attention deficits, and more
  • Settings-home, schools, center-based, community, small group, one-on-one

The core principle of applied behavior analysis is that desirable consequences increase behavior and undesired consequences decrease behavior. Using well-defined procedures based on the principles of behavior and learning, systematic changes in socially significant behaviors can be successfully increased or decreased. The Riley Center follows the National Autism Center’s Standards for Best Practice to implement research-based procedures to change behavior in a meaningful way.