Below is a glossary/collection of ABA terms that are extremely helpful to know as a parent when your child is going through ABA Therapy.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) – An established science that goes MUCH father than just treating those on the ASD.  if all you know that ABA is a treatment for young children with Autism, then I recommend you read further into the field.  ABA at its core is a was to teach, manage and/or reduce behaviors.  ABA is actually an umbrella term that can cover many specific and unique strategies; for example Incidental Training, Discrete Trial Training and Verbal Behavior.  There are many, many ways to implement ABA.

ABA Therapist – Anyone who provides therapy to a learner, in a direct staff role. This label can be used many ways, ABA Tutor, ABA Technician, Clinical Assistant, Services Provider, etc.

ABLLS Assessment (Pronounced “A-bulls”) – A comprehensive assessment and curriculum planning tool created by Drs. Sundburg and Partington. This tool allows assessment across twenty five varied domains to get a complete portrayal of a child’s functioning level, strengths and deficits.  Domains include self-help skills, gross motor skills, receptive skills, group instruction, etc.

Acquisition Task – A target that is in the process of being taught. This behavior is not yet a known skill.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – Persistent deficits in social communication and social interation across multiple contexts.  There is a severity level rating based on the intesity of supports of the individual needs to function.  It’s important to know that Autism is a spectrum and no two individuals are the same.  There is a great variability amongst those with Autism.

BCBA or BCBA-D/BCaBA– This is the board certification required for a person to become a Behavior Analyst, and it is recognized worldwide.  In many states or with insurance companies, only BCBAs are recognized as being properly authorized to oversee, manage, or supervise ABA programs. The BCaBA denotes the person is at an associate level, and must work under a BCBA. BCaBA’s usually have less training or experience, although this isn’t always the case. Becoming certified is a lengthy process that takes much dedication, focus, and graduate level coursework.

RBT – Registered Behavior Technician. For direct level staff, this is a credential that denotes the person has met specific education and experience standards.

Behavior – To be considered behavior, it must be observable and/or measurable.

Bio- Medical Approach-  The bio- medical approach to treating Autism is based on treating the biological causes of, or issues associated with Autism, such as heavy metals or an over growth of yeast.

Chaining – Used to teach multi-step skills in which the steps involved are defined through task analysis, and each separate step is taught to link together the total “chain”.  Can be either done by backward, forward, or total task analyses.

Chronological Age/ Developmental Age – The Chronological Age of a child si the actual, calculated by their birthdate.  The Developmental Age is based on the lavel of functioning and cognitive ability/adaptive skills.

Co-Morbidity– This means having multiple diagnoses as the same time, such as being diagnosed with Autism, OCD, and an Anxiety Disorder.

Consultant- Describes anyone who creates the treatment/behavioral plans, trains and supervises staff, and may or may not assist with hiring staff. Typically this is a BCBA level individual with extensive experience and training in running an ABA program.

Contained Classroom- A contained/self-contained, classroom is a classroom that has only special needs children. These classrooms have a smaller teacher to student ration than a typical classroom.  These classes are typically taught by Special Education teachers and include at least one or more instructional aides.

Deprivation –An ABA principle which states that the more deprived of a particular reinforcer, the more powerful that reinforcer will be.

Developmentally Delayed (DD) -A child may be given a DD diagnosis when they are not progressing as they should be and are not meeting standard developmental milestones for their age.  However, adolescents and adults sometimes are also diagnosed with DD later in life.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) – A specific method of instruction in which a task is isolated and taught to an individual across multiple trials (repetition teaching). A specific opportunity to respond is presented, and a specific response from the learner is expected (Teacher: “Stand up”. Learner: (stands up). Teacher: “Nice standing!”).

Discriminative stimulus (SD) – This is the demand/question or directive given, to obtain a specific response. This is a technical term that basically means to make it clear that reinforcement is available if the correct response is given. Examples of SD’s: “Touch red”, and  “Clean your room”.

Echoic -This is a verbal behavioral term where one is able to vocally imitate upon request.

Echolalia – Echoing or imitating what is heard, can be immediate or delayed. So if you ask your child “Want to go outside?” and they respond “Go outside?,” that is echolalia. Many individuals with Autism (particularly early learners) exhibit echolalia, but engaging in echolalia does not automatically mean someone has Autism.

Elopement – Elopement is wandering, or running away, from an area the person is not supposed to leave. This behavior can be very scary, especially for individuals who cannot communicate.

Expressive – Expressive means speaker behavior, and refers to tasks that require a vocal response such as singing or talking.

Extinction – The withholding of reinforcement for a previously reinforced behavior, resulting in reduction of that behavior.

Extinction burst – The increase in frequency and/or intensity of behavior in the early stages of extinction.

FBA– Functional Behavior Assessment. This is the process by which behavioral interventions are created. An FBA is intended to determine the function (or the reason) for a behavior, and then create an intervention based on that function. A Functional Analysis (FA) involves manipulating the environment to understand the behavior, while a Functional Behavior Assessment involves things like observation, interview, and collecting ABC data.

Fine Motor Skills – Activities that require the coordination and movement of the smaller muscles of the body, especially those in the hand.

Floortime – A treatement methos that focuses on child-lef, play-focused activities using a naturalistic approach.  Floortime is not type of ABA.

Generalization – Term used to describe the ability to learn a skill in one situation and be able to apply it flexibly to other similar but different situations.

GFCF Diet – Gluten (wheat) Free, Casein (dairy) Free Diet. GFCF diets are not empirically supported to be effective as a treatment for Autism.

Gross Motor Skills – These are the activities we do using our larger muscle groups; like sitting, walking & jumping.

High Functioning/Low Functioning – Those on the ASD Spectrum are sometimes categorized according to their functioning level, or cognitive ability.  A “high functioning” child may do well academically, has conversational language, and as social difficulties.  A “low functioning” child may have significant deficits and difficulties across all areas including language, cognition, language, academics, and adaptive behavior.  Many find the terms “high” and “low” functioning to be offensive due to their over generalization.

Hand-Over-Hand (HOH) Prompting – HOH prompting is a physical prompt where you place your hands over the learner’s hand to get them to comply with a motor demand or directive.

Hypersensitivity – Acute reaction (overly sensitive) to a sensory input.

Hyposensitivity – Little or no reaction (under-sensitive) to a sensory input.

Individual Education Plan (IEP) – An IEP is the Individualized Curriculum Plan that children and adolescents (up to age 22) have if they are in special education. An IEP is a legal document, and the IEP process should be taken very seriously and with much consideration for the child’s future. If the child is under 3 years old and receiving services they may have an IFSP, which is an Individual Family Services Plan.

Inclusive Classroom- An inclusive classroom is a classroom with both special needs and typical children learning together. Typically these are taught by General Education teachers, and there may or may not be paraprofessionals in the room.

Intervention– This is the plan of action or the strategy you will use to change a behavior. An example of an intervention is teaching a learner to use a card to request help instead of having a tantrum.

Intraverbal – Intraverbals are building blocks to build conversation skills as the current ability to discuss, describe, or a question about that isn’t physically present.

Mainstream – To “Mainstream” a child means they can be successfully placed in a typical classroom, as opposed to to a special education classroom.  This typically happens one class subject at a time. this also means they can perform the same level grade work, have play, adaptive, motor and cognitive abilities comparable to typically developing peers, in the least restricted environment.  Mainstreaming is typically the long term goal for a child placed in the special education classroom at a very young age.

Mental Retardation (MR) – A mental disorder characterized by significantly under-average general intellectual functioning associated with impairments in adaptive behavior. It is classified on the basis of severity as mild, moderate, severe, and profound.

Mouthing– This refers to when inappropriately placing items/toys, etc. in the mouth. Depending on the individual, licking items could also be considered mouthing.

NET – Natural Environment Training is a type of ABA where learning occurs incidentally and often playfully in natural environments, such as at the bus stop, in the bathtub, or during dinner.

Neuro-Typical (NT) – Used by come individuals with Autism to describe people who do not have Autism.  It refers to someone who does not have neurological difficulties or differences.

Perseverative Behavior – Displaying excessively repetitive and stereotypical behaviors, such as asking for a pretzel eighteen times in five minutes or repeating a line from a commercial over and over again. Many think this word is synonymous with “stimming” (see below), but its not because perseverative behavior may or may not be automatically maintained.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – PECS is a symbolic communication system for functionally non-verbal individuals. The approach is designed to help individuals with autism learn to initiate requests and communicate their needs.

Prompt – A form of assistance or cue given to help the learner compete a task and to increase accurate responding. There are several types of prompts: physical, general, gestural, position, model, verbal, symbolic, visual prompt, and many more.

Prompt Dependent – When an individual becomes has become reliant on being assisted with a task, and stops attempting the task independently.  Alternatively, it could be the learner who has been prompted to do a task a certain was so many times, that is difficult for them to change the was they do the task..

Receptive – Listener behavior, and refers to tasks that require a nonvocal action or motor response such as touch, give, or point.

Recovered – Often used instead of words such as “cured” or “fixed.” A recovered individual has overcome the more disabling effects of the Autism diagnosis, and is able to be successful with minimum supports across a variety of life settings.

Reinforcer – Something used to motivate a learner to complete a task, or engage in a behavior.  A reinforcer can be tangible (toy), social (praise), physical (hug), etc.  To be considered a reinforcer, the likelihood of future occurrence of the target behavior must increase.

Satiation – When a reinforcer loses it’s effectiveness due to overuse.

Scripting – When a learner engages in a vocal stim where they repeat, or script, phrases or entire sections of a a TV show, movie, or commercial.  Also known as self-talk.

Scrolling -When a learner responds to a demand to a by either receptively or expressively linking several responses together.

Self injurious behavior (SIB) – Self-injurious behaviors are actions that an individual
performs that result in physical injury to the  body. Typical forms of self-injurious behavior include hitting oneself, head-banging, biting, picking at skin or sores, or scratching.

Stereotypical/Repetitive Behaviors (“Stimming”) – Self initiated, often repetitive movements (i.e. rocking, vocalizations, flapping, spinning) that can be vocal or motoric.  For some Autistic individuals, these behaviors can occur more than 100+ times a day and may engage in these behaviors for automatic reinforcement purposes.

Sensory Integration/Sensory Diets – Sensory integration refers to different strategies or techniques used to meet, raise, or lower internal sensory needs such as weighted vests, specific sensory diets, or brushing procedures. Often an OT will recommend sensory integration via a sensory diet.  Sensory integration is not empirically supported, and should not be considered to be part of ABA treatment.

Shadow– Also called a School Facilitator; a Shadow is someone who goes into the classroom with a child and helps that child integrate fully into the classroom environment.

Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)/ Occupational Therapist) (OT) / Physical Therapist (PT) These are professionals who often work with individuals with Autism to provide therapy services related to speech, movement, developmental goals, coordination, and functional communication. It isn’t uncommon for these professionals (including ABA professionals) to overlap in the services they provide, such as teaching motor skills or visual performance skills. Ideally, the “alphabet soup” team (BCBA/SLP/OT) will work together collaboratively to benefit the client.

Tact – This is a Verbal Behavior term. A tact is being able to label or describe an item with stimuli being present. For example, a learner can tact if they can label the color of a ball if the ball is present.

Target Behavior – The behavior of interest you are trying to increase, or decrease. There may be multiple target behaviors being addressed simultaneously, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Task Reduction – Reducing the demands put upon the individual in an effort to avoid or decrease frustration levels.

Transitions – Changes from one activity to another such as a preferred play activity to a work activity. Transitions are typically very difficult for individuals with ASD, particularly those that are unplanned or abrupt.

Verbal Behavior (VB) – Verbal Behavior is a type of ABA based on the works of B.F. Skinner that focuses on understanding and teaching language as a behavior, and based on its function.

VB-MAPP Assessment- An assessment and curriculum tool created by Dr. Sundberg. This tool focuses on verbal/language assessment to get a complete snapshot of verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits. Domains include manding, intraverbals, echoics, etc.

Verbal VS Non Verbal- When people use these terms they typically mean if a learner can talk or not. Babbling/sounds are not usually considered verbal, unless they serve a communicative purpose. The behavior analytic term for being able to talk is vocal, not verbal. Verbal can be any form of communication such as sign language or gesturing, while Vocal is speech/vocalizations used to communicate.


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