Glossary of ABA Terms


A-B-C DATA: A description of a behavior in terms of the Antecedent (A) to the behavior, the Behavior (B), and the Consequence (C) of the behavior. The antecedent is what happened immediately before the behavior, such as being ignored, wanting an item, wanting to escape a demand. The behavior is a detailed description of what the behavior looks like, for instance “tantrum” can be described as kicking, throwing objects, etc. The consequence is what was the immediate response to the behavior. This may include ignoring the behavior, giving the item to the learner, etc.

ABLL’s-R: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised, developed by Dr. James Partington, is a criterion referenced assessment and tracking system based on B.F. Skinner’s functional analysis of language.

APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS: The application of the science of learning to socially significant human behavior.

APRAXIA: A brain/motor speech disorder. The brain cannot effectively coordinate the muscle movements necessary to say words, specific sounds or syllables.

BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Requirements for this certification include completing a prescribed number of University Master’s level coursework, completing 1500 hours of clinical work under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and passing the required written board exam. Continuing education credits are required for recertification every 2 years. The BCBA’s include but are not limited to conducting assessments, writing behavior plans and treatment programs, training staff and parents.

DISCRETE TRIAL TEACHING (DTT):  One teaching strategy used in ABA to acquire new skills. Discrete trial is teacher directed, massed trial instruction. Highly preferred reinforcers are used to increase the probability of correct responding, and clear, concise contingencies are applied throughout the teaching trial.

ECHOIC: Repeating a modeled heard utterance, sound or word. This is an essential skill in learning verbal operant behavior.

ECHOLALIA: Consistent repetition of vocalizations made by another individual. This may be immediate or delayed. Echolalia may not be productive or meaningful in learning verbal behavior but is more productive than not making any sounds at all.

EXTINCTION: The process of withholding reinforcement from a previously reinforced behavior to decrease the probability of the behavior occurring in the future. It is essential to know the function of the behavior for extinction to be an effective strategy. For example, if a learner tantrums to get his/her parents attention, then no attention should be given to the tantrum. Tantrums will eventually fade out. Ethically, it is important to teach an acceptable, functional replacement behavior such as functional communication (i.e. asking for a hug).

EXTINCTION BURST: This almost always occurs during an extinction process; the behavior will “get worse, before it gets better”. The behavior will temporarily increase in intensity and/or frequency and variability. If the behavior is deemed to be dangerous to the learner, others or property then an extinction process should not be used.

GENERALIZATION: A new behavior or skill that occurs in the presence of a novel person, place or stimulus not previously associated with teaching.

INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (IDEA): This law guarantees a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)  and related services for children with special needs to prepare them for independent living and employment across their life span.

INCIDENTAL TEACHING: Teaching that follows the learner’s lead in a naturally occurring way. Incidental teaching is used to program for generalization and maintenance and promote enhanced speech.

INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM (IEP): This is a legal required document for each learner (up to age 21) that receives special education and related services due to a disability as stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Acy (IDEA). The IEP is a collaboration effort of the Child Study Team which includes teachers, school administrators, related services personnel, parents, advocates, and the learners themselves when appropriate. The IEP outlines the specific educational goals and objectives for the learner and describes the services that will be provided to achieve those goals.

INDIVIDUALIZED FAMILY SERVICE PLAN (IFSP): This is a document that serves learners aged 0-3yrs. who require early intervention services. Similar to an IEP, and also guaranteed through IDEA , the IFSP identifies and describes the services necessary for the individual learner to achieve developmental objectives. Family members and service providers, together, determine how best to plan, implement and assess services and progress.

INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT: Reinforcing a specific behavior some of the time, but not each time the behavior occurs. This can lead to strengthening a behavior and leads to extinction resistance. Everyone involved with the learner should be on the same schedule of reinforcement to either increase skill acquisition or decrease problem behavior.

INTRAVERBAL: The basis of social verbal exchange/conversation. The learner’s verbal response is controlled by the verbal responses of others. Fill-ins are an example of a simple intraverbal “Twinkle, twinkle, little _______”. The learner would fill in “star”.

LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE): This is an educational term that refers to the most typical environment in which a learner can make academic and social progress. The environment(s) where the learner spends his time is determined in the IEP during the ARD process. The least restrictive environment is the ultimate goal of every educational program.

MAND: A verbal behavior term that means “request”. One of the first verbal skills that is taught. If a learner can request an item, person, and/or need then the request can replace challenging, problem behavior.

MANIFESTATION DETERMINATION HEARING: Within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a learner eligible for special education because of a violation of a code of student conduct, the school district, the parent, and relevant members of the student’s IEP team (as determined by the parent and the school district) must review all relevant information to determine if the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct, substantial relationship to, the student’s disability; or if the conduct in question was the direct result of the district’s failure to implement the IEP. If it is determined the behavior was due to the learner’s disability, then the learner may not be held accountable.

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT TEACHING (NET): This is basically the opposite of discrete trial teaching. The learner’s current activities and interests determine the teaching strategies. It differs from Incidental Teaching in that Incidental Teaching is a type of discrete trial methodology that is taught within generalized settings. NET follows the child’s lead and learning can occur anywhere and everywhere.

PAIRING: In ABA, pairing is the act of an instructor bonding with a learner to become a reinforcer for that learner. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 days. Pairing is a continuous activity; a few minutes of the beginning of every therapy session should be spent pairing with the learner to increase instructional control.

P.E.C.S.: The acronym for Picture Exchange Communication System developed by Lori Frost and Andy Bondy. This is a simple, popular form of augmentative communication.

PROBE: A procedure used to “test” a skill, or part of a skill, to assess if a specific step is already in the learner’s repertoire. Probes are also used to assess for generalization of skills or to determine functioning levels during baseline to program at the appropriate level. Probe may also refer to data that is collected only for a student’s first response to a specific stimulus/instruction.

PROMPT: An added antecedent stimulus that brings about a specific behavior. Prompts can be thought of as “hints”. For example, a learner may not greet a friend passing by; the instructor may wave or mouth the word “hi” to occasion the learner to greet his friend. It is critical that prompts be faded quickly so the natural “cue” (the friend in the hallway) sets the occasion for a greeting.

REINFORCEMENT: Any consequence that increases the probability of a specific behavior occurring again in the future. Positive reinforcement is something added, such as a paycheck, to increase the probability of continuing to go to work. Negative reinforcement removes an aversive, such as the dinging reminder in your car to put your seat belt on. Wearing the seat belt removes the annoying sound and increases the probability that you will increase your seat belt usage.

SHAPING: A process used to teach a new behavior by reinforcing successive approximations to the target behavior. For example, if a learner won’t use a spoon, shaping may begin by tolerating the presence of the spoon on the table, then next to the plate, the on the plate, the touching the spoon and so on until the learner is eating with the spoon.

SPONTANEOUS RECOVERY:  A phenomenon that may occur after a successful extinction procedure whereby the behavior reappears again in situations that are similar to those in which the behavior originally occurred. Spontaneous recovery is short-lived and limited if the extinction procedure remains in effect. It is important to be aware of this phenomenon so that the behavior is not inadvertently reinforced.

STEREOTYPIC BEHAVIOR: Repetitive movements of objects or motor mannerisms which may include rocking, hand flapping, clapping or laughing out of context. This is sometimes referred to as “stimming” which suggests a sensory function. This may or may not be accurate; many of these behaviors may actually serve as attention-seeking, avoidance, or communication functions.

TASK ANALYSIS: A step-by-step list of actions necessary to complete a specific behavior. The behavior is broken down into its component parts and then the learner is asked to engage in the behavior, for instance, “brush teeth”. Depending on their skill level the task analysis may be 10 steps or 40 steps.  A task analysis may be in text or picture form. As the learner becomes more fluent with the task, the task analysis is shortened until the learner can perform the skill independently.

VB-MAPP: The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program is a language and social skills assessment, developed by Mark L. Sundberg, for learners with autism and developmental disabilities.

Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale: An assessment tool used to determine skill levels in the following areas: language, daily living, social skills, gross and fine motor skills. Parents/caregivers are typically interviewed with a structured questionnaire regarding the above skill levels.