Applied Behavior Analysis for Autism

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Dear Editor:

I am not a reporter or a journalist, not even a writer, but after reading an article in the Rockaway Times I felt I needed to take pen to paper to clear up some misinformation, myths and misconceptions purported in the article, Far Rock Enchantress in which it refers to Applied Behavior Analysis as “overrated” and “silly.”

Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of human behavior and involves the principles of learning theory. Quoting the definition by Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968): “Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior“

The efficacy of applied behavior analysis as an intervention for individuals with autism has been documented in hundreds of scientific research articles. ABA is heralded as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by numerous state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General in 1999 and the New York State Department of Health in 1999. ABA therapy  is the only autism-specific therapy covered by private insurance companies and other employee benefit plans. New York became the 29th state to enact autism insurance reform on November 1, 2011 deeming ABA as medically necessary.  In addition, the National Standards Project and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders each recently established the techniques that make up ABA, such as reinforcement, prompting, and discrete trail teaching (DTT) as evidence-based. There are many different teaching strategies that are used under the umbrella of Applied Behavior Analysis each of these instructional techniques has a rich empirical support base. These include shaping and chaining behaviors, pivotal response training, incidental teaching, fluency-based instruction, activity schedules, task analysis, video modeling and many more. (For more information on these techniques, go to

Before an ABA treatment program is implemented, a Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) who is typically also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will conduct an assessment of the child’s and family’s needs, interests, preferences, strengths, and goals. Each ABA treatment program is unique to the individual receiving intervention. There is typically a team of people who support the therapeutic interventions (i.e. parents, teachers, direct care workers, siblings), and they are best overseen by an individual who is highly skilled, draws from the research, and has the ability to create data-driven individualized programs. Reinforcement is one of the cornerstones of ABA therapy.

 In the beginning of an ABA therapy program, reinforcement is used frequently to shape appropriate behavior and as motivation for learning. While food (“the cookie”) may be used initially, it is paired with praise or secondary reinforcers, which will be the key to the intervention, especially those that occur naturally and food is faded out. This is often done by pairing the new item (e.g., preferred toy, song) or activity (e.g., high-five, hug, smile.) with the original reinforcer. In my 20 years of practice, I have been witness to amazing achievements made by children on the autism spectrum which were made possible by using ABA therapy with a dedicated, highly trained staff and empowered families.

If you would like any additional information on ABA therapy or have any questions I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I am a LBA and BCBA and founder of ABA TREE and director of the ABA Program at Challenge Early Intervention Center.

Laura Leonard,


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