Common ABA Terms

A reinforcer is anything that both motivates the child, and increases certain behaviors. Reinforcers can include physical objects, like a toy or favorite snack; activities, like swimming or jumping on the trampoline; or social attention, like tickles, high fives, or hugs.

A prompt is a way of providing extra support to help the child move toward positive behavior. Prompts include everything from gestures to verbal cues that guide the child in the right direction.

Fading is a slow, systematic approach for taking prompts away.

Visuals enhance the child’s ability to understand and learn. They might include calendars, checklists, or social stories™, which are simple, visual stories that depict a variety of social scenarios.

Task analysis is the process of breaking down a task (like hand washing, completing homework, packing a suitcase, or using the bathroom) into simple, more approachable steps.

Challenging behavior prevents the child from learning or participating in daily activities.

ABC Data is a way to track and analyze behavior. “A” stands for antecedent, or what occurs immediately before the behavior. “B” stands for behavior. And “C” stands for consequence, or what occurs immediately after the behavior. The antecedent and the consequence determine whether the behavior will occur again. Here’s an example:

  1. A: A mother asks her child to wash his hands.
  2. B: The child cries.
  3. C: Out of frustration, the mother tells her son he doesn’t have to wash his hands.
  4. A + C: The child learns that he won’t have to wash his hands if he cries, so he’s more likely to cry when asked to wash his hands in the future.

Extinction is a strategy used to reduce behaviors. Extinction involves holding back a positive reinforcer that maintains an inappropriate behavior. When adults carry out extinction, the child learns that she will no longer get what she wants by using inappropriate behavior.

An extinction burst is when behavior worsens as a result of extinction. Extinction bursts typically occur before inappropriate behavior goes away.

Ignoring means to ignore inappropriate behavior—not the child.

To redirect means to divert the child’s attention to something else.