People without formal training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may have misconceptions about what it is and how it may be used. Thus, today we will list some of those misconceptions and explain why they are inaccurate. We must first, however, credit Mary McEvoy (Missy’s doctoral advisor) for first discussing these misconceptions.
The Goal of ABA is to remove problem behavior.
Sadly, many people often think that the goal of ABA is to simply remove problem behavior. Certainly, one goal of ABA is to address challenging behavior but there are other goals. Specifically, behavior analysts strive to increase desirable behaviors. These behaviors may include language skills, social skills, and academic skills.
Finally, behavior analysts are also interested in getting behaviors to occur in new settings, with new people, and with different materials. We call this generalization. New skills are not helpful if the new skills are not used in all possible settings and contexts.
In summary, behavior analysts have goals of increasing new appropriate behaviors, decreasing challenging behaviors, maintaining appropriate behaviors, and generalizing behaviors.
In ABA, we have to give children things they like.
Some people believe that behavior analysts only give children things they like. This is partially true. When we first begin teaching a new skill or behavior, we often use reinforcers (things children like). Early in an ABA program, we may rely more heavily on frequent reinforcement (e.g., after every teaching episode). However, a good ABA program will work to fade out reinforcement so that reinforcers are not used all the time. For example, a child may be given a token for work and after 10 tokens are earned, the child may have a short break to play or relax. Eventually, the child will learn to work without any tokens and this is commonly seen in school when a child completes a worksheet before taking a break to play on a computer.
Behavior analysts also remove things that children do not like. If a child is offered a cookie and the child says, “no thank you”, the cookie would be removed. Many children do not enjoy work. Thus, work is often removed for a brief period following appropriate behavior.
We would be remiss if we did not mention that behavior analysts also give children things they do not like and we remove things they like. Both of these strategies are often used to address challenging behavior.
In summary, behavior analysts are givers and takers. We give children things they like, we take away things they do not like, we give children things they do not like, and we remove or take away things they like.
ABA is really just bribery.
First, we would like to define bribery for our readers. Bribery is the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties (the free dictionary dot com).
Clearly, we are not bribing children. We would also like to point out that each and every one of you who holds a job receives payment for your work. You are not bribed to do your job, you are paid. As much as you may enjoy your job, you would not show up to work day after day if you did not receive a paycheck. Behavior analysts call that reinforcement. Your work is reinforced by the money you receive in return for it.
We use the same principles for children. We teach them to work for a specific consequence. Ultimately, we want them to do their school work because they enjoy receiving good grades but even a grading system is contrived.
ABA is only used for people with disabilities.
Applied behavior analysis is a technology that has been used successfully on children with and without disabilities. The technology has also been applied to adults with and without disabilities. Good behavior analysts use techniques on their own children, spouses, and family members. ABA providers should also use ABA techniques with their employees and clients.
Most people think of ABA as an intervention for autism. However, ABA has been used in a variety of areas. For example, an entire group of behavior analysts exist who use ABA techniques in the work force. You may read more about Organizational Behavior Management here or here.
ABA and “The Lovaas Method” are the same.
Many people wrongly assume that when a person uses ABA they are essentially doing the Lovaas Method. We want to clarify that ABA is a technology that incorporates a variety of strategies including prompting, shaping, chaining, reinforcement, data collection, and data analysis. Typically, when people refer to the Lovaas Method, they are referring to the use of Discrete Trial Training in an intensive manner (e.g., 40 hours per week). We do not want to imply that the Lovass Method does not use other principles of ABA. Any good ABA program will utilize all technologies available.
ABA can be learned simply by reading about it.
Finally, some people believe that they can learn about ABA by reading a good book on it. While reading about ABA will certainly help you understand it better, you will most likely not be proficient in its use. We recommend a complete training program (e.g., such as one listed on the BACB website or a formally accredited program) combined with extensive practice in the implementation of ABA procedures. The experiential program must be supervised by a behavior analyst with training and experience in the same area of practice as well as with training and experience supervising new behavior analysts.
We hope this helps dispel some of the myths about ABA. Are there others? Please share them with us!