5 ABA Therapy Examples and How They Work in Behavior Development

Applied Behavior Analysis is one of the most commonly used methods of teaching children with Autism. It’s an evidence-based process that relies on the data that’s collected during sessions, creating specific programs that will assist in the development of your child. ABA therapy can be a broad topic, as there are many different methods of teaching and strategies to use. This is necessary due to the fact that every child has a different process for learning. In the following, we will highlight 5 examples of ABA therapy and its teaching methods. Each of these methods can play an important part in teaching your child effectively.

ABA therapy examples: Discrete Trial Training

In its simplest form, Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is the process of taking a task and breaking it down into separate, teachable steps. The process includes teaching each one of these steps independently. As your child masters each step, he or she will be able to correctly perform the skill or complete the task in its entirety. This ensures that the skill being taught will be solidified within your child’s repertoire. You can think of DTT as breaking down a behavior or task, and then putting it back together.

Purpose of Discrete Trial Training

A behavior that comes easy and naturally to a typically developing child, may be more difficult for children with Autism to perform. A lot of times in these situations there are underlying skill deficits that get in the way of your child performing that behavior. DTT is used to pinpoint these deficits and address them individually, making it easier to see why your child may not fully understand what’s expected or why they aren’t able to exhibit the appropriate behavior.

How Discrete Trial Training Works

Let’s say that your child is having difficulty writing letters. This is a skill that can easily be broken down into individual steps, pinpointing the steps that are giving your child trouble. Maybe your child is having trouble holding a pencil correctly. This is a step that can be addressed right off the bat, making sure that the correct grip is being used and making the skill that much easier for your child to perform. Next, your child may be having trouble attending, maintaining focus on the paper they’re writing on. This is something that would need to be pinpointed and taught in order to address the overall issue with writing letters. Teaching your child to look and maintain eye contact with the paper as they write. Finally, we could address any issues with the actual formation of the letter. We could start with an outline of a letter that your child can trace. As they become more proficient with the tracing, we can fade the outline until your child is independently forming the letter correctly.

ABA therapy examples: Social Skills Training

Social skills training is a process that is constantly being utilized in an ABA setting. It’s something that can be taught in any given moment during a session, whether it be during a reinforcer break, walking the hallways to get to the therapy room, during a program and even when leaving a session. Social skills training is a process that eliminates the roadblocks your child may have in communicating with those around them.

Purpose of Social Skills Training

Children with Autism often times struggle with social skills, whether it be interacting with peers or saying “Hi” or “Bye” to people as they come and go, etc. Social skills training within ABA therapy can help remedy these deficiencies and improve your child’s ability to properly respond to social cues. The goal is to eliminate the inhibitors to your child’s communication and social presence.

How Social Skills Training Works

Properly greeting a person when they walk into a room or saying “Thank you” to someone who gives an item to your child doesn’t always come naturally. The good thing about these deficiencies is that the situations that they come up in are easily replicated and also occur naturally quite a bit throughout any given day. This means that there will be ample opportunity to teach your child. Through different types of prompting, we can naturally encourage this communication with your child. For example, let’s say a person observing your child working with a therapist gets up to leave the room. Before they leave, the therapist can naturally say to your child “oh, it looks like Dr. Jacob is heading out now. Bye Dr. Jacob!” This would be a cue for your child to also say “Bye Dr. Jacob!” If your child doesn’t respond to this cue, a more intrusive cue can be used such as stating “Dr. Jacob is leaving, say ‘Bye Dr. Jacob’” The goal would be to eventually expose your child to these teachable moments as much as possible so that they will be able to independently say goodbye to people leaving a room.

ABA therapy examples: Natural Environment Teaching

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is a teaching method that uses the same principles found in other ABA methods but focuses more on your child’s everyday environments and daily activities. It’s great for your child to learn in a controlled environment like a therapy room. Because there are distractions and other deterrents that may take away from your child learning a skill in less controlled spaces, a therapy room is a great way to weed out those obstacles and teach the skill with a controlled setting. However, there are times and certain skills that are better taught in your child’s natural environment and intertwined within their daily routines.

Purpose of Natural Environment Teaching

NET allows a skill to be generalized and integrated into your child’s life outside of therapy. Being able to perform a skill in a controlled setting is a great first step for development and learning, but being able to take that skill and perform it outside of this setting is a huge step in promoting the increase of independence for your child.

How Natural Environment Teaching Works

NET will typically use fun, reinforcing activities for your child and incorporate teachable moments within that activity. For example, your child may love bouncing a ball back and forth with you. You can use this to teach your child to properly request or to give you eye contact. After your child bounces you the ball, you could prompt “ball please” or “bounce the ball please” before bouncing it back. Or before bouncing the ball back you could pause for eye contact. Another example is teaching your child to label objects. In a therapy room, your child may have learned to label certain cards with pictures on them, such as seeing cards with familiar toys on them and being able to label them correctly as “ball” or “train”, etc. With NET your child could work on labelling in a practical way by asking for the correct toy from you while playing in their playroom. NET enables us as therapists and you as parents to help your child generalize their skills.

ABA therapy examples: Pivotal Response Treatment

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is a method of teaching that’s based on the idea that there are “pivotal” behaviors that children exhibit that could influence other behaviors. Any progress made with these “pivotal” behaviors would ultimately carry over to other behaviors.

Purpose of Pivotal Response Treatment

PRT uses your child’s interests and motivating items to teach and develop essential behaviors such as communication, language, play, and social behavior. There are four “pivotal” behaviors identified with this treatment method, motivation, child initiations, self-regulation, and responding to multiple cues. The whole process provides your child with a foundation for behavior that will ideally find its way to influencing and improving other behaviors.

How Pivotal Response Treatment Works

PRT focuses on those pivotal behaviors mentioned above to promote the generalization across other behaviors. Motivation is perhaps the foundation of this method, as it increases your child’s drive to learn and perform the desired behaviors. Second is child initiation, which encourages your child to initiate social interactions and essentially “initiate” their own learning. The third pivotal behavior is self-regulation. This teaches your child to be more independent with their learning, identifying the proper behaviors and relying less on their teachers or therapists. The fourth pivotal behavior is responding to multiple cues. Because children with Autism are often time focusing on one particular detail, it’s important to expose children to multiple details. Identifying the small yellow circle, rather than just the yellow circle is an example of this.

ABA therapy examples: Reinforcement

Reinforcement is what helps a session or teaching moment continue to progress. It keeps the teaching and learning momentum going. Before working with a child for the first time and really diving into the programming, a reinforcement assessment should be run. This is so that we, as therapists, can understand what items or activities will motivate your child and use them to increase the likelihood that a specific behavior will occur. Two prominent forms of reinforcement are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. With positive reinforcement, your child will be presented with a preferred and motivating item or activity once a desired behavior has occurred or a task has been completed correctly. Negative reinforcement is when an aversive stimulus is removed from the equation after a desired behavior occurs.

Purpose of Reinforcement

The goal with both forms of reinforcement is to elicit a desired response in a specific situation. With positive reinforcement, the fact that a motivating reinforcer was a direct consequence of correctly performing a task or behavior, makes it more likely that the same response will occur the next time. With negative reinforcement, the aversive stimulus being taken away due to a desired behavior will, again, increase the probability your child will continue to perform that desired behavior.  While here at SPBS we mainly focus on positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement has its benefits as well and can be used effectively in specific situations.

How Positive Reinforcement Works

In this example we are teaching your child to identify letters. When your child correctly identifies a letter, the therapist will respond by giving access to a preferred toy. This will pair a preferred item with a correct response, motivating your child and making it more likely the same response will occur the next time presented with that letter. Knowing that preferred item is available will continue to motivate your child.

How Negative Reinforcement Works

For this scenario, we are helping your child tolerate sitting at a table to eat. Merely sitting at the table may be aversive and being in this situation can prevent your child from eating a proper amount of food. Being able to get up away from the table would be the removal of that aversive stimuli. In order to accomplish this, your child would have to eat a certain amount of bites. Once this happens, your child can then get up away from the table, removing that stimuli. This again, will motivate your child to consistently perform the task presented, in this case eating properly at a table.


At Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services, we implement all of these methods when necessary. Taking the data that we collect in your child’s sessions, and from observing your child in learning and social environments, we can properly assess which methods will be effective and implement them properly. We take pride in really understanding what your child needs to succeed and what strategies will be the most meaningful for teaching.