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ABA Glossary for Parents

If your child is receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, you may have encountered a whole new vocabulary that can seem overwhelming at first. ABA therapy is an evidence-based approach that can be highly effective for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD and other developmental challenges). To help parents better understand the terminology and concepts commonly used in ABA therapy, we have put together a list of 10 ABA therapy words or phrases you are likely to hear and their meanings.


1. ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

Applied Behavior Analysis is a scientific field of study that seeks to understand and help improve human behavior.  ABA therapy is a systematic approach used to help children with autism improve their behavior and develop essential life skills. It involves breaking down complex behaviors into smaller, measurable components, and then using evidence-based techniques to reinforce desired behaviors and reduce problematic ones. ABA employs positive reinforcement and data-driven methods to tailor interventions to each child's unique needs, ultimately promoting their social, communication, and daily living skills.


2. Behavior Analyst

The licensed professional who oversees ABA therapy treatment.  A common term you may hear is "BCBA," which stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and is a specialized professional who works with individuals, including those with autism, to assess behavior and develop intervention plans to improve their behavior and overall quality of life. To learn more about BCBAs, visit our blog post, How to Become a BCBA in AZ.


3. Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a fundamental principle and technique used to encourage and increase desired behaviors. Reinforcement is a central concept in ABA Therapy, which is an evidence-based approach for teaching and modifying behavior in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders. Positive reinforcement involves providing a positive consequence after a specific behavior occurs, to strengthen, maintain, or decrease that behavior.


4. Discrete Trial Training (DTT) vs. Natural Environment Teaching (NET)

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural Environment Teaching (NET) are two teaching methods used in ABA therapy for children with autism, but they differ in their approaches and settings. 

The Basics of DTT:

  • DDT is often referred to as "table time" work and NET is referred to as play-based
  • DTT is a structured and highly controlled teaching method
  • In DTT, learning is broken down into discrete, manageable trials
  • DTT is characterized by a high rate of repetition
  • DTT is often conducted in a controlled and distraction-free environment

The Basics of NET:

  • NET is a more naturalistic and based and child-led approach
  • The therapist takes advantage of teachable moments as they arise, using the child's interests and motivations and routines to guide the instruction
  • NET places a strong emphasis on teaching skills that are more likely to generalize to various settings and situations
  • NET often involves interactions with peers, family members, or others in the child's natural environment

Both DTT and NET have their place in ABA therapy, and the choice between the two depends on the different learning styles and goals of the child with autism. Some children may benefit from a combination of both methods within their individualized ABA treatment plan.


5. Manding

Manding refers to a specific type of verbal behavior. A "mand" is essentially a request or demand made by a child to obtain something they desire or need. It is a form of communication where the child expresses their wants, needs, or preferences. Manding can involve asking for tangible items (e.g., toys, food, drinks), attention, assistance, or information.


6. Prompting

Prompting refers to a technique used by behavior analysts and Behavior Technicians to help individuals acquire new skills or behaviors. The goal of prompting is to provide the necessary assistance or cues to guide the child towards making the correct response. Prompting is a critical component of ABA therapy and is typically used in a structured and systematic manner. 


7. Generalization

Generalization refers to the extent to which a child can apply the skills they have learned in therapy to real-life situations and settings beyond the therapy environment. It is a critical goal in ABA therapy because it helps ensure that the child's progress is not limited to the structured therapy sessions but can be generalized to their everyday life. Generalization is an important indicator of the effectiveness of the intervention.


8.Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

The term Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a systematic process used in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to understand and analyze a complex behavior challenge. The primary goal of an FBA is to determine the function or purpose of a specific behavior (i.e., why is the individual doing it).  The three main components of an FBA are direct observation and data collection of the interfering behavior, gaining information through interviews and questionaries, and if needed a Functional Analysi,s which is a process of testing what happens before/after the behavior in a controlled setting. Once an FBA is conducted, the results lead to the development of an individual’s Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) which provides guidance on how to effectively reduce and/or replace an interfering behavior with something more postiive and useful. 



Tacting is a term used to describe a specific verbal operant or skill that focuses on labeling or naming objects, actions, events, or concepts in the environment. Tacting involves the child expressing what they see, hear, feel, or otherwise experience. Tacting is often synonymous with commenting.  It is a crucial component of language development and communication for individuals with autism.


10. Task Analysis/Chaining

Chaining is an evidence-based practice used in Applied Behavior Analysis and involves breaking down complex skills or tasks into a "chain" of smaller, more manageable steps, so they can be taught one step at a time. This process is also called a task analysis because we are analyzing the steps involved in a task.  It is particularly useful for teaching children with autism a wide range of skills, from basic daily living skills to more complex social and communication skills. 


Understanding the key phrases and concepts in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can greatly assist parents in navigating this evidence-based approach for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental challenges. With this knowledge, parents can better support their children's progress and overall quality of life through ABA therapy.


Contact our Family Support Team if you would like to learn how to get started with ABA Therapy or any other programs and services that we offer. Our Family Support Team is always available to help and is available at no charge to all members of the autism and developmental disability community. Schedule a free phone appointment that works with your schedule by visiting




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