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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for Parents

Two parents and their young child are shown sitting across from a doctor.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the science of behavior. This resource provides an overview of what ABA is, how it works, and its basic components.

How Does ABA Work?

ABA focuses on learning new skills and reducing challenging behavior to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior. There are several methods to applying ABA. All methods use a three-step process.

What is the Three-Step Process?

The three-step process is also called the three-term contingency, or sometimes the ABC’s of behavior. This process shows how behavior is elicited by the environment and how the consequences of behavior can affect its future occurrence. This process accounts for much of what has been learned about predicting and changing behavior.

The three-step process involves the following components:


The antecedent is something that happens before the behavior, such as a verbal or physical command, the presence or absence of an object, change in lighting or temperature, a sound, and many other possibilities. The antecedent can come from another person, the individual’s environment, or something internal to the individual.


The behavior is the individual’s response or lack of response to the antecedent.


The consequence follows the behavior. Consequences are either categorized as reinforcement or punishment.

  • Reinforcement increases the chance of a behavior happening again under similar circumstances.
  • Punishment decreases the chance of a behavior happening again under similar circumstances.

Example of the Three-Step Process

Andrew’s teacher would like him to choose the green item when presented with a green item and a yellow item.


Andrew’s teacher puts a green toy and a yellow toy in front of him and asks him which one is green.


Andrew touches the green toy.


Andrew’s teacher gives him a raisin. (Andrew loves raisins)

How do I get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for my child?

In Pennsylvania, there are a few ways that you can access ABA services for your child, and may depend on the purpose and function of the ABA services you are seeking. Since ABA can be used for a wide range of behavior and skill development, how you go about accessing ABA services may depend on the purpose of the service.

Where do I get ABA for my child?


Some special education classrooms are run by teachers with specific training in ABA.

Talk with your child’s school special education director to see if there are any specialized ABA classrooms available to your child.

Intensive Behavioral Health Services (IBHS)

IBHS offers specific ABA services, and children can also receive ABA supports through individual and group therapy.

Independent Organization

You may also have the option to choose an independent organization that specializes in ABA for children with autism. The PA Autism Insurance Act (Act 62) requires that your child’s private insurance must pay for up to $36,000 per year of autism-related services. This includes ABA therapy that has been prescribed or ordered.

Other helpful tips:

  • Network with other parents to learn about programs in your area. Attending a support group meeting in your local area to meet other parents can help you to start networking.

  • Get a referral for ABA from your child’s physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, therapist, or another professional who works with your child.

  • Contact your insurance company and request assistance in locating an ABA provider.

ABA principles can be used in many environments, such as school, home, work, and community. ABA treatments can be directed by masters-level clinicians or therapists, but ideally will be supervised by a licensed psychologist and/or board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) who has specialized skills in and knowledge of autism. Here are some examples of professionals who might use ABA with your child:


Special education teachers sometimes receive training in ABA more specific to working with children with different types of disabilities.

Some special education teachers receive specialized training in ABA and others have additional credentials as a BCBA.


Psychologists with specialized skills and knowledge of ASD might use ABA principles with their clients in sessions.

Behavior specialist consultants (BSC) use the principles of ABA to create and implement behavior plans for their clients with behavioral concerns. Pennsylvania requires BSC’s to have a Behavior Specialist License to provide services to children with autism. To receive a Behavior Specialist License, a clinician must show they’ve had specific training in ABA.

Outpatient psychotherapists who have training in ABA or are certified as BCBAs can model techniques in sessions for parents to learn and use at home.

Outpatient speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists who regularly work with children with ASD often use ABA techniques in their sessions with their clients to optimize learning.

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Name Description Type File
FAQ - ABA How How to get Applied Behavior Analysis for your child pdf Download file: FAQ - ABA How
FAQ - ABA Who Who can provide Applied Behavior Analysis for your child pdf Download file: FAQ - ABA Who

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.