What Is ABA Therapy for Kids with Autism?

Receiving an autism diagnosis for your child can be daunting; however, it also presents a wonderful opportunity to help your little one grow into the very best version of themselves. There are numerous treatment options available, with one of the best-known being ABA. 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses evidence-based practices to positively mold a child’s behavior, using a system of rewards and deterrents to teach key skills. Today, we’ll investigate what ABA therapy is, what it can help with, and how it works. 

Applied Behavior Analysis Relies on Key Psychological Theories

Therapy is a broad field with many specialties, some of which are not as research-backed as others. ABA is one of the therapies with a firm foundation in behavior theory, also known as behaviorism. Two of the primary influences on the development of ABA are classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which have been exhaustively proven over the decades until they stand as pillars of modern psychological thought.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is most associated with the famous story of Pavlov’s dogs, who would begin to salivate when they heard a bell ring. That is because they had begun to associate the sound of the bell with the reward of food, just as humans will begin to show anticipatory behaviors when they associate one activity or outcome with another. 

Pavlov’s experiments laid the groundwork for the linchpin of ABA, which is operant conditioning. 

Operant Conditioning

This form of conditioning builds on classical conditioning, recognizing that behavior can be reinforced with stimuli, both positive and negative. For example, if a child is always praised and given a small piece of candy if they try a new vegetable, they will be more willing to expand their palate than if they were yelled at for being a picky eater. Operant conditioning is put into practice by the three-term contingency, which explains that there is an antecedent (a condition before the behavior), the behavior, and then a consequence. 

How ABA Therapy Works

Experts like those working in ABA therapy in Fort Lauderdale will use these principles to help shape good behaviors in autistic children. They will identify what may be associated with the behavior, either intentionally or unintentionally, and work to create a system to reinforce good behavior while ignoring or deterring bad behavior. 

Let’s explore an example. Let’s say that your child refuses to wash their hands; perhaps the feeling of wet hands is unpleasant to them and triggers a meltdown. The therapist will set washing hands as a goal, then break it down into smaller steps that the child can handle, with rewards for each milestone in the process. It may start with walking over to the sink, being praised for doing so, and then progressing up to putting soap on the child’s hands and so on. The whole time, the therapist is building a positive connection to good hygiene by offering support.

What ABA Therapy Helps With

ABA therapy is very individualized and strongly focuses on helping your child become the best version of themselves. This means that your child’s therapist will work with you and your family to identify what exactly your child is struggling with and then create a roadmap to success with specific goals. 

There are many elements of your child’s life that ABA therapy can help with, but these are some that parents find most significant. 

Basic Life Skills

Firstly, because of its focus on breaking down behaviors and providing feedback throughout the whole process, ABA therapy is great at teaching important life skills, such as writing or hygiene. A compassionate therapist will be able to identify where your child is getting stuck with a given activity and help them through it with positive reinforcement.


No child wants to be ostracized or struggle to make friends, but this is often a reality for children with autism. As they struggle with things such as sharing, turn-taking, and recognizing the feelings of others, their peers may find them difficult to befriend, and this can cause further distress for your little one. 

An ABA therapist can help a child better understand the rules of socializing through roleplays of common activities, such as playing with other kids, and offer them valuable feedback on how to improve. This isn’t meant to change your child into someone different, but to help them connect with others in their own unique way so that others can appreciate who they are. 


Being able to self-regulate is an important element of a child’s emotional well-being, along with things like a healthy diet and adequate sleep. Children need to be able to identify and manage their own emotions in order to grow up into well-adjusted, successful adults, but this can be a challenge for autistic kids. 

ABA therapists will help children learn to express their feelings in healthy ways and teach them self-regulating behaviors, such as counting to ten, taking deep breaths, or asking to be excused from a situation that they cannot yet handle. With practice, your child will learn important methods to avoid damaging behaviors like meltdowns or self-harm. 

An autism diagnosis can open many avenues for you and your family, especially as your insurance may cover ABA therapy in your area. Using solid science and compassionate care, ABA therapists can work wonders for autistic children in many facets of their lives, helping them grow into their best selves.