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Applied Behavior Analysis and Communication Services

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has been defined as the systematic application and evaluation of principles of behavior analysis to the improvement of specific behaviors (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1987). The terms and principles of behavior management most often used in ABA include learning, stimuli, responses, consequences, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. The techniques used in ABA include prompting, cuing, modeling, chaining, differential reinforcement, and fading.

Descriptions of ABA as a training methodology appear throughout the seminal literature of speech-language pathology. Today's practitioners can choose from permutations of ABA that include strict applications of the techniques mentioned above (e.g., discrete trial training) to more naturalistic technique applications (e.g., hybrid, milieu, or contemporary ABA training). SLPs using the more traditional applications of ABA must consider common training practices to avoid problems with prompt dependency and generalization, for example. Also many practitioners have reported difficulty training more fluid targets, such as communication.

Bottom Line:

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a set of procedures drawn from the discipline of behavior analysis that allows for understanding of the reasons that certain behaviors may occur. As part of interdisciplinary practice, SLPs may find application of ABA techniques within natural training contexts to be effective complements to their own communication interventions.

Return to the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities (NJC) topic areas list.


Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. (2013). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall/Merrill.

Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1987). Some still-current dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 313–327.

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