Applied Behavior Analysis: Myth v. Fact

Perhaps you heard the term ‘ABA’ from a provider, a family member or a friend, but what is ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis?

For many of us with this question, the next step would be to type it into a search engine where a plethora of resources and opinions are available at your fingertips. A simple search of ABA will yield everything ABA is, and everything ABA is not. Let’s untangle this and separate fact from fiction so you can better navigate your way to deciding if ABA is right for you.

Myth #1: ABA Uses Punishment.

In ABA, ‘punishment’ refers to adding or removing something from the environment that will decrease a behavior from occurring in the future. Punishment can include time out, removing favorite items for a period of time, or increasing the length/effort of a task.

For example, you are speeding in your neighborhood, and an officer gives you a ticket. Receiving a ticket would decrease the likelihood of your speeding in the neighborhood in the future.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Code of Ethics emphasizes that punishment is a final course of action to be used after reinforcement procedures have been exhausted and proven ineffective in decreasing the behavior.

Punishment should only be used if necessary due to the severity or danger of the behavior (e.g., aggression, self-injury). As with all interventions, the BCBA must monitor the effectiveness of the procedure and make appropriate modifications if it is not effective. It is best practice in ABA to utilize reinforcement-based treatments.

Myth #2: ABA Therapy Is Only for Children With Autism.

ABA is a scientific approach to understanding behavior, and reflects how organisms learn through the use of positive and negative reinforcement or punishment. ABA is for everyone, adults and children alike. Principles and techniques of ABA can promote a variety of skills including looking, listening, reading, imitating, empathy and conversing.

Applied behavior analysis is used in fields of organizational behavior management, marketing, classrooms/schools, animal training, gerontology, forensics, gambling, sports, healthcare, and substance abuse.

Myth #3: ABA Is All Table Work.

For effective teaching to take place in a typical ABA session – the learner’s motivation is identified and incorporated into reinforcing activities. A specific teaching method utilized in ABA is called Discrete Trial Training (DTT). DTT teaches complex skills in small, distinct tasks then combines the skills to accomplish a more complex goal. DTT should be blended with breaks and/or less structured teaching sessions. DTT is practiced at a table setting but can also be implemented on the floor, outside, and in the community. It is important to note, some individuals may benefit from less stimulating environments in order to learn, such as a table with minimal distraction. Additionally, “school readiness” skills may require a more structured approach to help the learner become independent in a school setting. For example, a learner’s goal for their upcoming school year is to work independently at their desk for 5 minutes. This goal would begin by progressively increasing their table work time to achieve 5 minutes.

Myth #4: All ABA Programs Are the Same

ABA has hundreds of evidence-based treatments and packages (combinations) of treatments that focus on individual behavior. Evidence-based treatments are derived from analyzing behavior changes at the individual level as opposed to looking at the overall behavior change of a large group. Skills that are taught are highly individualized and prioritized based on the goals of the learner and family.

Myth #5: ABA Aims to Help Individuals Be More Socially Acceptable Rather Than Accepting Them for Who They Are.

ABA interventions are used to teach the learner skills that will assist them in living quality lives by training a variety of socially significant skills including language, adaptive living skills, leisure/play, planning and organizing, self-advocacy, and more.

If you have additional questions regarding ABA, you can reach out to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst via email at


“Myths and Misconceptions about ABA.” Priorities ABA. Accessed June 14, 2021. Link to Article

Top 10 Myths About Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). National Autism Network. Accessed June 14, 2021. Link to Article

Abeda Kamal, BCBA
Board Certified Behavior Analyst

Related posts: