10 ABA Techniques for ASD - Achieve Beyond

10 ABA Techniques for ASD

Written By: Jeremiah J. Jones, RBT

The internet is flooded with parent advice when it comes to working with their children. It can be even more confusing when your child may have a variety of specialized accommodations for their learning and life needs.

Fortunately, in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) there are many thoroughly investigated and evidence based principles and techniques that are applied by Therapists and Analysts on a daily basis that can also be utilized in everyday life and when correctly approached can improve the quality of life for the whole family! This blog presents some of these tips that can be put into use or even be an icebreaker for questions with your child’s BCBA!

   1. Capturing the Motivational Operation (MO)

Motivation is the key component to behavior and has been referred to extensively by B.F. Skinner (Sundberg, 2016), be that avoiding something negative you are trying to avoid or trying to gain or achieve something. Why do you follow the speed limit to avoid paying a ticket if pulled over, and why do you eat a bag of chips possibly because the flavor satisfies your taste buds or hunger.

This key, though sometimes seemingly elusive, unlocks every door for learning too! Identifying motivation does not have to be hard and I would bet most of you can already give me something that motivates your child. While motivation can often change throughout the day, one quick way of identifying it is to present a possible motivating item or activity and observing if interest is shown (it may be through looking or attending to it – to showing a lot of excitement). Another way is to simply ask your child what they would like to do prior to placing an instruction.

   2. Looking at the reinforcer relation to Satiation and Deprivation

It is important to be aware that the more access someone has with a reinforcer affects the short term motivation for that item or activity (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2020). For example if you are highly motivated to go to the restaurant to get food because you are hungry then ten minutes after you return straight home after eating a large meal, imagine how likely you would be to want to go back out to get more food, in time you may want to but for the time you are satiated.

It is important to consider this relationship between the reinforcer and access when therapy is approaching. In order to use the most motivating reinforcers during a session when working on replacing challenging behaviors, is ideal for the child to be motivated about gaining access to these items to increase their desire to engage in the appropriate replacement behavior. Otherwise precious time is used contriving motivation for something that may not be as effective.

   3. Shaping

Shaping is the concept where we take an existing response or behavior and reinforce attempts that are gradually closer to the desired result (Cooper et al., 2020). If saying “bubble” is important because the child likes to pop them then we might have to start with saying “buh” (the best attempt being made at the moment).

When presenting it next we might try to push for saying “buh buh” before finally striving for the whole word. It is important to remember to reinforce effort being made; some behaviors are more challenging than others and everyone is their own individual. When working with homework you may first start with the goal of 1 row, then 2 rows, then half a sheet, before finally working up to being able to accomplish a full worksheet before receiving reinforcement.

   4. Positive Reinforcement (Not) Punishment

 Always remember to use the power of reinforcement! Reinforcement leads to longer lasting behavior change as opposed to punishment which may show a more immediate change in some cases but is well known to lead to a return of the punished behavior. Reinforcement also does not carry the harmful side effects that come with punishment procedures (Reed & Lovett, 2007).

Keep in mind that ABA punishment is very rarely used and only after all other reasonable approaches have proven ineffective (Behavior Analyst Certification Board, 2020). Keep in mind to also use “positive instructions” meaning that you should tell your child what you want them to do as opposed to what you don’t want them to do. “No running” can become “let’s walk nicely” or “stop climbing on the table” can become, “let’s keep our feet on the floor”. Then you can praise them with “nice job walking nicely” or “I like how I see your feet on the floor”!

   5. Priming

 Priming is a great method to use when transitioning from a preferred task to something non-preferred (Gülboy & Yücesoy-Özkan, 2022). What is priming you may ask? Well when you know something is coming up that may trigger some frustration or challenging behavior it is often a good idea to give the person a heads up (e.g.,  “I’m glad we are having fun with this game, just a heads up that we are going to go to the bathroom in 2 minutes, but we can earn time to play it again later.”).  The main concept is to place the idea into the schedule so that it is not a shock later when things need to change.

   6. Providing Many Choice Making Opportunities

Everyone appreciates that they have an input on how their day goes. Even when you don’t always get great choices (olives vs. mushrooms) you can at least choose which one is avoided between the two. It is important to give choice making opportunities as often as you can despite decisions that are between preferred things or non-preferred things for it leads to more frequent acceptance and increased autonomy and shared sense of control (Jolivette, Wehby, Canale, & Massey, 2001).

   7. Differential Reinforcement

Just like if you got a bonus from work for doing something outstanding or received a tip from a customer when providing excellent service, being reinforced in a bigger way than normal can be a big deal. If your child makes a closer step in a skill they are working on then be sure to provide more reinforcement than previous attempts! According to Vladescu and Kodak (2013) “Differential reinforcement is… used to increase the occurrence of desirable behavior while simultaneously decreasing undesirable behavior”.

If your child has been earning a chocolate piece for going in the toilet during potty training, and then they start to tell you when they need to go then you may give them an extra amount of reinforcement since they made a step that involved a lot more effort and in the direction of independence and self-advocating!

   8. Errorless Teaching, (no need to say no)

In ABA we use a process called errorless teaching. One of the steps in errorless teaching is that we don’t reprimand or comment on attempts that are performed incorrectly (which in its way is providing some punishment like we talked about earlier). Instead, we represent the instruction and provide the necessary prompting to get the learner through the instruction and allow us to reinforce them for their success. As they get closer to independence on that task then you can relax on the prompting needed and differentially reinforce that behavior (Cooper et al., 2020)!

   9. Premack Principle

The Premack principle is quite a simple way to help decrease the occurrence of challenging behaviors as a result of needing to do something that your child may not be a fan of. Simply stating “First we will do __(non-preferred)__, then we can do __(Preferred)__ (Herrod, Snyder, Hart, Frantz, & Ayres, 2022)! For example, “first we need to finish picking up the blocks, then we can blow more bubbles”, saying what needs to happen in order also makes use of the priming discussed earlier by helping paint a picture of what can be expected in the near future.

   10. Pairing- Creating a Positive Learning Environment

If you are a signal of something positive, then you will only create a better learning environment. Be sure that even as the parent or grandparent/relative you need to make an effort that the child sees you as someone who can provide them with the things they like. If they know the things they love are associated with you, then you will have much more success when it comes to working together (Ensor, 2019).

   11. HRE: Happy, Relaxed & Engaged (don’t forget the joy)

As a bonus, always remember that you should have fun with your child! Be sure to seek joy and have fun times together (Parry-Cruwys, Parry-Cruwys, McDonald). It doesn’t have to be learning and working all the time;  it is great to include learning opportunities whenever you can but so much unintended learning is accomplished just through enjoying each other’s company! When an individual is happy, relaxed and engaged, then they are in a setting for enriched development (Hanley, 2021).


Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Ethics code for behavior analysts. https://bacb.com/wp-content/ethics-code-for-behavior-analysts/

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied Behavior Analysis. Pearson.

Ensor, R. (2019). The impact of pairing on therapeutic rapport and treatment outcomes for children with autism (thesis).

Hanley, G. (2021, September 9). A Perspective on Today’s ABA from Dr. Hanley [web log]. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://practicalfunctionalassessment.com/2021/09/09/a- perspective-on-todays-aba-by-dr-greg-hanley/.

Gülboy, E., & Yücesoy-Özkan, Ş. (2022). The effects of video priming on facilitating the transition of children with autism spectrum disorder between activities and settings. Journal of Theoretical Educational Science, 15(2), 373–394. https://doi.org/10.30831/akukeg.1026227

Herrod, J. L., Snyder, S. K., Hart, J. B., Frantz, S. J., & Ayres, K. M. (2022). Applications of the premack principle: A review of the literature. Behavior Modification, 014544552210852. https://doi.org/10.1177/01454455221085249

Jolivette, K., Wehby, J. H., Canale, J., & Massey, N. G. (2001). Effects of choice-making opportunities on the behavior of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 26(2), 131–145. https://doi.org/10.1177/019874290102600203

Parry-Cruwys, R., Parry-Cruwys, D., & MacDonald, J. (2022, June 15). 205. Episode 205 – Joy and the Big Four w/ Dr. Shahla Ala’i-Rosales. ABA Inside Track. broadcast.

Reed, F. D., & Lovett, B. J. (2007). Views on the efficacy and ethics of punishment: Results from a National Survey. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 4(1), 61–67. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0100832

Sundberg, M. L. (2016). A Behavioral Analysis of Motivation and its Relation to Mand Training. ResearchGate.

Vladescu, J. C., & Kodak, T. (2013). A review of recent studies on differential reinforcement during skill acquisition in early intervention. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43(2), 351–355. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2010.43-351

Jeremiah J. Jones retains all rights to use of this material

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