Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) distinguishes Hawthorne Foundation Inc. in our work with children and adults. ABA is, in fact, the centerpiece of our Behavioral Approach to Lifelong Care. For more than forty years, we have been able to employ the principals of ABA to create more effective educational and life skills programs across the spectrum of developmental disabilities.

     Essentially Applied Behavioral Analysis uses the scientific principals of learning and motivation in order to effectively teach. It focuses on the idea that the consequences of what we do affect what we learn and what we will do in the future.

     ABA uses positive reinforcement to increase more positive behaviors and social interactions and decrease inappropriate behaviors. Because every individual is different, a variety of assessments are used to tailor learning and therapeutic programs to each individual's unique needs.

     We recommend that anyone interested in learning more about ABA read Applied Behavior Analysis (1987), edited by Cooper, Heron and Heward. The first chapter, "Definition and Characteristics of Applied Behavior Analysis" (pp. 2-15), is essential reading for parents and consumers of ABA services. In addition, the article, "Current dimensions of applied behavior analysis", by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) is a seminal piece in the development of applied behavior analysis. Please don't be put off by the date: the article is old but not outdated.


Baer, Wolf, and Risley described six dimensions of ABA in their article and (based on a reading of that article) Cooper, Heron, and Heward added a seventh:


  1. Applied- the behavior targeted for change is socially significant. In behavioral application, the behavior, stimuli, and/or organism under study are chosen because of their importance to society, rather than their importance to theory. The non-applied researcher may study eating behavior, for example, because it relates directly to metabolism, and there are hypotheses about the interaction between behavior and metabolism. The non-applied researcher also may study bar-pressing because it is a convenient response for study, easy for the subject, and simple to record and integrate with theoretically significant environmental events. By contrast, the applied researcher is likely to study eating because there are children who eat too little and adults who eat too much, and he will study eating in exactly those individuals rather than in more convenient ones.
  2. Behavioral- unlike most models of psychology and education, which rely on statistical artifacts and other indirect representations of behavior (such as verbal reports), ABA is concerned with and directly measures actual behavior of social importance: "Applied research is eminently pragmatic; it asks how it is possible to get an individual to do something effectively. Thus it usually studies what subjects can be brought to do rather than what they can be brought to say; unless, of course, a verbal response is the behavior of interest."
  3. Analytic- in order for results to be credible, the experimenter must demonstrate control of the behavior of interest. Cooper, Heron, and Heward put it succinctly when they say, "the experimenter must be able to control the occurrence and nonoccurrence of the behavior (functional analysis), to the greatest extent possible given the setting." (p.5)
  4. Technological- procedural description, and study techniques must be thoroughly identified and well described.
  5. Conceptually Systematic- it is important to relate the results of successful analyses back to basic principles of behavior. This is how a system of well-related concepts is built and refined. Without such a conceptual system, ABA would be, as Cooper, Heron, and Heward put it, "a collection of tricks": "Conceptual systems are needed if a technology is to become an integrated discipline instead of a collection of tricks. A collection of tricks do not lend themselves to systematic expansion and they are difficult to learn and to teach in great number."(p.6)
  6. Effective- the change in behavior attributed to ABA must be perceived as significant by the stakeholders: the student, family, teachers, etc. In addition to these six components, Cooper, Heron, and Heward have drawn a seventh component of ABA from the Baer, Wolf, and Risley article."
  7. Generality- a behavior is said to have generalized when the behavior change is long lasting, when the behavior appears in new settings and in new ways either without teaching or with very little teaching, or when the behavior change is associated with the subsequent acquisition of other related and unrelated behaviors.