Common ABA misconceptions (Part 2)

23More misconceptions, myths and criticisms explained

These next few blogs will hopefully separate the fact from the fiction of ABA. ABA continues to be misunderstood by so many people – we are really passionate about providing an accurate picture of ABA and dispelling these myths. For us, it is deeply frustrating, but for families it may stop them connecting with services that can actually help. We hope that by us, and other ABA providers writing blogs, providing training and video examples of what ABA looks like now we can, over time erase these myths.  Ok, so, more 2 criticisms for you.

There are lots of therapies out there and no therapy is better than another.


The internet may churn out a huge selection of therapies, services and advice pages for helping someone with autism. For anyone starting their search this is incredibly overwhelming. So, where do you start? You want help, it to be effective, to be valuable to your child and family, to support you in the tough times, to teach you how to manage the tough times. That’s a long list, but to sum it up – you want it to work, so it has to be proven to work. This is where ABA is at the top of that huge list. ABA is the only scientifically proven form of therapy for autism. The scientific evidence backing the use of ABA therapy for individuals with autism is overwhelming. Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence-based practice and effectiveness of ABA practices are well documented in peer reviewed scientific journals.

The field of ABA is unregulated:


Unfortunately, until very recently, the field of ABA had been unregulated in much of the world, meaning that technically anyone could claim to be an ABA practitioner. But, thankfully, this has changed. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) oversees the field of ABA ( They set standards, document best practice and ethical guidelines that registered practitioners must adhere to. They have introduced 4 formal qualifications and accreditations. Starting with RBT (Registered Behavior Technician), BCaBA (Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst – Clare’s qualification), BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Leila and Heather’s qualification) and BCBA –D (Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral) with the latter being the highest accreditation.  If you are looking into ABA providers please check for these credentials. This can be done on the BACB website using the link above.

Have a question for us? Or have heard something different, please, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

ABA program need to be 40 hours a week to be effective

This is a common question that we explain to families, and we can completely understand why. This vast number of therapy hours is daunting and minds start racing to thinking “Ok, I’ve found something that may work but how am I going to fit in and pay for 40 hours per week?”

The number of hours and intensity of therapy will be based upon individual need. Research has found that intensive ABA implemented more than 20 hours per week, begun early in life, prior to the age of four, produces large gains in development and reduces the need for special services later in life (Smith, 1999). Applied Behavior Analysis for children with autism is most effective when ABA techniques are combined into a comprehensive, individualized and intensive early intervention program. The term “intensive early intervention” refers to treatment programs that are designed for children to begin under the age of four and are designed to be implemented 25-40 hours a week.

Such intensive packages, however, can be impractical and expensive for families. How do you fit that many hours in when the child is at school? Or for those younger children 40 hours would be too many hours for effective therapy. It is also essential that ABA therapy is supportive and does not place added pressure onto families. We are not saying that it is 20-40 hours would not be the right therapy for some children, what we are saying is that it might not be for all children.

A well-run program that might be less “intensive” in terms of number of hours per week, can still achieve socially significant change that makes meaningful improvements to a child and  their family’s.  And that’s one of the

An ABA program is developed on a case-by-case basis in terms of number of hours per week based on assessment conclusions and discussions with primary caregivers. Anything implemented must work for the entire family.

ABA turns children into robots.


Absolutely not. No way. Not even one little bit. When done correctly, ABA will maximize the person’s ability to express their own choices and their own personality. It teaches children how to engage and connect with people around them, support them with the complexities of social rules and how to respond to others. ABA teaches communication – how to ask for what you want (or don’t want!), how and when to ask and answer questions, and that’s just the start. That’s not what robots do, is it? It can teach children how to make choices, how to spend their time and so lead as fulfilling and independent a life as possible. Teach them how to cope with the sensory information of the world around them. This misunderstanding may stem from the confusion that ABA therapy is an almost endless series of drills and rewards repeating the same behavior over and over again. So let’s pull this apart, this touches back on the first misunderstanding I wrote about that ABA is just discrete trial teaching – in simple terms you are asked to do something , you do it and you  get something good. This is one technique and a good, effective ABA program uses so many more techniques than just DTT. The rewards (or technically reinforcers in the ABA world) is about making sure that a behavior we want to see again is followed by something good. This means that it is more likely to happen again. We speak about this in our next misconception so ease on J. The repetition part, well for some repeating is an essential, effective and needed element of teaching.  It may seem over the top but without this repetition skills are often not acquired, and then ABA ‘hasn’t worked’. The way in which thing separated can be done in creative ways which means that if a child is learning a sign for an item showing them 3 times a day is not going to be enough practice so they can learn to do it themselves.  This may take 60, 70, 80 times a day to practice but once acquired that child has the communication, the choice the ability to be able to ask for something they want. Who are we to decide that repetition is not the answer, to enable a child to learn something we need to adapt how we teach it

ABA bribes children with food and toys to manipulate behavior.


Again, absolutely not. There are no bribes whatso ever within ABA when it is done effectively.

Reinforcement (fun, nice stuff that happens after a behavior) is one of the cornerstones of ABA therapy. In the beginning of an ABA therapy program reinforcement is used frequently in order to shape appropriate behavior and motivate the child to learn. The reason food is often used may stem from children having a limited range of preferred items, it’s easy to give, and it doesn’t involve the adult then having to take something away again.

It is however important that ethically the use of food reinforcement is evaluated to ensure that over time naturally occurring reinforcers are used when possible, for example, praise from the teacher.

The difference between a promise and a bribe – For both, you are providing a fun, motivating item or activity after a desired behavior; however the difference is when the possibility of that reward is offered.

If you said to someone “if you play nicely with your sister today, I’ll buy you a bag of sweets” it would be considered reinforcement (as long as it increased the desired behavior in the future, but that’s the technical side). If on the other hand, the person wasn’t playing nicely with the sister and you said “if you stop fighting and calm down I’ll buy you a bag of sweets” it would be considered bribery (the fighting is dictating the reward.)

So, when ABA is done correctly and effectively, bribery is NEVER used. Reinforcement is used A LOT. I hope that clears that one up, as this is one we often hear from people who do not understand ABA.

If you’re still not sure about any of these, please send us an email or call us. We would be more than happy to explain it further.

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Early Action For Autism
Early Action for Autism is a centre for children with autism and related developmental disorders in Haywards Heath, Sussex, UK.
Early Action For Autism

Early Action For Autism

Early Action for Autism is a centre for children with autism and related developmental disorders in Haywards Heath, Sussex, UK.

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