Misconceptions of ABA, part 3

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions! I hope these blogs are helping you to understand more about ABA, and answering any questions you may have had previously. If not, hopefully the following blog will help.

ABA uses punishment

Well. While it is true that some historical, early ABA programmes in the 1950s and 60s used aversives (or punishers) to decrease problem behaviour, ABA now focuses on person-centred techniques, which currently rely on reinforcement as its fundamental principle to motivate change.

It is important to clarify that just as reinforcement has a technical definition in ABA so does “punishment”. These definitions are different from everyday conceptions and use. Punishment procedures in ABA refer to strategies designed to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour occurring in the future. When you hear the term “punishment”, it may conjure images of shouting, slapping, hitting, etc., to punish a behaviour. To be clear, punishment procedures routinely used within ABA are nothing like this. Withholding/delaying reinforcement, reducing amount of time spent on activities, etc., are simple but effective punishment procedures that may be used by practitioners.

Behaviour analysts are bound to the BACB Code of Conduct, which advises, “The behaviour analyst always recommends reinforcement rather than punishment”.

All ABA programs are the same.


Not only are there possible differences in implementation, but NO TWO ABA programs are the same. Before an ABA treatment program is implemented, Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBAs) collect baseline data of children’s needs, interests, preferences, strengths, and family situation. ABA is a data-driven treatment and each ABA treatment program is unique to the individual receiving intervention.

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


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).

Such intensive packages, however, can be impractical and expensive for families. For example, a young person may be in school Monday to Friday and therefore a 40 hour programme would simply not be possible. Young children may find it far too difficult to be able to engage for 40 hours across a week. It is also vital to be cautious that a programme of support is not impacting on family life by appearing invasive.

However, a well-run programme 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 young person’s and family’s life.

An ABA programme should be 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.

If you have heard something different, please, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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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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