You are here

Oregon Myths in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Big-ol' ABA misconception #1: ABA is Lovaas Discrete Trial

I think one very common misconception, especially with Oregon Department of Education (ODE) folks, is that ABA is synonymous with discrete trial teaching (Lovaas). ABA is a methodology that can be applied everywhere, with anyone, at any time. It involves noting responses to an instruction while keeping in mind the motivation aspect of the subject's response (something is motivating to the child when it increases the appropriate response when that motivating thing is given to the child). Behaviors are strengthened by positive reinforcement and diminished by non-reinforcement or replacement by something else. It is effective because you constantly monitor the program by collecting objective data and analyzing it - then modify interventions based upon the data.

Big-ol' ABA misconception #2: ABA doesn't work with older kids

Another myth is that ABA only works for certain kids. You can use ABA principles on siblings, employers, parents, etc (see Don't Shoot the Dog).

Big-ol' ABA misconception #3: ABA take away from the child's personality

When done correctly:

ABA will NOT turn your child into a robot but it WILL maximize learning by teaching HOW to learn.

Big-ol' ABA misconception #4: ABA makes the child bored

Not so. Anyone can make anything boring. But you can also make it fun.

Effective teachers/therapists first create a fun and positive rapport with my son, then develop their "techniques".

This takes into account the "run to not away from the therapist" theory (see below). Any therapist/teacher worth a grain of salt should *ALWAYS* be up-to-date in techniques and theories, many of which are available via publications and conferences. My consultants always amazed me when they recapped a behavioral research article. The field of ABA is ever changing (that's why it's called Applied Behavior ANALYSIS).

My personal bias toward Verbal Behavior. I attest to Verbal Behavior which involves DTT and Natural Environment Teaching (NET). It always has to be positive.

MOTTO: Have the child run to you, not away.

Not only do you have to be positive, but creative and fun, too. That is very hard and requires lots of quality support and training on behalf of the therapist/teacher. Plus you need lots and lots of compassion -> driving you to want to be creative and fun. If missing one or more of the components I mentioned above regression can occur along with disaster (locking youngsters up in darkened 3' x 4' closets and floor restraints for simple noncompliance).


Thank you for the time you spend to educate families and professionals in Oregon about Applied Behavior Analysis. The misconceptions you mention are common. However, I would make one more clarification. “Discrete trial teaching” is also not “Lovaas.” Discrete trial teaching is one powerful form of teaching, researched and employed in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. The Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis uses discrete trial teaching, as do Verbal Behavior programs. But, discrete trial teaching is only one technique and one small part of the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis. For example, the research on the Lovaas Model in 1987, 2005, and 2006 strongly emphasizes play dates with typically developing peers and inclusion in regular education classrooms ( Both of these were overseen by adults trained to implement techniques researched in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. As the evidence for the effectiveness of ABA procedures continues to mounts, I hope that more families throughout the country are better able to access these valuable services.