Applied Behaviour Analysis allow parents to use a systematic approach to observe, measure and analyse children’s behaviours and subsequently modify some behaviours by controlling the environment. Nowadays, people are getting more familiar with the principles of ABA, because of its popularity for children with autism spectrum disorder, however there are still misconceptions. The following are five common misconceptions about ABA. We will explain each one in more detail to help parents understand the principles of ABA more clearly.


  1. ABA is only for children with autism – although ABA intervention is mainly known for its effectiveness for children with autism, it has been applied worldwide in helping people overcome a variety of problems. The goal of ABA is to improve socially significant behaviours to a meaningful degree and this stretches beyond autism. Socially significant behaviours encompass everything including social skills, communication, academics and self-help skills. ABA has also been applied to other areas such as adult rehabilitation, addiction management, exercise and gambling.
  2. ABA only focuses on problem behaviours – ABA might be well known for managing problem behaviours using different strategies but that is not the sole target. ABA focuses on any observable and measurable behaviour that is socially significant. It can be learning to read, spell or using the bathroom independently depending on the child’s needs. For example, John is nonverbal and engages in hitting when he wants mummy’s attention. ABA will focus on managing John’s aggressive behaviour while at the same time teaching him the communication skills necessary to request for mummy’s attention appropriately.
  3. ABA turns children into robots – one of the principles of ABA is to help children generalise their learned skills to different environments and people. The learned skills are not functional unless they are able to apply them outside of the therapy session. While skill generalisation is our ultimate goal, repeated learning opportunities are needed to master the skill. This applies to anyone who is learning a new skill as we always say practice makes perfect. ABA is so much more than just doing table-top tasks. ABA teaches children the foundation skills and makes sure that the skills are then performed functionally in the real world.
  4. ABA only uses food (such as M&Ms) to reward children – ABA is individualised and relies on a child’s intrinsic motivations to guide the reward used.  Food is just one of many possible reinforcers used in ABA but the decision ultimately depends on the particular child. Reinforcement can be in many forms such as music, games, TV shows, a hug from mum or break time. It’s important to understand what motivates each child and use what works. Some ABA therapists prefer to conduct a reinforcement assessment before the start of a programme to figure out what works best for a child.
  5. ABA uses punishment – ABA does not use any kind of punishment. A goal of ABA is to cultivate a positive learning environment using a child’s natural interests (such as toys, food or attention) as motivation to help them accomplish different tasks. We always use rewards to motivate our children to learn. The least aversive strategy is always used first to manage problem behaviours.