Autism Glossary of Applied Behavior Analysis Terms

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis): A scientific approach to analyzing and producing behavior that is socially significant.

Aberrant/Maladaptive Behavior: Any behavior that can obstruct the way an individual learns or experiences the environment. Also referred to as problem behaviors.

Antecedents: The event that occurs before a behavior.

Baseline Data: objective and quantitative measures of the percentage, frequency or intensity and duration of skill/behavior prior to intervention.

Behaviors: Any activity of an individual that can be observed and measured.

BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan): Usually completed after a FBA is completed. A BIP should include the target behavior, function(s) of behavior, operational definition, antecedent interventions, replacement behaviors, and consequence interventions.

Consequence: The event that occurs after a behavior.

Core deficits of Autism: persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts AND, restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities

Chaining: Linking smaller, individual behaviors to form a more complex chain of behaviors. Chaining procedures can be performed as a forward chain (where complex behaviors are taught with the first step, then the rest of the responses are prompted) or backwards chaining (where complex behaviors are prompted and the individual completes the last step). Often used in conjunction with a task analysis.

Custodial Treatment: Non-skilled, personal care. Examples include:

  • Help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, getting in or out of a bed or chair, moving around, using the bathroom, preparing special diets, and taking medications
  • Care designed for maintaining the safety of the member or anyone else
  • Care with the sole purpose of maintaining and monitoring an established treatment program

DRA (Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors): Reinforcement is given to the preferred alternative behavior(s) while the unwanted behavior will not be reinforced. An example would be reinforcing an individual who asks for a break instead of engaging in a behavior, such as crumpling up his work.

DRI (Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior): Behavior that is incompatible with the problem (or unwanted behavior) is reinforced. An example would be reinforcing a child putting his hands in his pocket instead of him engaging in finger gesture stereotypy.

DRO (Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior): Behavior is reinforced in the absence of the problem behavior. For example, the individual who is not engaging in the problem behavior would be given reinforcement.

Duration: How long a behavior occurs, from start to finish.

Echoic: Where a person’s verbal language is duplicated or copied by another person.

Errorless Learning: A teaching procedure where the individual is automatically prompted so that they do not engage in an error, and can access reinforcement for engaging in the target behavior.

Extinction: Withholding reinforcement for the previously reinforced behavior, lowering the rate of the target behavior to an eventual absence.

Fading: The gradual removal of prompts or stimuli in order to obtain an independent response.

Fluency: How quickly the individual can exhibit a behavior after the stimuli is presented.

Frequency: The number of times that a certain behavior occurs

FCT (Functional Communication Training): Often displayed as a type of DRA, FCT occurs when the individual is given the opportunity to communicate his/her desire instead of engaging in a problem behavior.

Functional Analysis: Empirically supported process of making systematic changes to the environment to evaluate the effects of the four testing conditions of play (control), contingent attention, contingent escape and the alone condition, on the target behavior, which allows the practitioner to determine the antecedents and consequences maintaining the behavior.

Generalization: Skills acquired in one setting are applied to many contexts, stimuli, materials, people, and/or settings to be practical, useful, and functional for the individual. Generalized behavior change involves systematic planning, and needs to be a central part of every intervention and every parent training strategy.

Interpersonal Care: Interventions that do not diagnose or treat a disease, and that provide either improved communication between individuals, or a social interaction replacement.

Inter-Response Time: The time between the end of one response to the start of the next response.

Intervention: A change in the individual’s environment that is meant to manipulate the target behavior.

Intraverbal: A type of verbal behavior in which the desired answer or response is not observed. No point-to-point correlation. This can involve social conversations, fill in the blanks, and other verbal behavior that doesn’t relate to something that can be seen.

Latency: The measurement from the presentation of a stimuli until the engagement in the desired behavior.

Maintenance: The ability for the individual to display a skill previously taught without additional training over time.

Mand: Often referred to as a request. An opportunity where an individual will ask for an item or activity.

Mastery Criteria: Objectively and quantitatively stated percentage, frequency or intensity and duration in which a member must display skill/behavior to be considered an acquired skill/behavior.

Motivating Operation: Also referred to as setting event. This is something occurs before the behavior that has a direct impact on the occurrence of a behavior. For example, if water is with-held from a person, it could make the person thirsty.

Neurological Evaluation: This needs to be completed and documented on every member by a licensed physician as part of the diagnostic evaluation. Any significant abnormalities on the minimal elements of an exam should trigger a referral to a neurologist to perform comprehensive testing to assess neurological abnormalities. Minimal elements include:

  • Evaluation of Cranial nerves I-XII
  • Evaluation of all four extremities, to include motor, sensory and reflex testing
  • Evaluation of coordination
  • Evaluation of facial and/or somatic dysmorphism
  • Evaluation of seizures or seizure like activity

Operational Definition: A definition of a behavior in which the target behavior is described in both measurable and objective terms.

Paraprofessional Care: Services provided by unlicensed persons to help maintain behavior programs designed to allow inclusion of members in structured programs or to support independent living goals except as identified in state mandates or benefit provisions.

Premack Principle: Usually displayed as “First ____, then ___”. Using an undesirable item/activity to work towards the highly preferred activity/item as a reinforcement.

Probe: A collection of data where a BCBA will probe behavior by seeing if the individual will engage in the target behavior in one instance.

Problem Behavior: Also known as aberrant or maladaptive behaviors. Any behavior that impedes an individual to learn and interact with his environment.

Punishment: Any consequence that has an impact on the target behavior and lowers the rate of occurrence.

Reinforcement: Any consequence that has an impact that increases the rate of the target behavior.

Respite Care: Care that provides respite for the individual’s family or persons caring for the individual.

Shaping: The act of teaching new behaviors to look more like the desired target behavior.

Standardized Assessments: The listed assessments are not meant to be exhaustive, but serve as a general guideline to measure intelligence, adaptive behaviors or provide diagnostic assessment.

Stimulus: Any antecedent event that proceeds the occurrence of a behavior.

Stereotypy: Also referred to as “stimming”. An individual with ASD will often engage in self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors that are referred to as stereotypy in ABA.

Tact: Often considered a label. An individual will tact items when giving it a name, category or function.

Task Analysis: The break-down of a complex behavior into multiple smaller, and more manageable teaching steps. This is often performed when chaining behaviors.

Topography: The form in which a behavior takes; what the behavior looks like.


Cooper J., Heron T.E., Heward W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis. Pearson Prentice Hall. 2nd Edition.

Lucet. (2017) Medical Policy: Applied Behavior Analysis for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 25 pages.

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