Misconceptions, Myths and Criticisms of ABA

Hopefully last week our blog was an intriguing introduction to ABA and you started your own internet search to find out more. If you did then fantastic! But I guess you may have come across a mass of misconceptions, mixed views on the ethics of “changing” children and forums describing how therapists make children sit at tables for hours. In the next series of blogs I want to explain the main misconceptions, how the science of ABA has changed over the years and what is fact and fiction about ABA.


ABA is when a child sits at a table and is asked lots of different questions really quickly


What may be being described here is discrete trial training (DTT). This is indeed is a teaching technique that is sometimes used within ABA programmes however this is one of many techniques and it is not implemented for all children and has specific uses. Let’s talk about the sitting at the table – yes at some points as children progress through therapy they may be asked to sit at table. This is an important skill to learn, however this is not, and should not be the only place therapy takes place. ABA is not restricted to one environment. During early intervention programmes therapy is skilfully woven into fun, creative motivating play session, which is completed anywhere (within reason!) the child is motivated to play and engage. An ABA programme will take advantage of naturally occurring learning opportunities, meaning that therapists will provide teaching in the setting when the skill will naturally occur; the playroom, garden, bathroom as well as at the shops and in the park.

ABA therapy is a new treatment for autism 


Some people fear that ABA is a new form of treatment for children with autism and that it is not a tried and tested methodology. This is not true. The foundations of the principles of ABA can be traced as far back as the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with research on animal behaviour. B.F. Skinner, who spurred the development of what is now known as behaviour analysis, never intended it to be a science of animal behaviour. He proposed “that the techniques of behaviour analysis should be extended to explain and change the behaviour of people in everyday arenas such as education, work, clinical problems, and social behaviour.”  In 1970, Ivar Lovaas expanded upon Skinner’s work and applied it to children with autism.

As well as being a highly effective treatment for autism, ABA principles can be applied to a huge variety of everyday socially important problems such as treating obsessive compulsive behaviours, quitting smoking, increasing healthy lifestyles and managing phobias.

ABA is a science, and as with all sciences, they progress and their ‘best’ practice changes as new research is conducted and knowledge increases. In this respect ABA is no different to any other science. The frustrating part for us is that critics will continue to rely on dragging up outdated, no longer used procedures to criticise ABA – you may have seen the programme on BBC2 recently “Aspergers and Me”.

So here are the first two misconceptions, I hope they have answered some of the questions you had. If not please drop us an email and we would love to try again!  Over the next few weeks I will carry on myth busting, but in the meantime if you have a burning question about something you have read, seen or been told about ABA then please get in contact.