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ABA Glossary of Terms

Updated: May 10

Studying for a big exam, refreshing your memory, or just interested in learning about ABA terminology? Read on for the definitions of several common terms used in the field of behavior analysis. Note: This is not an all-exhaustive list.

ABA Glossary



ABC Data

A format of data collection in which one records the antecedent, behavior, and consequence.

Antecedent: What occurred directly before the behavior

Behavior: The topography of the behavior

Consequence: What occurred directly after the behavior

ABC Data is a part of a descriptive assessment

Acquisition (target/task/goal)

A goal that is currently being taught


An environmental stimulus that directly precedes a behavior

Note: An antecedent is not what caused the behavior

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

The application of behavioral principles based on the science of behavior and learning

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

A developmental disorder characterized by varying levels of deficits in communication and social interaction, and restrictive/repetitive patterns of behavior


Data on a behavior taken prior to the implementation of intervention


Anything an organism does or says

Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB)

An organization created to credential clinicians in the field of behavior analysis. The BACB certifies RBTs, BCaBAs, BCBAs, and BCBA-Ds.

Behavior contracts

A document created which establishes the behavioral expectations and the consequences for completion of the behavior (or for failure to complete the behavior).

Behavioral contrast

When a change in the schedule of one component of reinforcement or punishment changes behavior in an opposite direction in the other component of the schedule.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP); AKA behavior reduction plan

A written document which outlines the strategies used to modify target behaviors.


A teaching method which consists of breaking a skill down into small components (task analysis) and teaching the skill is manageable steps.


A stimulus or event that occurs directly after a behavior.

Continuous schedule of reinforcement

Reinforcement provided after every occurrence of the target behavior.


Factual information such as measurement and statistics.

Discrete trial teaching (DTT)

A teaching strategy used to acquire new skills. In DTT, each learning opportunity has a discrete beginning and end.

Discriminative stimulus (SD)

A stimulus that signals the availability of reinforcement.


Repeating a sound/word following a model of the sound.


The repetition of vocalizations heard by others. Often times, echolalia presents as repetitively echoing TV/movie scenes.

Ethics Code

Each certified professional in the field of behavior analysis is required to abide by ethical guidelines, set forth by the BACB.

Error correction

A procedure for responding to and correcting incorrect responses.

Errorless teaching

Immediately prompting a response to eliminate the chance of erroring.

Expressive language

Behavior of a speaker that requires a vocal response.


Withholding reinforcement for behaviors which were previously reinforced.

Extinction burst

An initial, temporary increase in behavior following the implementation of extinction.

Fine motor skills

Skills which require the coordination and movement of the smaller muscles in your body.

Fixed interval schedule of reinforcement (FI)

Providing reinforcement after a set amount of time.

Fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement (FR)

Providing reinforcement after a set number of responses.

Functional analysis

Manipulating variables to determine the function of behavior.

Functional behavior assessment (FBA)

The process of assessing challenging behavior to identify the function and develop a BIP.


A behavior or skill which occurs in the presence of novel people, stimuli, and settings, which are different from the original teaching conditions.

Gross motor skills

Skills which require the coordination and movement of the large muscles of your body.

Intermittent reinforcement

Reinforcing some, but not all occurrences of a behavior.


Verbal responding, which is controlled by the verbal behavior of others. This is the basis of conversations/ back-and-forth communication.

Maladaptive behavior

Behaviors which are considered harmful or interfere with an individual's ability to learn or interact with others.

Common AKAs include challenging, problematic, inappropriate, and interfering behaviors.


A request (for an item, information, help, etc.)

Matching law

A behavioral principle which states that behavior occurs in proportion to where reinforcement is.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET)

A teaching strategy consisting of the presentation of learning opportunities in a learner's natural environment, using their motivation.

Negative punishment

Occurs when the removal of a stimulus results in a decrease in behavior.

Negative reinforcement

Occurs when a behavior is followed by the removal, termination, reduction, or postponement of a stimulus, resulting in that behavior occurring more often in the future.


Associating yourself with preferred items and activities to establish a positive therapeutic experience and improve instructional control.

Positive punishment

Occurs when the addition of a stimulus results in a decrease in behavior.

Positive reinforcement

Occurs when the addition of a stimulus results in an increase in behavior.

Preference assessment

Assessments used to identify the preferences of a learner.


Testing a skill to identify if the individual has the skill in his skill repertoire.


Cues used to evoke a target behavior.

Receptive communication

Listener behavior, which includes tasks that require a non-vocal response.


When a reinforcer loses its value due to overuse.

Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB)

​Behaviors directed toward oneself that may cause harm such as head banging, biting oneself, etc.


Responding to a demand by linking multiple responses together.


Reinforcing systematic approximations toward a target skill or behavior.


Labeling or describing an item, event, activity, etc.

Target behavior

The behavior of interest that you are aiming to increase or decrease.

Task analysis

A step-by-step breakdown of a skill.

Variable interval schedule of reinforcement (VI)

Providing reinforcement after a varied amount of time.

Variable ratio schedule of reinforcement (VR)

Providing reinforcement after a varied number of responses.

Verbal behavior

Based on the works of BF Skinner; Understanding and teaching behavior as related to its' function.

Visual schedules

​A graphic representation of scheduled tasks and activities.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.