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The Comprehensive ABA Glossary: Unlocking the Power of Correct Terminology

comprehensive list of aba definitions

In Applied Behavior Analysis, precise communication is critical to effectively understanding and implementing teaching procedures. Correct terminology ensures consistency, accuracy, and clarity in discussions surrounding behavior analysis.

To navigate this rich discipline, it’s essential to grasp the concepts and definitions that form our ABA glossary below. This post explores the importance of understanding the correct terminology in ABA and how it can enhance our knowledge and practice.

What’s the Value of “Correct” Terminology?

1. Establish a Common Language

An ABA glossary of terms serves as a common language for professionals, researchers, educators, and practitioners in the field. By having a shared vocabulary, discussions, and collaborations become more efficient and effective.

ABA professionals can also better communicate ideas, interventions, and research findings precisely, reducing misunderstandings and promoting accurate interpretation of information.

2. Facilitate Effective Assessment

Understanding the correct terminology enables ABA practitioners to conduct thorough assessments and gather reliable data. Properly defining and measuring behavior allows for accurate identification of target behaviors, monitoring progress, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions.

Additionally, precise terminology minimizes ambiguity and ensures consistency when describing behaviors across different settings and individuals. See below for our ABA glossary of terms. 

3. Enhance Treatment Planning & Implementation

An in-depth comprehension of definitions in ABA empowers practitioners to develop comprehensive and individualized treatment plans. With precise terminology, practitioners can identify appropriate intervention strategies.  They can establish specific goals and select evidence-based techniques that align with the principles of behavior analysis.

This precision enhances the quality and effectiveness of interventions, ultimately leading to improved outcomes.

4. Enhance Professional Development

Staying informed about the correct terminology in ABA is crucial for professional growth and development. As the field continues to evolve and new research emerges, remaining up-to-date with the latest concepts and definitions is essential.

Engaging with consistent ABA definitions will help professionals expand their knowledge.  It will also deepen their understanding so that they can remain at the forefront of advancements in the field.

aba glossary

The Comprehensive List of ABA Definitions

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis): a data-driven and evidence-based science of behavior
Acquisition Task: A target that is in the process of being taught; this behavior is not yet a known skill
Antecedent: stimuli existing or changing before a behavior of interest
BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan): using the observations from a functional assessment, a plan that is function-based and focus on positive replacement behaviors and skills that can replace the targeted negative behavior when possible
Also: behavior protocol, behavior treatment plan
BST (Behavioral Skills Training): a training package model that includes instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback  
Behavioral Momentum: one effect of the high-probability request sequence; client responding is repeated at a quick and consistent rate
Chaining: a tool for teaching larger, complex skills; teaching one step in the sequence at a time  
Chronological Age/ Developmental Age: Chronological age is the actual age calculated by birthdate; developmental age is based on functioning/cognitive ability and adaptive skills
Consequence: what happens after a behavior of interest  
DTT (Discrete Trial Training): method of teaching where there is a clear beginning and end to each presentation
Note: 3 parts of DTT include the presentation, response, and consequence  
DI (Direct Instruction): evidence-based teaching approach using lessons created around small learning increments and clear instruction  
Differential Reinforcement: reinforcement is provided contingent on the target behavior, reinforcement is not provided under those conditions if the target behavior does not occur

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA): providing reinforcement for a predetermined alternative behavior while withholding reinforcement for the unwanted response
Differential Reinforcement of Diminishing Rates (DRD): providing reinforcement dependent upon the number of responses meeting or being below a predetermined limit during a specified time frame
Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior (DRH): providing reinforcement dependent on the responses meeting or being above a predetermined limit during a specified time frame
Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI): a type of DRA; the alternative behavior is one that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior – they cannot occur at the same time
Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates of Behavior (DRL): providing reinforcement dependent on the response occurring after a specified time frame with no occurrences
Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO): providing reinforcement for the non-occurrence of the unwanted behavior Differential Reinforcement of Paced Responding (DRP): providing reinforcement for behavior occurring within a minimum and maximum time limit  
Discriminative stimulus (SD): This can be a demand/question or directive given to obtain a specific response or a naturally occurring signal that reinforcement is available (For example, “when the school bell rings, we get to go home”)
Echoic: a verbal operant; point-to-point similarity with a verbal model; repeating what is heard  
Expressive: part of language acquisition that indicates how much a learner can express (does not need to be vocal language)  
Extinction: The withholding of reinforcement for a previously reinforced behavior, reducing that behavior
FBA (Functional Behavioral Assessment): an assessment to determine the function of a target behavior (or behaviors)  
FCT (Functional Communication Training): a method of teaching expressive communication to get needs met  
Generalization: Term used to describe the ability to learn a skill in one situation and apply it flexibly to other similar but different situations
Graduated Guidance: a system of gradually and systematically reducing physical prompts  
High-Probability Request Sequence: an antecedent intervention; high-probability tasks are presented before a low-probability task is presented
IBI (Intensive Behavioral Intervention): based on the principles of ABA, involving higher intensity of one-to-one treatment involving 20-40 hours a week of therapy
Note: Not all ABA is IBI, but all IBI is ABA  
Intervention: This is the action plan or strategy you will use to change a behavior. An example of an intervention is teaching learners to raise their hands instead of blurting out the answer
Intraverbal: a verbal operant; complex part of speech; ability to respond to a question  
Mand: a verbal operant; requesting  
Mouthing: Placing items/toys, etc., in the mouth. Often, this may also mean licking an object
MTS (Momentary Time Sampling): a sample of the defined behavior in the exact instant you are taking data
Process: observer would define the interval of time, and look up at the end of the interval to record whether the target behavior was occurring or not
NET (Natural Environment Teaching): a method of teaching where skills are taught or generalized within the natural environment  
PRT (Pivotal Response Training): based on the principles of ABA; a method of teaching where pivotal behavioral skills are targeted for behavioral improvements
Note: Pivotal areas include motivation, response to multiple cues, self-management, initiation of social interactions  
Priming: an antecedent strategy; a method used prior to the event to set the stage for a desired response, or to reduce the likelihood of a challenging response  
Partial Interval: a method of data collection; recording where a behavior occurs or does not occur during a specific interval; it does not have to occur throughout the entire interval  
Prompt: a strategy used to correct the learner and still increase learning; it is usually placed after the instruction and before the response
Physical Prompt: physically guiding the learner through the response
Model Prompt: showing the learner what to do before they do it
Gestural Prompt: pointing or using other gestures to indicate the correct response as you are presenting the instruction
Verbal Prompt: using vocal cues to indicate the correct response
Visual Prompt: can include texts or pictures; provide visual supports to indicate the correct response
Premack Principle: first/then contingency; a high-probability behavior is made contingent upon a lower-probability behavior, then the lower-probability behavior is more likely to occur
Note: also known as “grandma’s rule”  
Punishment: a consequence that happens after a behavior that serves to reduce the likelihood of that behavior happening again in the future
Positive Punishment: the addition of something that acts to decrease the likelihood of a behavior happening in the future
Negative Punishment: the removal of something that acts to decrease the likelihood of a behavior happening again in the future  
RBT (Registered Behavior Technician): For direct-level staff, this credential denotes that the person has met specific education and experience standards and, starting in 12/2015, has passed a rigorous exam
Receptive: part of language acquisition that indicates how much a person understands
Reinforcement: a consequence that happens after a behavior that serves to increase the likelihood of that behavior happening again in the future  
Positive Reinforcement: the addition of something that acts to increase the likelihood of a behavior happening in the future
Negative Reinforcement: the removal of something that acts to increase the likelihood of a behavior happening in the future  
Satiation: when the frequent use of a reinforcer leads to decreased effectiveness when the frequent use of a reinforcer leads to decreased effectiveness
Shaping: a method used to teach and differentially reinforce gradually closer approximations of a target behavior/skill  
Tact: a verbal operant; labelling or naming; language evoked by an item or picture; speaker comes in to contact with the object  
Target Behavior: This refers to the specific behavior of focus that one aims to either promote or diminish. A comprehensive treatment plan may involve addressing multiple target behaviors simultaneously.
Task Analysis: a skill broken down into a sequence of small steps  
Verbal Operant: parts of language and communication that includes mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, listener responding, motor imitation, and visual perception  

This ABA glossary is a guiding tool enabling professionals to navigate the discipline precisely and clearly. By embracing the power of correct terminology, we can enhance our practice, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and ultimately improve outcomes for individuals experiencing behavioral challenges.


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