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How to Write a Good ABA Program

Unfortunately, writing good program descriptions is not something that was covered in the training to become BCBA certified.  Most of us have a solid background in the foundations and principles of ABA yet we weren’t taught how to apply that knowledge to creating programs.  Sure, there are assessment tools that guide us but children don’t always learn through cookie cutter programs.  If only it was as easy as filling a few colour-coded boxes and spitting out a program!  Should we teach functions before verbs? Or vice versa? Or at the same time?!?!?  And then when teaching functions – should we teach the student receptively, expressively, without pictures, or all?

With a background in Early Childhood Education and many years of experience creating ABA programs, there is one thing we know to be true: EACH CHILD IS DIFFERENT.   If kids don’t fit into boxes, why are we creating programs based on boxes?  Why should a child just learn to receptively identify anitem when he can also learn to tact it, talk about it, describe it, and answer questions about it – all in one program??  Learning happens across operants and so our programs should reflect that.   We find that children learned most effectively when programs were well-written and included teaching across multiple operants.

7 Dimensions of ABA

Writing a high-quality ABA program and includes key components so that it’s carried out in a way that meets the 7 dimensions of ABA:





Conceptually Systematic



What to Include in ABA Programs

Here are some key components to include when writing programs:

  1. Goal (target objective)
  • What do you want to accomplish from this program?
  • Is it for them to be tacting items, answering questions about a topic, or both?
  1. Instructional Procedure
  • How would you describe to someone to run this program?
  • This is where operational definitions are important.
  • What is the response that is expected from the student?
  • What is the prompt instruction?
  • What is the SD (discriminative stimulus)?
  • What materials to use?
  1. Teaching Steps
  • This is where you’ll define how the student will progress through the program
  • Are there multiple steps or multiple sets of exemplars?
  • Are there only receptive and expressive steps or is there also an intraverbal step?
  • This can also be described as specific instruction for the therapist carrying out the program
  1. Targets
  • Define the teaching targets here
  1. Reinforcement Schedule
  • Define how often the student should receive reinforcement – is it for every correct response? Every other correct response?
  1. Mastery Criteria
  • What is the criteria for mastery when the student can move on? Does it have to be across days, therapists?
  1. Data Tracking System

Watch our YouTube video on Data Collection!

  1. Generalization
  • Suggest some tips for how to generalize this program – across people, environments, stimuli
  1. Suggested Teaching Strategies (if applicable)
  • These are good tips for the therapist running the program
  • Example: rotate program materials, intersperse mastered questions, etc.

Program Description: VERBS

Check out one of our program descriptions for how we teach "verbs".

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2 thoughts on “How to Write a Good ABA Program”

  1. Thank you so very much for this helpful information! I am excited about using all of these resources at my preschool and childcare center. It is great to have this organized format as I embark upon serving my students.

    1. We are so excited to hear that you found this helpful! Let us know if there is any other information you would love to see on our site!

  2. Pingback: ABA Binder & ABA Programs - How to ABA

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