Applied Behavior Analysis FAQ

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Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

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As Education Lawyers, we are often asked questions about  Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).

ABA is an applied science, and it is concerned with the evidence-based use of the scientific principles of learning and behaviour change. ABA-based interventions are often used in the management of Autism. Although the approach is controversial and does not work for everyone, the aim of this type of intervention is generally to equip (usually) children and young people with the skills and behaviours they need to live their life to the fullest, both right now and when they reach adulthood. For example, ABA-based interventions can help people with autism handle interactions and connections with other people around them.

Naturally, as with any type of therapy, intervention or general support, you may have questions about how it all works, what’s going on and what it’s all about.

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Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we hear, along with some helpful answers:

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis in the Context of Autism?

By those who have experience of and support ABA, it is believed to be values-driven, child-centred, developmentally informed, evidence-based, effective use of principles of learning to help people - usually children - with autism to achieve their full potential.

The core values and commitments of ABA in the field of autism are reported to be:

  • ambition for the child, and optimism about what is possible for them;
  • an assumption that every child is able to learn;
  • empowering the child by establishing skills and supporting management of their own behaviour;
  • collaborative working with other professionals, family members and carers to best support the child

In the context of autism ABA is all about helping children and young people with autism live their lives to the full. Through ABA, a child or young person with autism will hopefully learn several life skills, helping them in later life as well as right now.

ABA aims to also educate care professionals and family members of autistic people, to make sure that they understand ABA and what the child or young person is being taught, as well as the framework behind it. This is essential, as it ensures everyone is aware of what’s going on, and it means that once the intervention is over, both professionals and family members are able to provide ongoing support.

What are ABA-based Interventions?

Comprehensive ABA-based interventions commonly share the following characteristics:

  • Teach multiple skill areas
  • Break down complex skills into small teachable steps
  • Teach over long periods of time (years rather than weeks)
  • Can be used for all ages of children and adolescents
  • Contain structured and “natural" learning opportunities across the week
  • Involve a team of people (often including parents)
  • Can take place at home, school or other setting

An intervention programme can be developed that considers what outcomes are important to the children themselves and their families. In addition, the intervention programme focuses on pivotal behaviours that would facilitate further development of the child, such as teaching communication, social skills, daily living or academic skills that can support independence and choice-making.

Programme staff should be able to analyse the reasons for certain behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. This can then used to develop unique and individualised interventions to help teach the child.

Positive reinforcement and rewards are used to encourage positive behaviours.

Essentially, ABA-based interventions are all about creating strategies when it comes to behaviours. The overall aim of this type of intervention is to help people with autism, or other mental or physical health issues, to improve their lives and their interactions and connections with other people in their lives.

At Simpson Millar, our specialist Education Law team can help you understand the routes you can go down to secure funding for ABA support if your child needs it.

What Exactly is EIBI?

When used as an early intervention model, comprehensive ABA-based programmes are often known as Early Intensive Behaviour Intervention (EIBI). There is some evidence which suggests that the earlier the better in terms of intervention of this kind.

EIBI programmes tended to be provided intensively for around 30 – 40 hours per week if resources allow, although there are many programmes that are successfully delivered with fewer hours. This all depends on funding and availability of the child and the professionals leading the programme, naturally.

This type of intervention is designed to equip children with the skills they need to communicate, play and socialise, particularly as they make the transition into going to school.

Usually, EIBI is used for children with autism, and it’s all about breaking down tasks into bite-size pieces that autistic children are able to understand, making these tasks and skills overall easier for them. This helps children with autism integrate into school environments, and it will continue to help in later life. Comprehensive ABA-based education is also relevant for older children and adolescents, with skills being taught that are appropriate to the child's stage of life and preparation for leaving school. These programmes would look different to EIBI programmes.

At Simpson Millar, we can help you with securing the funding for an ABA programme, through anEHC plan if one is needed. Some schools also specialise in ABA approaches but many are in the independent sector meaning that appeals can often be needed to secure funding for such places.  

How is ABA Delivered?

This depends on the behaviour being addressed.  Often this can be in a one-to-one setting where the client is receiving direct support for a particular need.  At other times it can be in a group therapy setting – especially when dealing with things like social skills.

Generally, programmes involve:

  • assessing current skills and difficulties;
  • setting goals and objectives;
  • designing and implementing a plan that teaches a target skill;
  • measuring a target skill to see whether a plan is working.

Each ABA programme is unique to the needs of each child or young person, and can be implemented at home, school and out in the community. ABA-based programmes are data driven.

It’s important to realise, especially in this area of intervention, how different every child is. This means that every child will behave differently, and they may each struggle with different areas of life, or different skills, which can be tied in with gender, upbringing, and a wide range of other factors.

This is why Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programmes are taken on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to the particular child’s needs and skills, as well as how they like to learn and how they take on information best.

In addition, based on the preference of the child, ABA can take place wherever your child wants it to, whether it’s at home, at school, or out and about.

What Help Could I get if I Care for Someone who Needs this Service?

Depending on funding, a team of therapists can work with the child to provide a comprehensive programme of intervention. This can take place across various settings, including school and home. This can be delivered (and funded) via an Education Health and Care Plan. Programmes are supervised by a senior therapist and as part of this supervision, care giver training can take place, without the child present, though it can sometimes be helpful for the child to be present for at least part of the discussion.

In these sessions with a trained professional, advice can be given on how to implement strategies and procedures at home. They are also used to discuss progress and any concerns.

How can I Access ABA for Someone I Know?

There are several schools across the country that utilise ABA-based programmes with their students.  Many NHS Trusts and Local Authorities also employ professionals in this field, though these tend to work with autistic adults. Sometimes help can be funded from public money but sometimes you may have to fund the support privately. There are also several charities offering ABA grants or bursaries. ABA-based programmes are often delivered by private organisations.

Often children receiving ABA-based education can also do so through "Education Otherwise than at School” being specified in their EHCPs. This is because some children accessing ABA will often be doing so because traditional schools and ways of teaching have not worked and it has been determined (either by the LA or by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal) that the child’s needs cannot be met in school.

If such provision is specified in an EHCP then it should be funded by Local Authorities, but often families have to appeal to the SEND Tribunal to achieve adequate sufficient specification to warrant adequate funding.

Our team of Education Lawyers have been instructed in many cases where Applied Behaviour Analysis has been a success.  We have helped many families get the care that they need for their children.  Here is just one example 


Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Applied Behaviour Analysis. Retrieved from

Regis College. (n.d.). How ABA Interventions Promote Positive Behavior. Retrieved from

Raising Children Network. (n.d.). Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI). Retrieved from

Sarah Woosey Profile Picture

Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

Areas of Expertise:
Education Law

Sarah re-joined Simpson Millar in 2018 having previously trained at the firm before spending a number of years working for a different national firm. She has a number of years’ experience in a range of Education Law and Social Care issues and has focused particularly on getting suitable education and/or services for children and young adults with a wide range of Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities.

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