Only for Autism?

It’s time for some answers! Ready for the first True/False question of this series on the most common misconceptions of ABA? Here we go!

True or False: ABA has only been proven effective with children diagnosed with autism.

And the answer is………………….a resounding FALSE!!!

I am assuming that this will be a surprise to many people reading this blog. Why? Well, this is what the majority of parents & teachers hear through word of mouth. Let me start explaining my answer by telling you how this misconception came about in the first place.

If you don’t already know, ABA is a relatively young field of study with research only dating back to the 1950s. After about 30 years, a study on an intensive, 40 hours/week ABA program was published (Lovaas, 1987). This study continues to be the most influential publication supporting ABA. Who were the participants? You probably guessed it…children diagnosed with autism!

What happened next truly set the stage for this misconception to stick. Based on what I’ve told you about the history of our field, who do you think insurance companies were first mandated to cover ABA services for? Children diagnosed with autism, of course! Thus, where do you think the most & highest paying jobs are for BCBAs who provide & supervise ABA services? Yep…with children diagnosed with autism! You see, the Lovaas study was really when ABA got people’s attention. It was finally our chance to show that we could bring something different to the table. Something that was unlike any treatment at the time. I guess you could say that ABA “got its foot in the door” through its work in the autism community.

The unfortunate part of this history is that we have yet to get the same recognition for the plethora of research supporting the benefits of ABA with others. So now, let’s now shift our focus to what IS true. ABA HAS been proven effective across a wide variety of disabilities and challenges! And no, that’s not just my opinion. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a great deal of research showing how successful ABA can be beyond autism treatment. Below are just a few examples…

  • Helping individuals diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) learn to recognize names & faces (Cowley et al., 1992)
  • Helping children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) learn to stay on-task during work tasks (Rapport et al., 1982)
  • Helping older adults diagnosed with dementia stay active & engaged in their living environments (Engstrom et al., 2015)
  • Helping typically developing preschool children respond safely to lures from strangers (Johnson et al., 2005)
  • Helping individuals with addictions to abstain from engaging in those behaviors, such as cigarette smoking (Reynolds et al., 2008)

This list could go on forever, but even these 5 examples show the variety of people that could benefit from ABA techniques. I hope that this post helps people reconsider ABA as a treatment option if this misconception was holding them back from doing so. For others, help us educate people! We could really use any help we can get!

My next blog will be similar to this one, but I’ll be specifically looking at whether age plays a factor in the effectiveness of ABA. As always, I’d love comments & questions. I’m even happy to research other applications of ABA if you’d like more specific resources! And just so you know, I may not be talking about Auburn football quite as much this fall; if you haven’t noticed, they’re not looking so hot this year…and that’s NO misconception. ::sigh::



Cowley, B. J., Green, G. and Braunling-McMorrow, D. (1992), Using stimulus equivalence procedures to teach name-face matching to adults with brain injuries. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25: 461–475.

Engstrom, E., Mudford, O. C. and Brand, D. (2015), Replication and extension of a check-in procedure to increase activity engagement among people with severe dementia. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48: 460–465.

Johnson, B. M., Miltenberger, R. G., Egemo-Helm, K., Jostad, C. M., Flessner, C. and Gatheridge, B. (2005), Evaluation of behavioral skills training for teaching abduction-prevention skills to young children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38: 67–78.

Lovaas, O. I. (1987), Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young children with autism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55: 3-9.

Rapport, M. D., Murphy, H. A. and Bailey, J. S. (1982), Ritalin vs. response cost in the control of hyperactive children: a within-subject comparison. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 15: 205–216.

Reynolds, B., Dallery, J., Shroff, P., Patak, M. and Leraas, K. (2008), A web-based contingency management program with adolescent smokers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 41: 597–601.