Only for Young’uns?

Since my husband and I are driving back from my hometown in the deep South as I type, I thought this title was perfect for my next blog. I know it’s been a while, but we were in the middle of answering a series of questions about misconceptions related to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). The first question was about whether these techniques are only helpful for individuals with autism diagnoses. The next question is this…

True or False: ABA is relevant for young children; however, its applications with older children & adults are limited.

And the answer is…………………………………another FALSE!!!

In my opinion, this might be the biggest misconception about ABA. It is, by far, the one that I have heard the most among parents searching for treatment options. The conversation typically goes like this…”Well, we’ve heard great things about ABA, but our child is beyond the ‘window’ so we’re looking for other options.” You’re probably wondering what this so called “window” is all about, but I’m going to go ahead and bust your bubble by telling you that it isn’t as special as it sounds. You see, a lot of people believe that once a child is outside of a specific age range, ABA is significantly less helpful for them. This is simply not true and can be easily refuted by looking at past and ongoing ABA research.

Before going any further, let me remind you that the first most influential publication on ABA was done with children (Lovaas, 1987). As with the first misconception, the participants of this well-known study also likely led to the “birth” of the age misconception. Another similarity relates to funding, as ABA services are more accessible for children, which further misleads people into believing that ABA isn’t as important for older individuals. Finally, remember that the number of professionals working in a particular area is heavily dependent on funding; just because most BCBAs work with children doesn’t mean they couldn’t help others! Instead of making assumptions about whether age matters based on publicity and/or funding, let’s dig deeper and see what the research says – this research may not be as well-known, but there’s a lot of it!

Here are numerous ways that ABA has been used to help older individuals with various disabilities:

  • Teaching cover-letter writing as a part of the job interview process (Pennington et al., 2014)
  • Teaching menstrual care to women (Richman et al., 1984)
  • Teaching safety skills, such as how to seek assistance when lost (Taylor et al., 2004)
  • Teaching conversation skills (Bourgeois, 1993)
  • Teaching internet leisure skills (Jerome et al., 2007)

Just from this small sample of studies, you can see how ABA has already been used to help older individuals live more independently, build friendships, stay safe, and grow in careers that they love! Despite this truth, please don’t think that I am discounting the importance of early intervention! Just because ABA can help beyond childhood doesn’t mean that waiting is a good idea. On the contrary, starting early will help people reach more goals, more quickly. What I’d really like to leave you with is this…DON’T GIVE UP! Whether you’ve gotten early intervention services or not, ABA can help people of all ages in amazing ways!

As always, I’m happy to send more research your way if there is a topic that you’re particularly interested in for your child or someone else. The more we educate others on the truth, the more we can get people the help that they so desperately need!

Also, you definitely won’t want to miss my next blog about the common complaint that ABA is too boring, so stay tuned!



Bourgeois, M. S. (1993), Effects of memory aids on the dyadic conversations of individuals with dementia. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26: 77–87.

Jerome, J., Frantino, E. P. and Sturmey, P. (2007), The effects of errorless learning and backward chaining on the acquisition of internet skills in adults with developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40: 185–189.

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.

Pennington, R., Delano, M. and Scott, R. (2014), Improving cover-letter writing skills of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47: 204–208.

Richman, G. S., Reiss, M. L., Bauman, K. E. and Bailey, J. S. (1984), Teaching menstrual care to mentally retarded women: acquisition, generalization, and maintenance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 17: 441–451.

Taylor, B. A., Hughes, C. E., Richard, E., Hoch, H. and Coello, A. R. (2004), Teaching teenagers with autism to seek assistance when lost. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37: 79–82.