Debunking ABA Myths: Unveiling the Truths Behind Applied Behavior Analysis for Children

Date of Publishing:   

30 June, 2023


Treatment and Intervention



Debunking ABA Myths: Unveiling the Truths Behind Applied Behavior Analysis for Children


Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA, is a widely recognised approach that is used in reducing challenging child behaviors like tantrums, aggression, screen addiction, etc and treating speech & language delay and other developmental delays. However, there are some myths that exist around it. This might misguide people, especially parents, resulting in a child who genuinely needs therapy might not get it.

Challenging ABA Myths: Building a Foundation of Understanding

In this section, we address prevalent myths surrounding ABA therapy and provide evidence-backed truths to help parents make informed decisions.

These myths are:

  1. ABA involves punishment-based methods.
  2. ABA is only for children with developmental delays. 
  3. ABA is an experimental therapy and is robotic.
  4. ABA bribes food and toys to kids for continuation of desired behaviors.
  5. All ABA programs are the same. 
  6. ABA only tackles challenging behaviors, it doesn't help the child to acquire new skills.
  7. The entire therapy is done at the table.
  8. ABA teaches only one way to respond.

Team Butterfly Learnings has prepared a set of 7 mythbusters for parents or caregivers providing clarity on how the therapy is child centric and effective in teaching skills that are necessary for the child to function in daily life. Plus, a glimpse of what happens in a session. 

Myth: ABA involves punishment-based methods.

Fact: ABA uses positive reinforcement and child-friendly approaches

One of the biggest myths that revolves around ABA is that punishment-based methods such as scolding or forcing the child to finish a task are used during the therapy. However, the reality is completely the opposite. 

ABA is based on positive reinforcement. It is a method that uses rewards in order to increase the possibilities of the child engaging in desired behaviors.  

What is an ABA therapist?

They are the first person children turn to when they cry or feel scared and stressed, the therapists help to soothe and calm down the child. The reason why they are chosen and trained is because of their kind and compassionate nature. 

Punishment-based methods are not considered a part of Applied Behavior Analysis and it is massively opposed by the practitioners. 

Also, ABA practitioners follow strict ethical standards and adhere to codes of conducts that emphasizes the child's safety and well-being.

Myth: ABA is only for children with developmental delays.

Fact: It works for anyone needing a behavior change. 

Applied Behavior Analysis is for children having developmental delays, it is also for children having tantrums, speech delay, aggression & screen addiction. The therapy also reduces challenging behaviors. Ultimately it works for any child needing behavior change.

Myth: ABA is an experimental therapy and is robotic.

Fact: Effectiveness of the therapy is proven and it aims at teaching behavior in natural surroundings so the learner gets maximum benefits. 

ABA is an evidence-based therapy. It has passed scientific tests proving its quality, usefulness & effectiveness. ABA has multiple techniques that help the child acquire skills.

For a child memorizing responses will not be helpful if they are not able to apply them in their daily living. The therapy is imparted by utilizing play-based activities by using toys, games or reinforcers of the child's preference by maximizing her motivation to continue the activity or get new items as reinforcement. 

Natural Environment makes the learning natural for a child and more fun. The best part of it is the child doesn't even realize that she is being taught skills.  

Myth: ABA bribes food and toys to kids for continuation of desired behaviors. 

Fact: ABA is driven by the concept of reinforcement using rewards for continuation of desired behaviors. 

Reinforcement is the core of Applied Behavior Analysis. The child is given a reward by the therapist for giving the required response. Reinforcement is also given to the child even for trying. This lets the child know that her efforts have value. 

There are multiple types of reinforcers: toys, food & snacks, favorite activities, hugs, praise, anything that motivates the child to learn & show desired behaviors in the long term.

Let us understand bribes. Bribe is a preferred item or activity given to the child to stop engaging in challenging behaviors in the moment. It is given after the behavior has already occurred. It stops the behavior in the short term, but increases it in the long run. 

Myth: All ABA programs are the same. 

Fact: The therapy is individualized as per learner. 

The therapy plan is designed keeping the child's specific needs & interests into consideration because every child faces a different challenge, has varying levels of skill sets, and their own pace of learning. That's why instead of going with one size fits all method; a personalized therapy plan is created by the BCBA. 

Myth: ABA only tackles challenging behaviors, it doesn't help the child to acquire new skills.

Fact: ABA teaches new and alternate skills to make the child more independent in daily living. 

The therapy not only decreases challenging behaviors, it also makes the child independent by improving: speech & language skills, play skills, social skills, intellectual functioning, daily living skills & academic skills.

Myth: The entire therapy is done at the table.

Fact: The skills are taught all around the child's environment.

The child can learn skills in environments like sitting on the floor alongside with the therapist, in a play area, other places around the clinic or home. The Therapist focuses on table & chair when there is a need to teach the child sitting and waiting skills.

Myth: ABA teaches only one way to respond.

Fact: It teaches the child multiple responses to different situations. 

The main focus of the therapy is Generalization. The child should perform a skill across stimuli, people and places.

Generalization across stimuli means the child will be able to label a bear on a flashcard, in a cartoon video, teddy bear soft toy, etc. 

Generalization across people means the child will respond to a question like 'what is your name?' whoever is asking, it can be mom, dad, grandparent or teacher.

In Generalization across places, the child can perform a skill across places. If he learns to wash his hands, he will do so at the therapy center, at home, at his grandparents' house, or at school.


Regardless of these myths and misconceptions, Applied Behavior Analysis remains one of the most effective and evidence therapy for developmental delays, reducing challenging behaviors, and teaching skills that are essential in daily living. 

There are a lot of studies that prove the positive results of ABA therapy in a child's life, it improves communication skills, social interaction, and academic performance.

It is our responsibility to address these myths and educate people & families about the benefits of ABA therapy while also acknowledging the need for ongoing research and advancements in the field, so it can have a huge impact on a child's development and future. 

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