A lot of professional teachers and special educators use applied behavior analysis strategies to help modify student behavior in the classroom. In truth ABA therapy techniques aren’t just the “Gold Standard” for treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Its foundational strategies and techniques are also perfectly at home in a classroom setting.

At its core, ABA therapy employs five specific teaching techniques that are research-based and data-driven to alter negative behaviors and gradually transform them toward increasingly positive outcomes.

This starts with breaking down and examining the fundamentals of human behaviors which are often taken for granted.

ABA Therapy’s Approach to Modifying Behavior

Applied Behavior Analysis takes our understanding of how human behavior works and applies it to real-world situations with the overarching goal of increasing positive behaviors while decreasing negative ones. ABA teaching strategies are founded on scientific data with a focus on improving instructional and interactive techniques.

In truth, a lot of successful modern-day teaching strategies were originally rooted in 5 of ABA’s foundational teaching strategies.

Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete trial teaching works to break down a larger task into smaller, more manageable parts. Each of these smaller components is easier to teach, which helps capture and hold the student’s attention. When the smaller parts feel easier to understand, students are less likely to lose focus and are more likely to stay engaged. As they master each subtask, they gain more confidence and willingness to try to master the much larger task or lesson that the instructor is trying to teach.

Discrete trial training often uses a cue-and-response structure to help students work through each component task. The student who offers up the correct response after receiving a prompt, known as a discriminative stimulus, will then be given a consequence in the form of a reward, error correction, a break, or some other reaction.

Naturalistic Teaching

Naturalistic teaching is also a very common ABA teaching strategy being used in classrooms around the world. This technique focuses on allowing the student to set the pace of the learning curve while also applying it to their regular daily routine.

This helps the student to cultivate their own interests and opportunities for personal growth, while the instructor offers coaching on how they can best accomplish the target behavior. In this way the teacher is still able to act as a mediator, while also providing the student more control over their learning.
Many students find naturalistic teaching to be beneficial not just for their academic success, but also for personal growth. In this way, the teacher takes on more of a mentor role as the student increasingly gains a greater understanding of how their actions and emphasis sculpt their learning experience.
While naturalistic teaching can be found at just about every level of education, older students in high school and at the university level tend to have the most success in their transition toward adulthood.

Pivotal Response Therapy

Pivotal response therapy piggybacks on a lot of the techniques used in the naturalistic teaching model, while also providing a little more structure. It tends to work best for younger children who are still learning to master self-control and how to work productively in social settings.
Just like naturalistic teaching pivotal response training is largely student-directed. Though it tends to focus more on improving core skills such as motivation, being able to respond to more than one cue, induction into social structures, self-regulation, and other critical development areas. Pivotal Response Training’s methodology is specifically designed to help younger children and individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Token Economy

A token economy is an ABA strategy that’s designed to motivate students by selectively promoting and/or discouraging specific behaviors. It uses “Tokens” or symbols of accomplishment as a form of conditioned reinforcement. The student is rewarded or a reward item is taken away based on their adherence, or refusal to engage in clearly predefined behaviors. It’s very similar to how money works in the real world.
With the token economy technique, the token item needs to have a high perceived value to the students. This could be points, stickers, or even marbles, treats, or other simple items they enjoy. One example of the token economy at work might be a teacher telling students they can earn points for completing assignments on time and then at the end of the semester they can trade the points or “Tokens” for privileges, treats, or special experiences.

Contingent Observation

Contingent observation is an ABA therapy strategy that seeks to control or limit disruptive behaviors. It tends to be more common with younger children who are still learning how to follow classroom rules. Any student who exhibits inappropriate behavior is instructed on better ways to act. At that point, they are asked to remove themselves temporarily from the classroom or the social group, yet they are still allowed to watch the other students behaving appropriately.

On the one hand, this is a form of “Timeout.” Though it’s not just a punitive measure or a technique to ensure the teacher remains in control of the classroom. It also provides an opportunity for the misaligned student to see the correct behaviors in the other children. They see firsthand the benefits of complying with the established classroom rules, in the peer examples. This helps them digest the consequences of future non-compliance while reinforcing what the correct action is.


Applied Behavior Analysis and its core principles aren’t just the most effective way to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder to meet their important milestones. It’s also a great way for teachers at every level to help mold their students and modify their behaviors in the classroom.
Not only can ABA principles help maintain an orderly learning environment, but they can also help students learn the value of belonging to a group set of rules that apply to everyone. This starts with positive reinforcement for good behaviors. When negative behaviors manifest, the student isn’t just punished, but they are allowed to learn the positive, correct behavior and apply it in the future.