ABA Scotland - Assisting children to reach their full potential
Applied Behaviour Analysis & Verbal Behaviour
What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)? 

The overall goal of teaching based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is to work with each individual to develop skills that will enable them to be as independent and successful as possible. As a person centred approach, ABA based intervention always begins at the level of the individual and as such works to establish a personalised and individualised approach to curriculum planning in order to address key skill areas, including (but not limited to) communication, leisure, social, academic and daily living skills. Skills are prioritised that will increase the quality of life for the individual and involves functional communication that may incorporate other augmentative systems to facilitate effective communication (e.g. vocal, PECS or sign). Generalisation is promoted from the start to ensure skills can be used across all environments.   

ABA uses key behavioural principles and breaks down learning into smaller component skills to teach as a developmental sequence (e.g. from simple to more complex skills). Targets and intervention procedures are clearly defined to aid consistent teaching and learning progress is recorded on each target ensuring decisions are based on data, and progress towards targets can be easily assessed. ABA is personalised according to the needs and strengths of the individual and adapted to how that individual responds.   

An ABA-based intervention can take place within any environment and appropriate education setting. A large number of studies investigating the benefits of ABA-based principles have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Please see the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacb.com/) for information on credentialing for behaviour analysts.

Other Useful Links:

This above description of ABA has been endorsed by:
Judith Cruikshank, ABA Scotland
Louise Denne, ABA Competencies Project Manager
Katy Lee, Ambitious About Autism
Dr Neil Martin, European Association for Behaviour Analysis
Suzy Yardley, Peach

What is Verbal Behaviour (VB)?

Verbal Behaviour (VB) uses the principles of ABA and emphasises the fundamental role that functional communication plays within our everyday life. Language has traditionally been broken down into 'expressive' and 'receptive'. BF Skinner, the author of "Verbal Behaviour" (1957) took this a step further and created a number of sub-categories which he called 'verbal operants'.

These sub-categories allow us to understand the way in which language is used in different contexts. For example, we can use the word "apple" in a number of contexts:

  • As a request (mand): The learner asks ‘Can I have an apple?”
  • As a label (tact): The learner labels ‘apple’ when they see one
  • As a listener (receptive): The learner gives you an apple on request
  • As an echoic: The learner repeats the word ‘apple’ when they hear ‘apple’ being spoken

Thus showing that the same word has various functions depending on how and when it is used. Verbal Behaviour is used to ensure that your child is able to use a word, such as 'apple' across all the different operants.

Behaviour and the Basic Behavioural Principles

What is 'behaviour'? Behaviour is everything that we do…our thoughts, our actions, our language and our feelings are all behaviours. There is a reason why we do what we do and by using the principles of ABA we can better understand why behaviours occur.

In all ABA programmes, motivation and reinforcement are used as a means of increasing skills and extinction is used as a means of reducing unwanted skills. A 'reinforcer' is any stimulus that increases a particular behaviour.

Teaching is undertaken by breaking skills down into small achievable steps (task analysis), and learner's chances of success are enhanced by using errorless teaching and prompting. Once a learner is able to achieve a skill without any prompts, skills are then taught to fluency, ie skills become automatic for the learner. Generalisation is introduced from the early stages of a programme.

The A-B-C of Behaviour:

Antecedent + Behaviour + Consequence = Learning

  • Antecedent (‘trigger’) - this can be something within our environment (inside and outside the body) that we see, hear, feel, touch, or smell.
  • Behaviour - what we do as a result of the antecedent
  • Consequence - outcome of the behaviour


Antecedent             →       Behaviour               →       Consequence 
Child sees juice               Child asks for juice              Child receives juice
The learner was reinforced (received juice) after asking for it (said ‘juice’, signed ‘juice’, etc). This success will determine whether the child uses the same behaviour in the future.
Antecedent              →       Behaviour               →       Consequence
Child is asked to              Child finds shoes                 Child goes out to
put shoes on                    and puts them on                 the garden
The learner was reinforced for listening to the instruction to find shoes and gaining access to the garden to play.

More detailed information on the principles of ABA are provided during training workshops.