ABA and VB

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.

The above description was written by myself in conjunction with individuals from Ambitious About Autism, Child Autism UK, European Association for Behaviour Analysis, and ABA Competencies Project, for inclusion within the Autism Toolbox.

What is Verbal Behaviour (VB)?

Verbal Behaviour (VB) emphasises the fundamental role that functional communication plays within our everyday life. It includes any form of communication which assists an individual get what they want, and also avoid what they do not want in a faster and more efficient way. Forms of verbal behaviour can include signing, picture exchange, speaking, pointing, writing, and gesturing. BF Skinner, the author of 'Verbal Behaviour' (1957) created a classification of language based on verbal operants, and looked at the overall function of language, showing that the same word has various functions depending on how and when it is used.

For example, your child may know the word 'apple' but it is important to ensure that they can use it in a number of different contexts. VB is used to ensure that your child is able to use a word, such as 'apple' across all the different verbal operants.

  • As an echoic: the learner repeats the word 'apple' when they hear 'apple' being spoken.
  • As a request (mand): the learner asks 'can I have an apple?'
  • As a label (tact): the learner labels 'apple' when they see one.
  • Answers a question (intraverbal): the learner states 'apple' when someone asks them to name a fruit.


"Since our first contact with Judith we have found her to be very professional. Between consultations she is happy to take phonecalls and responds to emails very promptly with advice. The programme has been continuously moving forward, adapted where necessary if our son moves forward with an element or finds an element difficult. The ABA has made a big difference to our son who has been diagnosed with profound autism. He is happier, plays more with toys and interacts more with people. We attribute this success to Judith. Many thanks." (Parent)