Six Common Misconceptions of ABA, and Why They Aren’t True

Misconceptions, assumptions, or misunderstandings in life are very common. We often base our decisions on what we hear from friends or family members, but how often do we evaluate whether their claims are true? They may tell us that a particular service or practitioner is not of the best caliber, so we avoid it.

But what if the practitioner or service is something that could help us- what are the effects of these misconceptions? From my experience working with children receiving Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) services and their families, misconceptions and lack of knowledge about ABA can lead to avoidance of a therapy that could make a positive difference in their lives.

Many parents and families are resistant to ABA therapy for their loved one. So why all the resistance? Well I’m glad you asked, these are the top reasons parents and/or loved one’s question whether ABA is for them (AnxiousAdvocate, 2015).

  1. Punishment is used.

  2. Bribery is used.

  3. One program suits the needs of all clients.

  4. ABA looks like just playing with a client.

  5. ABA is too new of a therapy.

  6. ABA is only for children.

I’m sure the list can go on, but let’s go down the list to clear up the misconceptions one by one.

Punishment is used

Fact Check: Punishment is only used as a last and final resort, if strategies using reinforcement have been exhausted. In fact, the ethical guidelines for behavior analysts mandates that any certified behavior analyst must take extensive measures prior to and while using punishment procedures (BACB, 2014).

There are several reasons that punishment should be avoided. First, although punishment may get quick results, in the long run any improvement to behavior will be short-lived (B.F. Skinner, 1953).

Good ABA therapy focuses on reinforcement and rewarding behaviors. By rewarding desired behaviors, we ensure that they remain in a client’s learning history for life. One risk of using punishment without reinforcing a different desired behavior is that the problem behavior is likely to arise once the punishment is discontinued.

Bribery is used

Fact Check: Some people think that because behavior analysts reinforce behaviors frequently, that they are bribing their clients. What may look like bribery is really reinforcer sampling and use of reinforcement in order to teach a new skill to another person. Prior to teaching a new skill, we need to make sure a client is motivated, or else learning can be as boring as watching paint dry, which we all know is no party. We want learning to be fun, however we don’t want to always rely on incentives and immediate rewards. After a new skill is learned, rewards should be given less often to make sure the skills carry over to a person’s daily life.

One program suits the needs of all clients

Fact Check: One program is never suited for every client. ABA uses assessments to narrow down where a client should begin in their program; because not everyone is alike in learning abilities or skills. After assessments are conducted, treatment plans are designed specifically for individual needs and the values of the client and their loved ones.

ABA therapists just play with kids

Fact Check: ABA treatment needs to be fun! Plain and simple, if a child isn’t having fun with the therapist then they will not continue to work. ABA therapy often focuses on social skills. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it is much easier to be social with somebody that you enjoy being around. Therefore, a high quality ABA treatment provider will emphasize relationship development between the therapist and child so that the child will want to be social. What looks like fun it is really “hyping” the client for work ahead. Without this solid foundation, children are likely to dislike their therapeutic experience and may not find social interactions rewarding later on in life.

ABA is too new of a therapy

Fact Check: ABA is over 50 years old and uses scientific methods to achieve the result desired. So, what does that mean? It means that ABA strategies have been tested in a controlled setting and then applied to real-life settings with our clients. Nothing is ever tested for the first time with a client.

ABA is only for children

Fact Check: ABA has the ability to be used with all ages. The company I work for (Pyles and Associates) services both adults and children. Diagnoses never go away, so oftentimes ABA can be a lifelong treatment for families that need support with their loved one. We would love the idea that each of our client’s “graduate” from our services, but abilities differ for each client and that’s okay. ABA is flexible and therapy adapts to whatever level an individual is at.

Please reference the following list of establishments who support ABA in the treatment of autism and other related disabilities:









Thank you for reading!

To learn more about behavioral intervention services and early behavioral intervention services go here:


Anxiousadvocate, ~. (2019, February 14). Why I Left ABA. Retrieved from

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

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