What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of changing socially significant behavior.  It is not a particular type of therapy, but an approach to teaching methods that are based on the scientific understanding of how people learn. 

ABA's origins are rooted in the study of behaviorism, which developed in the early 19th century. A scientist named B.F. Skinner pioneered behaviorist theories, making the observation that everything humans do, including eating, sleeping, breathing, etc., are behaviors.  Skinner took a bold step outside of the psychological approaches of his day, and instead began looking at behavior through objective observation. 

This framework allowed scientists to measure and quantify behavior (defined as anything an organism does), and to study how to effect reliable changes on behavior.

Now, to be clear, Skinner was an experimental scientist, testing theories of learning in the lab. He coined the term "operant conditioning," while working in the lab.  But he wasn't yet sure about how his discoveries might apply to humans.  While Skinner was working on understanding how behaviors are established in the lab, the field of Applied Behavior Analysis was beginning to expand to applications outside of the lab.

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.
— B.F. Skinner

It wasn't until 1987, when Dr. Ivar Lovass and his team published a groundbreaking study on his work with children with Autism, that the field we currently know as ABA began to emerge.  At the time, Autism was considered an unchangeable condition, which required institutionalization in most cases.  It was not considered possible for children with autism to make significant gains in their lives.

Lovaas’ study included 59 children ages 3 and under, and compared three groups of subjects: participants in high quality intensive ABA Therapy, participants in high quality less intensive ABA Therapy, and typical special education services but no ABA Therapy. The results of the study were astonishing: nearly half of the children in the first group (receiving high quality intensive ABA Therapy) were indistinguishable from same age peers when they were re-evaluated post intervention, and in follow up studies this group of children maintained these gains well into adolescence.   

Replication studies since then repeated these results over, and over….and over again. Additionally, advancements in technology and further scientific discoveries have fine-tuned ABA into a highly sophisticated tool for effective and long-lasting behavior change.

The official definition of ABA is that applied behavior analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991).

Today, ABA appears in a variety of different fields:

  • environment and sustainability

  • organizational behavior management (OBM)

  • higher education / teaching behavior analysis

  • behavioral medicine and health

  • economics and consumer habits

ABA when it applies to teaching children with autism and other pervasive developmental delays, incorporates a variety of teaching techniques to increase skill sets and decrease maladaptive behaviors.  Some of these techniques include incidental teaching, natural environment teaching, discrete trial training, and pivotal response teaching, to create an enriching and fun learning environment for children.

The seven dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis differentiates ABA from other methodologies:

  1. Applied — This refers to the types of problems targeted for intervention. To qualify as "applied," we must deal with problems of demonstrated social importance.

  2. Behavioral — Applied interventions deal with measurable behavior (or reports if they can be validated).

  3. Analytic — We don’t just look at behavior, we analyze behavior and must be able to provide an objective demonstration that the procedures caused the effect. This means we must convincingly demonstrate the controlling variables of which behavior is a function. We achieve the latter through our unique time-series research designs (e.g., multiple baseline, reversal, alternating treatments design, etc…).

  4. Technological — Technological refers to techniques. We must make sure our techniques, or procedures, are sufficiently described well enough that they can be implemented by anyone with training and resources.

  5. Conceptual Systems — Interventions are based on scientific literature, rather than a set of tricks, so to speak.

  6. Effective — Applied interventions must produce pragmatic behavior change. However, ABA has the additional requirement that the change be sufficiently large as to produce socially significant results for the individuals impacted by the intervention.

  7. Generality — What good is an intervention for a science of behavior if it only works one time with one individual and never again? Generality means that the skills/behaviors acquired will occur in environments other than where they were discretely taught.

ABA is not one-size-fits-all…

Each child's program is developed individually, and based on multiple assessments that identify their unique strengths and weaknesses, as well as their particular preferences, needs, and environment.

The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount.
— B.F. Skinner


Recognize the signs.

Does your child…

  • Repetitively line up objects, or flap his/her hands?

  • Seem inflexible and dependent on strict routines?

  • Avoid or struggle to maintain eye contact?

  • Seem delayed in language, compared to others their age?

  • Get overly upset when they lose a game?

  • Only seem to like playing alone?

  • Have sensitivities to sounds, light, or touch?

  • Have certain skill sets that seem unusually gifted or advanced for their age?

  • Display extreme behaviors when upset?

If any or many of these sound familiar, your child may be displaying behaviors associated with autism or another related developmental disorder.

Signs of autism can emerge as early as 18 months of age.  Contact us, if you have any concerns, and we will help you get more information.

Understand the statistics.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States has autism, and it is 4.5 times more common for boys than for girls.  

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom estimated in 2012 that the prevalence of autism was about 1 in 100 throughout the population.

Autism is characterized by the following:

  • communication delays

  • social impairments

  • restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests or activities

You can read more about the diagnosis of autism by referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is what health practitioners use for the classification and diagnosis of ASD.

Learn more about the prevalence of Autism by visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Be Safe.

Children and adults diagnosed with Autism are vulnerable to a number of threats to their safety in everyday life. Learn more about these safety concerns, and how to keep your child safe:



ABA Therapy is one of the most extensively researched and supported interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Because ABA currently has substantially more scientific support than any other behavioral or educational intervention for children with ASD, ASAT recommends that families and professionals strongly consider implementing ABA and be cautious about other approaches. ASAT further recommends that professionals describe other behavioral and educational interventions as untested and encourage families who are considering these interventions to evaluate them carefully.
— the Association for Science in Autism (ASAT)
Intensive behavioral intervention (IBI) is the only empirically validated treatment for ASD. Based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), IBI is conducted at a high intensity, typically between 30 and 40 hours per week, for multiple years. Evidence suggests that greater treatment intensity leads to superior outcomes. Evidence also indicates that IBI is more effective if initiated in early development; however, services initiated at any age are beneficial for the acquisition of valuable skills.

Studies have shown that ABA is effective in teaching new skills and reducing problem behavior (Goldstein, 2002; Odom et al., 2003; McConnell, 2002; Horner et al., 2002). Other studies have found that intensive ABA implemented more than 20 hours per week and begun early in life, prior to the age of 4, produces large gains in development and reduces the need for special services (Smith, 1999).
— Center for Autism and Related Disorders
Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.
— United States Surgeon General

Frequently Asked QuestionS

My child was just diagnosed with ASD. What should I do?

First, understand that a diagnosis isn’t everything. Your child is still the same person they were before the diagnosis, and the label will never change that.

Second, educate yourself. If your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or if ASD is suspected, it is important to act early.  Explore the various treatment modalities available, and talk to professionals who specialize in the field of autism, to help guide your decisions. 

Avoid the "wait and see" approach; the early years are when the brain is most susceptible to change.  Additionally, make sure you seek out scholarly articles that can guide your understanding with facts and research.

How do I get started?

First, complete this form:

Your inquiry will be confidential, and we will use this information to see how we can best assist. Then, our Clinical Director will meet with your family for a free consultation to determine if ABA is the right fit for your needs.

As a licensed Health Care Facility, we do have some insurance providers in the Cayman Islands who will cover ABA therapy services.  Coverage depends on your specific insurance provider and plan, and we will submit for pre-approval from your insurance company before beginning services.

Cayman ABA’s services are currently covered under certain plans with CINICO and Aetna. Additionally, some Cigna International plans cover ABA therapy.

Will my insurance cover ABA services?

I'm not sure if my child needs intervention. How can I find out?

You are always welcome to come in for a free consultation to find out if we’re the right for you!  If you're not sure whether services are right for your child, the best way to find out is to contact us to schedule a free consultation, or to schedule to observe a session.  Our clinicians can provide you with more information, and determine which type of service is appropriate for your child.

At Cayman ABA, we follow the needs of the child.

Therapy sessions will take place in the clinic setting, the child's home, or the child's school, depending on what is determined to be the best environment to work on skills.  During the intake process, we will make recommendations in line with your therapy goals regarding the ideal location for services.

Where does therapy take place?

Is ABA helpful for diagnoses of ASD level 1?

(previously Aspergers/PDD-NOS/High functioning Autism)

At Cayman ABA, we adapt our therapy to meet the individualized needs of each child.  Children and young adults can learn vital social skills, life skills, and emotional regulation skills through ABA. Children with any level of ASD diagnosis can benefit from ABA.

The field of ABA is vast, and ABA has been used to help smokers quit smoking, address personality disorders and relationship counseling, treat obsessive compulsive disorders and even improve workplace productivity. Behavioral principles became a treatment option for autism in the late 1960’s. Studies are available that support the use of ABA programming with children affected by a number of different disabilities including Downs’ Syndrome, CP, Emotional Disorders, General Developmental Delay, etc.

What does research say about ABA Therapy?

Over the past 40 years, a number of peer-reviewed studies have been completed evaluating the effects of using a specific group of ABA techniques in a “comprehensive, individualized, intensive early intervention program for children with autism,” achieving extremely positive results. 

Comprehensive refers to the fact that intervention addressees all types of skills and envelops all developmental domains; Early means that intervention began before the age of four for most children in many of the studies; and Intensive refers to the number of hours per week received by the children (ranges between 25-40 hours per week).

20+ hours a week sounds excessive. Why so many hours?

ABA is different from other treatment approaches in many ways.  One of the most obvious differences is that individual ABA intervention is intensive, and your child may be recommended for 10-30+ hours of therapy per week, depending on their needs.

ABA works because of repetition and practice.  When learning to play basketball, a player has much greater opportunity to develop their skills if they practice often, rather than once per week.  The same theory applies in ABA; skill acquisition occurs as a result of practice and persistence.

We work hard to promote rapid skill acquisition and our goal is always to promote independence, and decrease hours.  But the good news is, the 20 hours involves a LOT of play skills work, and fun sensory breaks, which ensures that your child will have a good work hard play hard balance.

As a parent, do I have the option of training in ABA to better support my child?


The best ABA models are ones that emphasize parent training.  At Cayman ABA, we are huge advocates of parent participation, and will encourage parents to participate in ongoing training so they can teach skills at home and improve consistency and carry over in the ABA treatment plan.


Our Rates

One-time Fees

Initial Assessment (8 hours): …………………………………………………………………………….CI 1,632.00

Skills® Assessment, Functional Behavior Assessment & Program Development of initial treatment plan. This takes approximately 8 hours, and will inform ongoing treatment hours recommendations.

Initial Report (2 hours) ………………………………………………………………………………………CI 224.00

Following the initial assessment, we will provide a written report, describing assessment results and recommendations.

Costs of On-going Treatment

Behavioural Intervention (10-30 hours per week) ………………………………………………………CI 112 per hour

Case Supervision (20% of behavioral intervention hours) ……………………………………………CI 112 per hour

Parent/Caregiver/Teacher training (2 hours per month)……………………………………….…… CI 156 per hour

Additional services may be recommended, through the course of treatment and assessment.

At Cayman ABA, our primary goal is to serve all families in need, including families with limited financial resources. 

Please do not hesitate to contact our Clinical Director to inquire about pro-bono services and the scholarships we offer, in alignment with our commitment to alleviating the financial burden of accessing ABA services. It is our pleasure to help find a way to meet the needs of your family, in any way we can.