Common Misconceptions

ABA and discrete trials are one and the same

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a method of teaching. It is just one method utilized in the field of Behavior Analysis. This technique breaks a skill up into teachable parts that are presented individually.

This tends to be the most popular method associated with young children and ABA programs, which may be why it is commonly misunderstood.

The best way to think of it: discrete trials is ABA but ABA is not discrete trials.

ABA focuses on heavy use of punishment procedures

BM Photo 1 The exact opposite is true! A vast body of research supports the fact that reinforcement-based interventions are the most successful and long lasting interventions. For this reason, the focus always remains heavy on the use of reinforcement and pointing out the “good behavior.”

ABA is only effective for individuals with autism

ABA is effective for increasing or decreasing behavior. That behavior can come from an individual with or without disabilities. The behavior of typically developing staff or caregivers is improved through the same methods that are utilized with a 5-year-old who has autism. Behavior is behavior.

For example, there is a huge surge of research and application recently to utilizing ABA in the corporate world to increase productivity and employee job satisfaction. The field of Geriatrics is studying the application of ABA to increase quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases. ABA techniques have also been applied to social issues such as littering and smoking cessation.

ABA is only for “bad” behavior

Again, ABA is for behavior – good or bad, behavior is behavior. There tends to be a negative connotation associated with the word, implying that the field only works to decrease bad behavior. The process of increasing “good” behavior is just as pertinent as decreasing “bad” behavior.

ABA produces robots

I will go so far as to say this: Bad ABA can produce robots. I have seen first hand very well-intentioned teams produce very robotic behavior.

It is important that if you want a quality program for your loved one that you choose a certified individual to oversee and design your programs. Individuals with a certification through the Behavior Analysis Certification Board ( are held to high ethical, professional, and continuing education standards. An individual who does not hold board certification is not required to remain up to date on the field.

A secure knowledge of the field paired with ongoing analysis of learner data is essential to maintain a meaningful program. This is one reason so much training and team communication occurs for technicians at Tobenski Behavior Analysis Services, Inc. Training not only occurs at the onset of working with a new learner but continues through the use of team meetings and direct supervision by a BCBA or BCaBA.

ABA uses M&M’s to make kids behave

To be quite honest, it may. If the learner will do absolutely anything for an M&M, this will be referred to as a “highly preferred reinforcer.” If the learner will work for a high five, that will be considered a highly preferred item. If the learner will work for a 3 minute break, breaks will be considered a highly preferred item.

It is all based on what is reinforcing to the individual. Typically, edibles and toys are considered “primary” reinforcement and are used in the new presentation of a difficult or disliked task. A quality program will utilize an M&M to motivate the learner initially and then quickly fade to a more appropriate social reinforcer, such as a high five or a “good job!”

I will not lie: I have used many an M&M in my time. However, it is very unlikely that your boss will hand you an M&M at 35-years-old when you show up for work on time. For this reason, there are many other more appropriate reinforcers that would certainly evolve from the simple M&M.

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