Applied behavior analysis is important and beneficial for all students. ABA strategies can be used to help all youth learn new skills and improve their quality of life. ABA is becoming more common as a service being provided to children with autism spectrum disorder within many communities. However, one difficulty for children of school-age is that many of them attend public schools where their ABA practitioners are not able to help them to generalize skills and improve their behaviors in that setting.

To help children in their everyday natural environment of being in a school setting, applied behavior analysis (and strategies and concepts found within the field of behavior analysis) should be more present within schools and individualized for each student.

Functional Behavior Assessment

One concept based on behavior analysis is the functional behavior assessment or FBA. An FBA is a federally mandated assessment that schools are legally obligated to complete in certain circumstances. Although their are additional legal details about when and how to provide an FBA, generally speaking, a school must complete an FBA, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, when a student with a disability displays behavior that interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others.

Once an FBA has been completed, an IEP (individualized education plan) and a BIP (behavior intervention plan) will be developed. The BIP is based upon the analysis of the function of the behaviors assessed within the FBA.

If a student has been suspended for more than ten days and it is possible that the reason for this was due to behaviors related to his or her disability, an FBA must be completed (Drasgow & Yell, 2001).

Positive Behavior Supports

Positive behavior supports are based upon research and concepts within applied behavior analysis (APBS). PBS is also mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT (IDEA) in that schools must use PBS to help students improve their behaviors.

“Positive behavior support is a general term that refers to the application of positive behavioral interventions and systems to achieve socially important behavior change (Sugai, Horner, Dunlap, et. al., 2000).” From a PBS approach, behavior interventions are based on the use and interpretation of an FBA.

Consider Setting Events

Rather than only looking at the antecedents and/or consequences of a student’s behavior in the classroom, it may be helpful to consider setting events. Experiences or factors that are more distant to the target behavior may be considered setting events.

Setting events can temporarily change the effectiveness of a reinforcer or punisher which can then change a student’s present behaviors.

Setting events may include things like environmental factors (such as changes in who is in the room or the number of students in the class), physiological factors (such as illness), or social factors (such as things happening at home or problems in relationships with a peer).

To assess setting events, a school staff member (such as a psychologist, counselor, behavior analyst, or teacher) may complete a structural analysis (Killu, 2008).

Use Reinforcement – Not Just Rewards

Schools often have – with great intention – systems in place to reward positive and appropriate behaviors. For instance, some schools create token systems or point systems for all students or sometimes just for certain students who they feel could benefit from this type of intervention.

The problem is that sometimes students are not actually experiencing reinforcement when provided with rewards (such as extra recess, buying something from the class store, or movie day on Friday). School staff can use the ABA concept of reinforcement to increase the targeted behaviors in the student (Killu, 2008).

Consistently Collect Data

ABA emphasizes data collection. Schools can use consistent data collection on the behaviors and skills that they would like to see in students rather than just collecting grades, late arrivals, absences, and homework assignments completed as many schools do as a basic level of data collection to capture a student’s performance (Killu, 2008).

Provide ABA-Based Parent Training

Parent training has been an intervention to help children with disruptive behaviors for many years. The field of ABA has developed ABA as an intervention to help improve child behaviors and skills by helping parents to learn concepts and strategies from an ABA perspective as these types of interventions have been found to be highly effective.

Staff who regularly interact with parents may consider teaching parents a variety of ABA concepts such as using reinforcement, using visual supports, teaching social skills, and much more. Another option is to provide parents with handouts and resources if you are unable to meet with them officially due to time constraints or lack of staff.

Consider the ‘One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum‘ for handouts and guidance through the use of a research-support manual when working with parents in a school setting.

There are many ways to incorporate applied behavior analysis in school settings. This article presented you with some examples including using functional behavior assessments, positive behavior supports, considering setting events, using reinforcement, consistently collecting data, and using ABA-based parent training.


APBS. What is Positive Behavior Supports? Retrieved from:

Drasgow, Erik & Yell, Mitchell. (2001). Functional behavior assessments: Legal requirements and challenges. School Psychology Review. 30. 239-251.

Killu, K. (2008). Developing effective behavior intervention plans: Suggestions for school personnel. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(3), 140-149. Retrieved from

Sugai, G., Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., & al, e. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131. Retrieved from

Please not that this writer is not providing legal or professional advice. Instead, this article is for informational purposes only.