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Practical ABA: A Review From ASAT!

Reviewed by Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Kirstyn Mazza, MS, RBT
Hunter College

The supervision of many professionals in the fields of education and therapy is often required of Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), and it is important that BCBAs use proven strategies to supervise and train others, so that time and resources are used effectively. Supervision of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) and Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA) is an important part of the role that Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) play in providing effective treatment for clients in educational settings or private practice. Additionally, in a school setting, BCBAs may be called upon to train colleagues who may have little background knowledge of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), such as therapists providing related services, educators, or paraprofessionals (Forte, et al, 2018).

The BACB’s Supervisor Training Curriculum Outline (2.0) (BACB, 2019) directs us to use behavior-analytic strategies and evidence-based practices, such as Behavior Skills Training (BST) in supervision. Yet, BCBAs may not receive explicit training in using BST as supervisors and might lack experience understanding prerequisite skills and operationalizing items on the task list (Sellers, et al., 2016).

To fill this need, Sam Blanco, PhD, BCBA, LBA and Val Demiri, PhD, BCBA, LBA have created Practical ABA, a series of thematically linked training modules designed to target specific critical clinical skills by providing a user-friendly training format with embedded progress measurement. As experienced supervisors, Blanco’s and Demiri’s goal was to design a teaching tool that can be used in multiple environments and provide a structure for supervisors to guide supervisees in developing new skills.

Individual skill sets include components that are designed to guide the supervisor in using evidence-based practices within supervisory sessions. Incorporating the elements of BST (Parson et al., 2012) each skill is targeted in a set of steps used consistently throughout the module. The supervisee reads through the scenario and completes the Applying the Principle worksheet prior to the session. During the training session, the supervisor models the skill, referring to both the scenario and the suggested journal articles. The supervisee is observed implementing the strategy and the rubric is used to provide corrective feedback. Goals are then set for the next session. Supervisors are encouraged to focus on only one or two skills at a time and to provide individualized reinforcement for mastery, maintenance, and generalization of these skills.

Each scenario is comprised of four sections. The Before section identifies problems that can arise if a strategy is not conducted effectively. The Why section explains why the lack of treatment integrity may be negatively impacting progress for the client. The How section offers suggestions for the supervisee on how to adjust their behavior during sessions. The After section recounts the session described in the Before section but with the improvements added and an example of how the improvement in the supervisee’s behavior positively impacted the situation described in the Before section.  The accompanying data sheet and rubric make tracking supervisee progress more efficient and includes space for setting goals for next sessions, and for any additional comments that may be needed. Suggested articles from peer reviewed journals that are directly related to the individual skill are included, which ensures that the conceptualization of the targeted skill is based in applied behavior theory. Not only does this save the supervisor the time it would take to identify articles, but it also provides a starting point for further research should the supervisor decide to ask the supervisee to conduct research on the concept.

Practical ABA: Instructional Strategies

The skills targeted in this module focus on strategies that are critical to learner success in discrete trial instruction and natural environment teaching.

Skills targeted in Practical ABA: Instructional Strategies are:

  • Use Fast Pace of Instruction
  • Vary the SD
  • Use High-P/Low-P Sequences
  • Conduct Maintenance Trials
  • Ensure Treatment Integrity (Part 1)
  • Interrupt Early in a Behavior Chain (Part 1)
  • Use Natural Environment Teaching
  • Consistently Implement Augmentative & Alternative Communication

Practical ABA: Data Collection

This second module focuses on the development of data collection skills that are critical to our commitment to making data-based decisions to guide educational and behavioral interventions. Top of Form

The skills covered in Practical ABA: Data Collection are:

  • Collecting Data Immediately
  • Collecting Frequency/Rate Data
  • Collecting Interval Data
  • Collecting Duration Data
  • Collecting ABC Data
  • Collecting Baseline Data
  • Write Informative Session Notes

Coming Soon! Practical ABA: Pairing and Reinforcement Strategies:

The third module in the series targets skills related to the broader topic of providing effective treatment to clients. Pairing and the effective use of differential reinforcement are integral to skill acquisition and maintenance. The skills covered in Practical ABA: Pairing and Reinforcement Strategies are:

  • Pairing
  • Immediate Reinforcement of Target Behaviors
  • Increase Reinforcer Repertoire
  • Use Schedules of Reinforcement Appropriately
  • Conduct a Preference Assessment
  • Provide Differential Reinforcement (Part 1)

Look for upcoming Module 3 on the Different Roads to Learning website.

The modules’ components provide a structure that incorporates multiple opportunities for the supervisor and supervisee to have a productive conversation about an individual skill as the supervisor assesses the supervisee’s performance in the instructional strategy. The design of the skill sets guides the supervisor in providing corrective and supportive feedback, which can aid in improving performance of the skill.

The descriptions of the targeted skills have clear, concise, and detailed instructions for supervisees to follow.  While working through the skill sets in the Modules both the supervisor and the supervisee are using behavior analytic-based strategies to assess current level of performance, while collaborating in the development of interventions necessary to improve performance. The ease of documenting improvement may contribute to increased engagement from the supervisees as they see their progress in meeting goals, and the resulting benefits during their one-to-one sessions with clients.

One strength of Practical ABA is that it creates a structure in which the supervisor and supervisee work as a team to further skill development. This is accomplished by two key components of the modules. The first is the Applying the Principle tracking sheet which asks the supervisee to list obstacles currently faced related to the skill and how they could be addressed, why the skill is important in the client’s program, and suggestions for how progress could be monitored. Responses to the questions on the Applying the Principle worksheet give the supervisor a sense of the supervisee’s understanding of important behavior concepts and how they are best applied in this case. The second component is the short scenario that opens each skill development set. By beginning the supervisory session with a discussion about the scenario, the supervisor and supervisee are engaged in a neutral conversation about an important skill, a conversation in which the two can openly discuss plans to further skill development that is not focused on the supervisee’s missteps or failings.Bottom of Form

Practical ABA is available as a digital download on the Different Roads to Learning website. Drs. Blanco and Demiri are currently working on Module 3, devoted to Professional and Ethical Behavior, which will be available from Different Roads to Learning in the coming months.


Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2019). Supervisor training curriculum outline (2.0). Author.

Forte, S., Dorsey, M. F., Weiss, M. J., Palmieri, M. J., & Powers, M. D. (2018). Exploring issues of generalization and maintenance in training instructional aides in a public school. Journal of Behavioral Education 27(4), 435-460.

Parson, M. B., Rollyson, J. H., & Reid, D. H. (2012). Evidence-based staff training: A guide for practitioners. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5(2), 2-11

Sellers, T. P., Valentino, A. L., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2016). Recommended practices for individual supervision of aspiring behavior analysts.  Behavior Analysis in Practice, 9(4), 274-286.

Citation for this article:

McKenna, K., & Mazza, K. (2021). Review of Practical ABAScience in Autism Treatment, 18(7).