Understanding ABA Strategies for Every Classroom

Insights from a teacher turned behaviour analyst 

As an educator with a rich background in teaching, I’ve come to understand that the foundation of optimal learning outcomes lies in the strength of the relationships with students. My journey into joining the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) was unexpected; I found myself naturally applying its strategies long before I formally stepped into the field. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of ABA in shaping behavior, fostering growth, and creating positive learning environments. It’s a common misconception that ABA is exclusive to certified therapists or special education settings. In reality, the principles of behaviour analysis can significantly enhance any educational environment, from mainstream schools to kindergartens. In this blog post, I’ll share my personal experiences, insights, and the impact of ABA in educational settings.

ABA is not a tool reserved solely for learners with special needs; it is a versatile approach that can help to manage, improve, or reduce behaviours across all children in the learning environment. Teachers are all too familiar with the daily challenges posed by learners engaging in behaviours of concern—be it difficulty with transitions, disruptive outbursts, or resistance to instruction. Such behaviours can disrupt the classroom dynamic, impede learning opportunities and ultimately reduce classroom engagement and affect academic performance.

Implementing ABA strategies within the classroom offers a wide range of benefits for everyone. It can reduce student and teacher stress, strengthen a teacher’s control over the learning environment and cultivate stronger, more meaningful relationships. ABA empowers educators to create a supportive and effective learning atmosphere where students can thrive.

When teachers take the time to determine the motivations behind a student’s behaviour, control reinforcement and consequences and shape a conducive classroom atmosphere, they can significantly support both student learning and behaviour. So, how can a teacher incorporate ABA to effect positive behaviour change in the classroom?

Foster a Positive Learning Environment

Proactive strategies enable educators to enhance positive outcomes for their learners. Behaviours of concern can significantly hinder students’ classroom learning experiences, the good news is that ABA offers a really strong framework for addressing these issues. By grasping the specifics of behaviour motivation, reinforcement, and consequences, teachers can foster a positive and supportive learning environment. Some strategies that encourage “good” behaviours include:

  • Visual routines which help create consistency and predictability, for example, visual cues such as a daily schedule to guide learners throughout the day.
  • Positive feedback is a great way to encourage and acknowledge learners’ efforts, for example, say; “Great job coming to the table so quickly!” or “I appreciate you 
  • contributing to our class discussion!”. A simple “Well done”, “Great work” or “Thank you” can go a long way.
  • Rewards for students are a great way to motivate “good” behaviours and reinforce those positive behaviors teachers want to see more of. Some effective reinforcement ideas in the classroom include;
    • extra play time
    • being given the opportunity to line up and be the line leader
    • Allocating special roles like being the class helper or having a specific responsibility during class activities. 
    • Many classrooms nowadays also employ apps such as “ClassDojo”, where students earn points based on different behaviours such as engagement, effort and completing activities. 


Utilize Reinforcement Techniques

ABA’s approach to behaviour management and skill acquisition is instrumental in academic success. It involves breaking down complex tasks into manageable steps and utilising positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviours. Some examples of desirable behaviours are listed. We need to clearly explain these to our learners in a way they will understand. Remember, autism sometimes means that people don’t read body language the way neurotypical people do. So we may need to explicitly teach this. Each of the examples below provides a specific behaviour that can be objectively observed: 

  • Raising hand (do this before asking a question or making a comment)
  • Waiting for a turn (sitting quietly and remaining at the game while a peer has their turn)
  • Sharing with friends (when an item is requested by a peer, the student shares the item)

The reinforcement could be in the form of rewards or praise, such as stickers, verbal praise, high-fives, dojo points or extra playtime. Using these reinforcement strategies nurtures a supportive classroom atmosphere. 

A prime example of this in action is the “bucket point system,” where learners earn points for exhibiting positive behaviours, such as cooperation, punctuality, and adherence to instructions. Filling their “bucket” leads to a delightful reward, such as a class dance party to a favorite song.

Establish Clear Expectations and Routines

Consistency is key in behavior management. Clearly defined rules and routines, reinforced by visual prompts and engaging lessons, help students understand expectations and reduce disruptive behaviors.

Providing extra motivation for the “good” stuff gets students to practice the things we want to see more of, they get better at it and it becomes easier. We can do other things to help too. For example, a visual prompt on the classroom door to remind learners to line up quietly. 

Creating a conducive learning environment is key to the implementation of effective behavioural strategies. Here are a few of those strategies that have proven successful in classrooms, using these techniques we can make it easier for students to do well:

  • Consistency and Clarity with Rules: Establishing a behaviour contract at the beginning of the year, co-created by the teacher and student, ensuring that expectations are transparent and agreed upon, increasing the likelihood of adherence. Here is a recommended resource:
  • Securing Student Attention: Retaining attention-grabbing techniques ensures that learners are focused and ready to receive instructions or engage in discussions about behaviour. For example, the teacher will say “waterfall” and the learners will respond with a waterfall sound, when the teacher says “macaroni and cheese” and learners will respond by putting their pencils down and say “everybody freeze!” or the teacher may say “hands on top” and the learners will respond with “that means stop”. Another great example is the classic “Simon says” game, for example, when the teacher says “Simon says touch your nose” and the learners follow her instructions. This way they know to stop their activity and listen to the next instruction. 
  • Establishing Routine: A consistent routine, reinforced by visual schedules, provides a sense of security and sets learners up for success. This can help to make transitions run more smoothly.
  • Engaging Lessons: Incorporating varied teaching methods and integrating learners’ interests keeps them motivated and reduces the likelihood of disruptive behaviour. For example, incorporate multiple senses into teaching and make learning fun! This way learners retain information better such as  by including visuals, charts, writing checklist, role-play, music, videos, dance or interactive games etc. Where possible include learner’s interests, hobbies or favourite topics. For example, if a student loves animals, create a lesson around wildlife conservation or create a visual schedule where the Lion moves up and down the daily schedule.
  • Review Learning Plans and Use a One Pager: Have you reviewed the student’s learning plan closely and spent some time really thinking if these goals are appropriate for that individual student’s success? Can it be improved? Is there too much in it? It can be helpful to ask the parent to provide a one pager to share with other staff such as CRTs, LSOs so we are all across our learners’ individual needs. We want to make sure our whole team can help our learner be set up for success on any day. For example, setting clear expectations on goals, regularly reviewing them to ensure they align with the learning goals, need and progress.
  • Visual Prompts: Use schedules that outline the activities of the day or pictures to remind kids to do certain things. For example, a picture of children lining up at the door. 


Adaptation and Flexibility

Recognizing and adapting to individual learning styles and needs fosters an inclusive environment. Strategies like visual supports, differentiated teaching methods, and collaborative learning approaches cater to diverse student needs.

While not every behaviour needs intervention, the strategic application of ABA in the classroom is undeniably beneficial. Persistence and consistency in behaviour support plans often give impressive transformations. Setting realistic expectations and adopting a proactive and preventative action are crucial for successful implementation. By understanding student motivations, delivering reinforcement effectively, and adapting the classroom environment, educators can create a positive and supportive atmosphere conducive to learning. For example, Sam often engages in disruptive behaviour during maths, antecedent and consequence strategies are:

  • Visuals: Use visual supports like visual schedules, visual cues, or visual timers to help Sam understand expectations and transitions during math activities.
  • Get some momentum going: Start with easy tasks or preferred activities before transitioning to more challenging math tasks. This builds momentum and increases Sam’s engagement.
  • Shared decision making: Involve Sam in decision-making. For instance, let him choose the math activity or the order of tasks.
  • Environmental Modifications: Adjust the classroom environment. Ensure it’s organized, clutter-free, and conducive to learning math.
  • First and then approach: Present a non-preferred maths activity that Samneeds to complete. For example, you might start with a worksheet or a specific maths problem. Then immediately transition to a fun game or preferred activity as motivation. This reinforces Sam’s engagement and cooperation during the less preferred task.


The Collaborative Approach to ABA Implementation

In the dynamic landscape of education, implementing ABA strategies certainly “takes a village”. It is a collaborative effort involving teachers, parents, specialists, and students themselves. Open communication and shared responsibility ensure that interventions are tailored to each learner’s unique needs, promoting a supportive and inclusive learning environment.  This collaborative process is crucial to the shared goal of setting each learner up for success. It also helps teachers share responsibility, which can support them from feeling overwhelmed. Collaboration involves actively working together. It fosters a holistic approach to education, addressing diverse needs and perspectives. The importance of working together cannot be overstressed, as it is through unity and cooperation that we can truly unlock the potential of every learner.


The role of communication in this collaborative effort is critical. Open communication between educators, learners, and parents creates a foundation of trust and understanding. It ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the objectives and methods being implemented. This transparency is vital in customising ABA strategies to meet the unique needs of each learner, thereby maximising their chances for success.


Patience is another quality that cannot be overlooked when implementing changes in the classroom. Change, by its very nature, can be challenging and may not always see immediate results. It is very easy to become frustrated! It requires time, persistence, and a willingness to adapt as the process unfolds. While there’s no instant fix, consistent observation and data collection allow us to modify and adjust our strategies and interventions. By tracking progress and monitoring behaviour to ensure our supports are effective, we can create meaningful and lasting improvements. Educators must be patient, not only with their students but also with themselves, as they navigate the complexities of behaviour modification and skill development. Patience is key in education, especially when implementing behavior modification strategies but requires less effort in the long run. For example: 

  • Clear Expectations: Taking the time to establish clear expectations and routines pays off. When students know what’s expected of them, disruptions decrease. For example, when Tommy knows when it is group time he needs to raise his hand, cross his legs, keep his hands in his lap and listen attentively.
  • Consistent Reinforcement: Consistency in reinforcing positive behavior saves effort in the long run. Regular praise, tokens, or rewards maintain motivation. For example, Complimenting Sam when he answers correctly or participates actively. Giving Sam a sticker or stamp for good work or behaviour. These consistent reinforcement reinforce positive habits.

The journey of incorporating ABA techniques is one of gradual progress and refinement. It is about celebrating small victories and learning from the setbacks. The collective patience of all stakeholders is essential, as it fosters a nurturing environment where learners feel supported and encouraged to grow.

The ultimate goal of integrating ABA strategies is to create a learning environment that is not only effective but also inclusive and supportive. This goal is best achieved when everyone involved is committed to working together, communicating openly, and exercising patience. Change may not be easy, but the long-term benefits—enhanced learning experiences, improved behaviours, and academic success—make the effort well worth it.

Shared responsibility

The successful implementation of ABA in educational settings is a testament to the power of collaboration, communication, and patience. It is a reminder that when we work together with a focus on setting up learners for success, we can overcome challenges and effect meaningful change. For example, when the teacher, parents and therapist come together and work on shared goals, for example, how to get the learner to participate in class activities or how to manage behaviours where the learner needs to wait their turn. When everyone knows what behaviours are targeted, everyone involved knows how to respond. For example, when the behaviour of a learner is targeted for waiting their turn the teacher reinforces waiting behavior during group activities, parents practice waiting at home, and the therapist provides individualised strategies such as playing rock, paper scissors or sitting on hands while waiting. As educators, our role is to guide and support our learners through this process, ensuring that each step taken is a step towards a brighter, more fulfilling educational journey for all.

Embracing empathy and understanding

The significance of empathy and understanding cannot be overstated for the student at school. As educators, it is crucial to recognise that behaviours which turn from the norm can be confusing and may challenge our preconceived ideas of what is considered appropriate. The learner may exhibit behaviours that, on the surface, seem puzzling or disruptive, but are in fact appearances of their unique ways of interacting and communicating with the world.

Understanding learner’s needs

The non-visible nature of certain disabilities adds a layer of complexity to the educational experience, both for the learner and the educator. It is essential to approach these challenges with a sense of empathy, striving to understand the student’s perspective and the underlying factors contributing to their behaviour. This empathetic approach enables educators to see beyond the behaviour itself and to appreciate the individual’s needs and potential.

Celebrate differences 

Recognising that each learner brings a distinct personality and set of experiences to the classroom underscores the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just as personalities vary regardless of environment, so too do the needs and responses of learners with additional needs. Educators must adopt their strategies to accommodate differences, ensuring that supports are as individualised as the learners themselves.

Incorporating empathy and understanding into our teaching practices demands that we make concerted efforts to see the world through our learners’ eyes. Maybe it is irritating that our learner is slow to transition and gets lost between rooms. Try to imagine how they feel in this moment and with the challenges they face in their everyday lives. We live in a world where people are often stressed, especially really hard working, time poor teachers. Our positive mindsets and kindness alone can make a world of difference, not just for the learner but also for their parents who are likely very concerned for their child at school.

We can craft an educational approach that not only addresses behavioural concerns but also honours the characteristics, dignity and worth of each learner. Empathy is not only a philosophical ideal; it is a practical necessity that informs the development of effective, compassionate, and respectful ABA interventions.

Be open to learn in a new way

The path to achieving the best outcomes for all learners is with patience, collaboration, and a deep-seated empathy that recognises the diversity of human experience. As educators, our commitment to understanding each learner’s unique journey is a testament to our dedication to their success. By embracing the complexities of neurodiversity with an open heart and mind, we can create a learning environment that is not only adaptive and responsive but also inclusive and empowering for every student we have the privilege to teach.

When you are feeling stressed, annoyed, frustrated and overwhelmed remember that even a kind approach can make a huge difference. Take a breath. Remember, these are challenges our learners will face every minute of their lives. If you feel like you could have done better at the end of the day, that is ok, be kind to yourself as well, reflection allows us to make changes and new plans for a new day. 



Sune’ van Aswegen M.Ed (ABA), CBA

Program Supervisor

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