Exploring ABA Therapy: Inside a Typical Session - Cultivate Behavioral Health & Education - ABA Therapy Learning ABA

Every ABA therapy session is tailored to the individual needs of the child and focuses on improving specific behaviors, skills, and overall development. While sessions can vary based on the child’s goals, preferences, and challenges, below is an outline of what a usual ABA therapy session may look like:

The Start of Session & Pairing

ABA therapy for children usually starts with a warm welcome from their team of behavior technicians (BTs) and Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). They usually begin with a morning routine: removing jackets (if applicable) and backpacks and placing their lunch/snack/water in their cubbies. Once settled in, the therapist takes time for pairing. Pairing in ABA therapy refers to the process of building a positive and strong relationship between a therapist and a child, particularly at the beginning of their interaction. It involves creating a favorable and enjoyable experience for the child, establishing trust and rapport, and associating the therapist’s presence with fun and positive activities. The goal of pairing is to make the therapist a preferred and motivating figure in the child’s eyes, which in turn enhances the child’s willingness to engage in learning and therapy activities. This creates a comfortable and motivating atmosphere for learning, setting the tone for the entire session.

Navigating Discrete Trial Training vs. Natural Environment Training

The heart of the session is dedicated to skill-building activities. Depending on the child’s individual needs, the therapists either utilize Discrete Trial Training (DTT) or Natural Environment Training (NET). Discrete trial training is a faster pace of learning where a few trials of skill acquisition are presented more repetitively to increase skills. Natural environment training involves teaching skills and promoting behavior change within the context of the child’s natural environment and everyday activities. Unlike more structured teaching methods like DTT, which often takes place in a controlled setting, NET takes advantage of real-life situations and interactions to facilitate learning. These two techniques go hand in hand and create a learning environment to help clients maintain their skills, generalize them, and learn new ones. 


The principle of positive reinforcement is integral to ABA therapy to increase desirable behaviors. As the child engages in skill work, they are rewarded for demonstrating desired behaviors. These reinforcements can be verbal praise, access to preferred toys or activities, tokens within a token system, or other incentives that motivate the child to continue engaging in positive behaviors – e.g. a child requests to play with Legos. The therapist may verbally praise the child for using their words in communicating and introduce a few skill acquisition goals (i.e., touch your head, where is the truck?), and then the reinforcement (Legos) will be delivered to the child. This will likely increase the response of the child.

Reinforcement variables also include how valuable a reinforcement could be, the effort it takes to respond to receive the reinforcement, and the magnitude of desirability and immediacy of the reinforcement as to how quickly the child may gain access to their reinforcers during ABA therapy.

Lunch, Social Skills, & Circle Time

During lunchtime, children often eat lunch in groups with their peers and therapists. Objectives are often made during lunchtime to target goals related to eating habits and tidying up.

Throughout the day, social skills are integrated into various activities. For instance, children might collectively engage in games like ‘red light-green light’ to promote interaction and cooperation. Another daily feature is circle time, held during therapy sessions, which fosters group learning and facilitates peer interaction. This period often involves music, a component that resonates with many children and actively engages them.

ABA principles are seamlessly woven into these activities—whether it’s lunch, social skills practice, or circle time—enabling children to enhance their learning experiences and mirror real-world interactions they may encounter beyond the therapy sessions.

Ending the day & Parent/Caregiver Collaboration

Cultivate employs a block scheduling approach in which clients work with a single therapist for a specific period before transitioning to another therapist. As a session or day draws to a close, this transition often includes revisiting the pairing process. Therapists aim to wrap up the session on a positive note, ensuring that the conclusion feels enjoyable. This might involve engaging in a seamless wrap-up routine, such as packing up backpacks and preparing to head home.

In some cases, ABA therapy extends beyond the therapy room to involve parents and caregivers. They are trained to implement strategies and interventions at home, ensuring the child’s progress is consistent and extends into their everyday life. Therapists might provide feedback to parents or caregivers about the session’s progress. They may also discuss plans for future goals and strategies, ensuring a cohesive and coordinated approach to the child’s development.

*A day of ABA therapy viewpoint provided by Hera Akhter, Registered Behavior Technician*