If you’re a newcomer to ABA or if you’ve been hanging around behavior analysts for a while, you’ve probably noticed that BCBAs love the ABCs!  Making sense of the alphabet soup can sometimes get quite confusing…so enter Interact Therapy Services’ primer on the ABCs of ABA.

Our third installment in this series is “C”…for Consequences.


What do you think of when you hear “consequences”?  If you are like most people, your first thought is “punishments”.  And that association is something that behavior analysts battle frequently.

Last time, we discussed the three-term contingency, which is ABA’s unit of behavior.  The three-term contingency consists of antecedent, behavior and consequence.  We’ve already spoken about antecedents and behavior, so today’s conversation is all about consequences.

“Consequence”, according to the Oxford Dictionary is “the result or effect of an action or condition”.  Behavior analysis feels the same way.  The result of anyone’s behavior is a consequence.  Consequences can be either good, bad or neutral—they are simply what happens right after a behavior.


Here are some examples of consequences that happen to everyone all the time:

I put my car key into the ignition and my car roars to life.  (The car turning on is a consequence of putting the car key into the ignition).

Mary eats a snack and the hunger pangs in her stomach subside. (Hunger pangs subsiding is a consequence of eating a snack.)

Taylor doesn’t look where he is going and steps on a piece of LEGO—ouch! (Stepping on a piece of LEGO is a consequence of not looking where you’re going.)

Mr. Daniels comes an hour late to work. His boss docks him an hour of pay. (Losing an hour of pay is a consequence of coming an hour late to work.)


The science of operant conditioning tells us that the consequence of a behavior is the single most important factor if a behavior will or will not happen again.   All humans will avoid pain and seek pleasure whenever possible. If a behavior will generate a painful outcome, it is unlikely that a person will engage in that behavior again.  Similarly, if a behavior will result in a desired or pleasurable outcome, it is likely that a person will engage in that behavior again. 

In the examples above:

I’m pretty likely to try putting my key in the ignition the next time I need to use my car; after all, every time I need to use my car, using the key is what makes it work! 

Next time Mary is hungry, she’ll know to eat a snack.  Repeated experiences of satiation after eating will make this behavior so ingrained that Mary will automatically head off towards the kitchen whenever she feels hungry. 

Now that Taylor has experienced the searing pain of stepping on a piece of LEGO, he is much more likely to walk cautiously around his house…especially when LEGO is scattered about. He doesn’t want that to happen again.

Mr. Daniels will make sure to get to work on time tomorrow (and hopefully many days after that) because losing pay is painful.


Consequences can fall into two categories: reinforcement and punishment.  Reinforcement is any consequence that makes a behavior MORE likely to happen in the future.  Punishment is any consequence that makes a behavior LESS likely to happen in the future.  Sometimes, in the moment, it is hard to tell if a behavior has been reinforced or punished.  The only way to know for sure is to wait and see.  Reinforcement most likely happened if the behavior continues to occur. Punishment probably was in effect if the behavior doesn’t happen again.  In the examples above, Mary and I had behaviors that were most likely reinforced, while Taylor and Mr. Daniels had behaviors that were most likely punished.  However, everyone is different and there is no way to promise that something will be a reinforcement or punishment—until we see for ourselves!

Consequence-based strategies are always part of a well-designed behavior intervention plan. Consequences are what give skill acquisition and behavior reduction their lasting power.  Behavior analysts are ethically obligated to always try reinforcement-based strategies first. However, careful and sparing use of punishment can be a powerful behavior-change tool, too.  A top-notch BCBA, such as the incredible professionals at Interact Therapy Services, is highly skilled at creating the most ethical and effective behavior plans.


Enrolling your child with a trusted ABA therapy agency such as Interact Therapy Services can help them maximize the strengths and minimize the challenges that are part of an ASD life.  ABA therapy is the gold-standard in helping individuals with ASD and their families live their best lives.  At Interact Therapy Services, we carefully select all staff for their professionalism, expertise, and understanding of families and children.

At Interact Therapy Services, we offer in-home ABA therapy services to children and their families.  Our caring and committed professionals will work together with you to teach your child the skills that they need to progress and succeed.

To find out more about Interact Therapy Services, call 732.806.0804 for a free no-obligation phone consultation.  We look forward to helping you and your child!

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