What Does an ABA Session Look Like?

What Does an ABA Session Look Like?

As covered in our very first blog post, Applied Behavior Analysis in Simple Terms, ABA can be thought of as a method of making changes to the environment to help promote learning. In yet another post, What Do ABA Therapists Do, some basic procedures that are used during one-on-one ABA sessions were introduced. Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) and Natural Environment Teaching (NET) are common skill-building techniques used in ABA sessions, but how does that translate to what a session might look like for you or a family member from start to finish? In this post, Waypoints Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Kiersten Tallant outlines common components of sessions with us.

a child laughing while holding up painted hands

ABA Sessions at Waypoints

The truth is, every ABA session will look different. Sessions are made up of programs (lessons), and each program is individualized to promote daily living skills significant to the client. Sessions can take place in a variety of settings; at-home sessions are common, but other possible settings may include sibling sporting events, the store during errands, afterschool activities, etc. A variety of individuals might be present as well, such as visiting family members or people in community settings.

This flexibility helps to produce new teaching opportunities and further learning. Even though there is no single answer to what exactly a session will look like, there are some elements that you can expect in every session with Waypoints.


Each client is their own unique individual, and their programs should be tailored to them. Every session will have several programs to target behaviors that are socially significant to the client themselves.

An example of this could be working on building up tolerance to engage in less-preferred tasks. We all have to do things that we’d rather not sometimes, like homework, chores, or exercising. A program targeting this goal would involve first identifying what the less-preferred tasks are, figuring out why they are less-preferred so that they can be made easier or more pleasant if possible, and then gradually working on tolerating the tasks a few minutes at a time. This would also likely include practice with coping skills and self-advocacy in the form of asking for a break or requesting help.

The point of a program like this is not just tolerating unpleasant things for the sake of it – it would be based on exactly what the client themself wants and needs to learn to work through!


Autonomy means the “right or condition to self-government.” This one is key. The client always has the right to choose to participate in sessions and individual programs, and in no way should the client be forced or pressured to do something that is uncomfortable for them or that they do not value. The Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts specifies that assent is “vocal or nonvocal verbal behavior that can be taken to indicate willingness to participate.” If a client does not assent to a given program, the behavior analyst and other members of the client’s care team are responsible for adjusting procedures to be more acceptable.

At Waypoints, we highly prioritize pairing (see below) to build rapport with clients and maintain open lines of communication about program preferences. In order to help make difficult programs more enjoyable and easier to work on, we almost always utilize reinforcement in the form of favorite snacks, playing together, and praise and feedback to build motivation for participation.


Pairing is relationship-building. To establish the relationship between an ABA practitioner and client, we always start out by focusing on things and activities the client enjoys, like playing together and talking about their interests. This gives the practitioner a chance to get to know the client while building rapport with one another.

What we learn about each other during pairing also allows us to individualize programs based on the client’s interests and goals, and also makes it clearer how the client prefers to communicate about their wants and needs.

When a client begins ABA services, several sessions may be spent exclusively on pairing, until good trust and understanding is built up. Afterward, continued pairing will still take place throughout at least part of every session.

Real-Life Goals and Applications

As briefly noted above, Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is making use of the client’s natural environment to implement programs and enhance learning. Using NET, Waypoints practitioners incorporate the client’s likes and interests into clinical programs, making learning something to look forward to.

For example, if a client was working on the daily independent living skill of picking out clothes and getting dressed, we wouldn’t just repeatedly practice putting on different clothes at random. Utilizing NET, we might check the weather together or go outside to figure out the temperature, discuss the activities of the day to determine how casual or fancy an outfit should be, and then talk about anything else that might influence the choice. Real-life motivation for practicing skills like independently tying shoes, zipping up a jacket, or buttoning a shirt might be taking a walk or playing outside without getting too chilly!

Some skills that may start out being learned via Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) with flashcards in a more traditional learning setting at a desk can also be transferred to NET, which is always our goal at Waypoints. While it might be easiest starting to learn to label colors on simple flash cards or objects, eventually real-life application of simple skills like that are what really matter. NET in that case could involve practicing colors by asking a client, “What color crayon do you want to draw with?” or “Wow, I love your shirt today, what color is it?” or “Did you see that car that just drove by? What color was it?”

What Would ABA Sessions Look Like for You?

Thank you, Kiersten, for this helpful walkthrough of important parts of ABA sessions at Waypoints!

On average, clients at Waypoints participate in ABA sessions for about 15 hours per week, with an average session length of 3 ½ hours. Specific programs are based on initial assessment results and direct input from clients and their family members. Sessions typically involve a high rate of learning opportunities, but with the use of NET in particular, those learning opportunities often don’t look like they would in a traditional school setting!

If you have any questions about how your goals could be pursued in ABA sessions, or would like to talk more about whether ABA services would be right for you or your family member, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@waypoints.life.

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Whether you’re looking for diagnostic testing, one-on-one in-home ABA therapy and skill-building resources, or simply want to learn more about our unique approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out! (We love getting mail.)

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