How ABA Works on Non-Verbal Children

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

Written by Sakina

Think back to the time you were a child and learning to read and write. Most of us have hazy memories but we remember our parents reading to us from a book, or we remember sitting at a table and learning our words. Regardless, we spent a good chunk of our early childhood learning to read and write. However, most of us have a typical brain and learn through the typical education system. Children with autism are neuro-diverse and require different methods of learning. This is where Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) Therapy comes in.

ABA Therapy is based on using rewards to increase a desired behaviour. In non-verbal children, this is used to encourage them to speak, rather than relying on non-verbal cues.

Non-verbal cues are the building blocks of communication. Just as a baby cries to communicate hunger, a child with autism might make a particular sound or grab your hand to bring you towards food. These small cues are vital and can be used to teach language.

So how does ABA take non-verbal cues and turn them into verbal communication? It all starts with understanding where the child is currently at. Once a baseline has been established, the therapist can create a plan best suited to the child’s needs. The therapist will use Discrete Trial Training (DTT) to teach the child sounds and words. DTT is the method most commonly used, as it aims to encourage a child to start doing a desired action. Upon every successful use of a word/sound or every attempt, a child is rewarded with something they like. Imitation is used in conjunction to help children visualize the word. In addition, pictures are used to start associating words with items and certain acts.

For instance, a child can be taught to use the word “cat” in reference to a pet kept in the house. Though DTT, the child can start to associate the word “cat” with a picture of their cat and instead of pointing at the cat, will be encouraged to use their words to reference it or call to it.

In theory, this all seems plausible, but how effective is it in real life? Since its inception, a lot of research has been done on the effectiveness of ABA. Over the years, research has shown that therapy leads to an increase in IQ, communication skills, daily living skills and socialization with others. ABA has consistently proven and backed by science.

Parents are encouraged to explore this as an option to better help their children. Weigh all the options available in your area and pick the best options suited to your and your family’s needs.


Makrygianni, M. K., Gena, A., Katoudi, S., & Galanis, P. (2018). The effectiveness of applied behavior analytic interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A meta-analytic study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 51(Complete), 18–31.

Meadows, T. (n.d.). DTT: Discrete Trial Teaching. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from

Meadows, T. (n.d.). My ABA Glossary. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from

Peters-Scheffer, N., Didden, R., Korzilius, H., & Sturmey, P. (2011). A meta-analytic study on the effectiveness of comprehensive ABA-based early intervention programs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(1), 60–69.