Join Pyramid US Clinical Director, Catherine Horton, MS, CCC-SLP, BCBA, as she debunks common myths associated with the science of Applied Behavior Analysis.

In recent months, unfounded and often illogical criticisms regarding the science of behavior analysis have dominated various social media platforms. As an extreme example, some report that the entire field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is abusive and should be avoided at all costs. As with any practice, there are cases that involve misapplication of the science of behavior analysis. And, sadly, there are cases of abuse within all educational fields. But, to negate the contributions of such an important science that ultimately improves the lives of a vast number of individuals is worrisome. At Pyramid, we have always taken a thoughtful and ethical approach to the implementation of behavior analysis with independent, skilled and happy individuals as the primary focus of all of our lessons and activities. To dispel some of the inaccuracies associated with ABA, myths are listed and contrasted with factual and practical examples of how professionals ethically implement the science of behavior analysis through incorporation of the Pyramid Approach to Education.


Discrete trials are essentially defined as short, repeatable lesson formats in which three parts of the lesson are identified. (1) What happens before the behavior?, (2) What is the actual skill/behavior? and (3) What happens after the behavior? As an example, someone (1) asks the learner “What’s the weather like today?”; (2) the learner responds with, “It’s sunny” and (3) the teacher then says, “Yes, it’s sunny and warm outside today!” Discrete lessons happen within all educational settings. At Pyramid, we’ve always recommended that educators carefully consider repetition of the discrete trial lessons. Sometimes, one and done is a powerful approach and the same question need not be excessively repeated. Repetition is a function of the context of the lesson, not the need to take data.


Bribery and the use of reinforcement systems are quite different. No one says, “My boss bribed me to do work today” – if that was the case, you’d likely not be employed for long! Rather, employees are paid for a job completed, time at work and/or other negotiated factors. At Pyramid, we believe that what’s good for us, is good for our learners! As such, we parallel our reinforcement systems with the contracts we receive at our jobs. For example, we know what we will be paid before we accept a position and thus our students should know what they will get for completing the lesson before it starts. The look of the system may range from a token board to a point card and everything in between. However, the goal is always to reduce the rate of reinforcement to levels that are ultimately consistent with work-reinforcement schedules.


Actually, teaching that does not involve the use of multiple people, places and materials can lead to unwanted or overly routine responses. At Pyramid, lessons are carefully selected by having the educational team (including the learner and their family) identify one or more skills that will make a socially-significant and positive impact. Careful planning goes into the creation of the related lessons, including ensuring that skills are generalized from the beginning of the lesson. When in doubt, switch it up – this will ensure that the learner is well prepared for flexible use of the skill! We also focus on building skill sets and never on changing “who the individual truly is.”

In conclusion: At Pyramid, we have always been proud of the collaborations that we’ve created with educational teams, family members and individuals of all abilities. Through thoughtful, ethical implementation of the Pyramid Approach to Education, we will continue to positively impact the lives of our learners around the globe.


Learn about the Pyramid Approach to Education and stay tuned for talks under “Pyramid Approach & Behaviour” on our Trainings Offered page.

Don’t forget to register for our FUNctional Conference: Beyond the Basics to learn more about the Pyramid Approach, functional communication, and more!

Written by Catherine Horton, MS, CCC-SLP, BCBA

© Pyramid Educational Consultants, LLC. 2023